Sunday, January 21, 2007

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Davos screws me over yet again

I have an essay in today's Los Angeles Times about the World Economic Forum -- otherwise known as the Davos forum. In the essay,I ask whether Davos is really significant, or whether it has jumped the shark:

Since Swiss business professor Klaus Schwab launched the forum in 1971, it has become the ne plus ultra of elite meetings, eclipsing such challengers as Renaissance Weekend, the British-American Project and the Trilateral Commission.

At least, that's what the rhetoric surrounding Davos suggests. According to the World Economic Forum's website, Davos is "an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas." Political scientist Samuel P. Huntington asserted that "Davos people control virtually all international institutions, many of the world's governments and the bulk of the world's economic and military capabilities."

Its critics hold a similar view. Anti-globalization protests have targeted the conference, causing its security budget to grow at an alarming rate. To many of them, Davos is the epitome of how globalization is managed by the elite to impoverish the many. One of the few scholarly studies of the Davos experience characterizes the meeting as "a polymorph platform of intermediations on the new frontiers of capitalism." I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it does not sound good....

There are signs that Davos may have jumped the shark. Activists used to demand a voice at the forum. In recent years, however, they have abandoned it altogether. Instead, they attend the rival World Social Forum, which is held at about the same time as Davos.

Even more disconcertingly, Davos sponsored a Gallup poll that found, across the globe, growing distrust of political and business leaders the very people who attend Davos....

[T]he polling data could be a harbinger of Davos' irrelevance. This leads to an interesting existential question: What if they threw an elite meeting and no one cared?

Read the whole thing, but you should know that I submitted a different byline than the one they used.

The byline reads -- online at least -- as "Daniel W. Drezner is associate professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School and the author of "All Politics Is Global." He maintains a blog at"

Which is great, but the byline I submitted to them was, "Daniel W. Drezner is associate professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School and the author of "All Politics Is Global." He has never been invited to Davos, but is not bitter about that fact in the slightest."

I think I'd be less upset if I didn't fear that the deleted sentence was the best line in the piece.

Want to read more about Davos? You can check out the David Rothkopf's diary from last year's conference here. A precis of the polling results discussed in the piece can be found in this story. And here's a link to the official web site.

Finally, given that I was gently mocking it in the piece, I feel I owe a link to the one scholarly piece I found on Davos: Jean-Christophe Graz, "How Powerful are Transnational Elite Clubs? The Social Myth of the World Economic Forum." New Political Economy, Vol. 8, No. 3, November 2003. If you can get past the sections when Graz gets trapped in his own jargon, he makes an interesting argument about the inherent limits of these kind of fora.

posted by Dan on 01.21.07 at 07:51 AM


Well, all those intellectual pretensions and claims to world business leadership at Davos were just a facade anyway, Dan. Just an elaborately contrived front for the real purpose of the meetings: It's all about the skiing. One big, subsidized ski trip for the world's corporate masters. Pretty damn clever if you ask me.

posted by: Wes on 01.21.07 at 07:51 AM [permalink]

What does "jumped the shark" mean?

posted by: mike on 01.21.07 at 07:51 AM [permalink]

"Jumped the Shark" is when a television show in its later years just gets so ridiculous that its obviously destined for cancellation and irrelevance.

It comes from the Happy Days episode where Fonzie on water skies jumped a shark when the series was in its decline.

posted by: Nicholas Weaver on 01.21.07 at 07:51 AM [permalink]

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