People like to project onto Davos their fears and fantasies about the way the world works. Right-wingers see insidious, delusional liberalism, in its stakeholder ethos and its pretense of world improvement. They picture a bunch of Keynesians, Continentals, and self-dealing do-gooders participating in some kind of off-the-books top-down command-control charade. Left-wingers conjure a plutocratic cabal, a Star Chamber of master puppeteers, the one per cent—or .01 per cent, really—deciding the world’s fate behind a curtain of heavy security and utopian doublespeak. The uninvited, the refuseniks, and even many of the participants see a colossal discharge of hot air, a peacock strut. They all deploy, with a sneer, the term Davos Man, coined by the late political scientist Samuel Huntington, who decried a post-national wealthy globe-trotting élite. Davos Man can be either a capitalist oppressor or a Commie conspirator. Either way, he is a windbag, a pedant, and a hypocrite. Businesspeople who have never been to Davos find many ways to be dismissive of it: “I can’t do business there.” “It’s too political.” “It’s not what it used to be.” The translation may be that that person has not been invited. Non-businesspeople assume the same. “Solipsistic wankers,” one person wrote me. “Kill the bastards,” wrote another.
Davos is, fundamentally, an exercise in corporate speed-dating. “Everyone comes because everyone else comes,” Larry Summers told me. A hedge-fund manager or a C.E.O. can pack into a few days the dozens of meetings—with other executives, with heads of state or their deputies, with non-governmental organizations whose phone calls might otherwise have been ignored—that it would normally take months to arrange and tens of thousands of Gulfstream miles to attend. They conduct these compressed and occasionally fruitful couplings, the so-called bilateral meetings, either in private rooms that the W.E.F. has set aside for this purpose or in hotel rooms, restaurants, and hallways. All that’s missing is the hourly rate.