Business cards. Check. Contacts book. Check. Stylish ski jacket. Check. If it is mid-January, the global elite, and certainly anyone who aspires to membership of that slightly nebulous group, will be packing their bags and flying, preferably by private jet, to the chic Swiss ski resort of Davos. Over the course of a few days, they will sort out the world’s problems, between munching canapés, and bagging some lucrative contracts for their bank.
If globalisation has a spiritual headquarters, it is the World Economic Forum, to give it its full name. When the political scientist Samuel Huntingdon coined the term ‘Davos Man’, he turned it into a short-hand for the globe-trotting elite that moves seamlessly from business, to policy work, to academia and consultancy. They have, he argued, ‘little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations’.
With its mix of tycoons, political leaders and celebrities, Davos has been a great commercial success, turning policy-wonkery into a money-spinner. But perhaps it has now turned into a liability? After all, if anything epitomises the out of touch elite that was over thrown by Brexit and Trump it was surely the annual gathering at the resort. What’s the problem? In fact, there are three of them.
First, the Davos elite has an over-riding belief in supra-national agencies. At its seminars and discussion groups, there is no problem so serious that can’t be fixed by handing more power to the EU, the IMF, the United Nations, or some other acronym, preferably working alongside some very big multi-national companies. But what Brexit and Trump have demonstrated is that people want national solutions. They might be right or wrong about that – but it is increasingly ridiculous to ignore it.