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In Defense of Davos

In Defense of Davos

Photograph by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

I suggested that the 1 per cent vs. 99 per cent battle cry of the Occupy movement has little to do with failings of the capitalist system, itself. Today’s income disparities are global in scope—at historic extremes in state-directed socialist systems such as China, as well as in market-based capitalist systems of the west. … Davos will never again be the same for me. There can be no retreat in the battle for big ideas.

—Stephen Roach, Yale University and Morgan Stanley: “A Wall-Streeter Confronts the Occupy Movement,” Financial Times, Jan. 29, 2012 (subscription required)

Stephen Roach’s FT op-ed is important. Go back and read the heat, the emotion of Davos 2012. Dr. Roach pens one of the most thoughtful essays since that August day of 2007.

2012 was the peak of anti-elite Davos invective. Moderate calm has descended on Happy Valley, except when the Sikorskys ferry the uber-elite from their private jets awaiting at private airports. Their S-76C++ engines scream: “I can; you can’t.”

So why the further hatred? Yes, in attendance are royalty—true, corporate and code-writing. But I would suggest that the criticism is off the mark. My Twitter (TWTR) feed, Facebook (FB) feed, e-mail, and incoming raven are jammed with shots at the favored. Point being, the elite were favored from birth.


Davos Man and Woman are cut from a certain cloth and fabric. They are the outcome—yes, a privileged, alternative minimum tax-paying outcome—that we hope our children can become.

We aspire to have our offspring think-and-do the habits that got 94.625 per cent of Davos to Davos.

I met Marissa in passing one day. She was pushing a purple stroller sans child. We made light conversation. Babies, the altitude, more babies.

Marissa did what you would kill for your kids to do. Out of quality Wisconsin public schools, she was raised without a silver spoon. The engineer and art teacher nudged her to Stanford, where she did not slack off.

While others coasted, she buckled down. (In fact, Davos is peopled by people who took collegiate courses others feared.) She has continued to not slack off, an attribute that defines the intellect of Davos and defines why I attend.

Ray was one removed from the Boat. His father’s day gig was jazz, which afforded Ray the jazzy non-Davos curriculum of C.W. Post College.

Ray did well. Far more important, he was—and is—a virtuoso at considering the human comedy and condition. (Ray is in good company at Davos; the reason most got the invite was their ability to manage emotion better than the average bear.) Ray, like many at Davos, speaks less and listens more. They read nonstop. They use math voraciously.

Finally, there is NGO Person. She attends because Marissa, Ray, and company write the check … a big check. Ms. Person is non-governmental, shades of smart and thrilled to be in Switzerland. She says stunningly interesting things that rock the U.S.S. Elite. (NGO types are invariably broke, in shock over $18 soup and $12 #2 Value Meals. They have climbed mountains to get to the mountains.) Their interior drive is Do-Re-Mi jaw-dropping.

Yes, there are classic idiots in Davos ,with and without bolt-on entourage. Yet, the truth is that I am honored to attend and particularly honored to represent Bloomberg.

Each and every year, within the Friday evening, I am just stunned at what Klaus Schwab invented, then honed, from 1971.

Anti-Davos scores points. But the truth is that the vast majority of attendees, speakers, media, and World Economic Forum staff worked their tails off to get there: in school, in college, in work, in life.


Keene hosts Bloomberg Surveillance 7-10 a.m. ET on 1130 AM in the New York metro area and nationally on SiriusXM 113.

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