Last month, the “rich and famous” from around the world, many of them in their private jets, descended on the tiny Swiss village of Davos-Klosters (population 11,000) for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) was set up in 1971 in Geneva by social entrepreneur Klaus Schwab purportedly to bring political and business leaders together to find solutions to global challenges. According to its 2016 annual report, WEF’s revenues of close to $240 million went towards activities supporting engagement in the fields of digital economy, education, healthcare, IT, mobility, the environment and energy, among others.
WEF’s annual meeting at Davos sees itself as the “foremost creative force for engaging the world’s top leaders in collaborative activities to shape the global, regional and industry agendas at the beginning of each year.” This year’s meeting held from January 23rd-26th was headlined by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who gave the opening address, and French president Emmanuel Macron. Among the 340 political leaders attending were British prime minister Theresa May, Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau, Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, the presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Zimbabwe, Switzerland and the European Commission, and the king of Jordan. Also attending were Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, actress Cate Blanchett and musicians will.i.am and Elton John. They were joined by some 1,900 CEOs and business leaders.
Upstaging all of them, perhaps, was Donald J. Trump, the first sitting US president to attend the meeting since Bill Clinton in 2000. While a spokesman for the Swiss government said it was “delighted” that President Trump was coming to the mountain resort, others made their displeasure clear. The youth wing of the Social-Democratic Party called on the Swiss government to prevent the visit while a petition headlined “Trump not welcome. Stay out of Davos” started by another left-wing group, Campax, reportedly gathered some 13,000 signatures. Earlier in January, several hundred anti-capitalist demonstrators marched in Switzerland’s capital Bern with placards reading “Eat the rich” and “Fight WEF, Trump, capitalism” The Swiss news agency ATS reported that the unauthorized protest, organized by a group called RJG, remained calm and without incident.
This year’s WEF theme, “Creating a shared future in a fractured world”, was certainly at odds with President Trump’s anti-globalist, “America First” agenda. Sessions focused on how to improve international cooperation on issues relating to the environment, the global economy and international security, as well as finding ways to overcome division. “Our world has become fractured by increasing competition between nations and deep divides within societies. Yet the sheer scale of the challenges our world faces makes concerted, collaborative and integrated action more essential than ever,” said WEF founder Schwab.
Many note that the so-called experts and analysts who meet at Davos each year appear to have an extraordinary ability to get their forecasts entirely wrong. They utterly failed to predict the financial crisis, Brexit, oil prices, Donald Trump, interest rates or stock markets. Ironically, even their “doomsday” predictions about global warming (now re-branded as climate change) received a battering as Davos was buried under six feet of snow. The steep, pine-dotted mountain slopes around the town were so heavily laden that some neighborhoods had to be evacuated for fear of avalanches. The railway through the Alps from Zurich, and villages along the route were also at the highest level of avalanche alert. Swiss Rail had to unload Davos-bound passengers from their express trains, take them on a half-hour bus trip on back roads around the blockage and then load them onto a crowded red commuter train that ran the rest of the way into Davos.
How much you pay to attend Davos depends on your level of membership to WEF. According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, basic annual membership to WEF (required if you want to buy a ticket to Davos) costs a little over $70,000. But that only grants access to certain sessions. Companies who are ‘associate partners’ or ‘partners’ of WEF pay more annually and get more access at Davos. At the top of the tree are the 100 “strategic partner” companies such as Accenture, Barclays, Deloitte, KPMG and Unilever who pay over $630,000 for annual membership, which entitles them to buy an “access-all-sessions” pass for themselves and five colleagues, including special privileges. But they still have to purchase actual tickets to the event – at almost $19,000. It takes around 4,500 Swiss army soldiers and police officers to keep the high profile attendees safe and secure. The bill for security comes in at around $8.4 million annually, split between local and federal authorities and the WEF
Davos has gained a reputation for extravagant parties where Michelin-star chefs prepare the canapés and rare, extremely expensive wines are guzzled like water. According to Business Insider in 2015, one party was shut down by police at 2am after receiving complaints about the excessive noise.