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How Male Global Elites Work Hard to Fix the Economy - In Their Favor

On Sunday, 1 percenters left the World Economic Forum at Davos with bold plans to stay fat and happy while the world falls apart.

The pomp and the platitudes. The champagne and the canapés. In the tony ski resort of Davos, Switzerland, the gemütlich gathering of global leaders for the World Economic Forum seemed like business as usual…five days of hobnobbing and male-dominated, Euro-centric jaw-flapping on the economic state of the planet. A rich and rewarding experience for the rich and rewarded.

But what about this year’s theme? Billed as “The Great Transformation,” the WEF promised sessions on rethinking capitalism, reducing inequality and solving Europe's financial crisis. Founder Klaus Schwab opened the forum with a wise observation that capitalism needs to be fixed "to serve society." Was it possible that these leaders wanted change? Had they opened their ears to the 99 percent?

Guess it depends on which society and what you mean by fixed. Because in reality, the brochure should have read: "The Great Retrenchment: with sessions on denying capitalism's failures, staying rich despite inequality, and dumping Europe's financial crisis onto the backs of ordinary people."

The Song Remains the Same

In the midst of a crippling European debt crisis, some 2,500 business leaders, intellectuals and politicians strolled among the five-star hotels and plush conference rooms of the WEF. There was much talk about how economic turmoil in Europe could spread to the rest of the world. There was much networking. Much giddy tweeting (Inspiration! Youth! Social entrepreneurs!) and much partying among ice sculptures.

Outside, Swiss police sprayed tear gas at demonstrators protesting youth unemployment, Occupiers camped in igloos protested the event’s elitism, and a group of Ukranian women decried the sexism by going topless and wielding signs that read “Poor because of you!”

Yes, there were some reports of elites feeling a bit “besieged” and security was accordingly beefed up. Strategies to maintain the status quo varied by industry and sometimes country. But when you start reading that bankers felt “ cautious optimism” about how leaders were responding to their plight, you know that the 99 percent was never really part of the agenda. That Vikram Pandit, CEO of the global bank Citigroup, who blew up the company and sent the bills to taxpayers, was co-chair of this year’s forum spoke volumes.

The Davos Man

“Davos Man” is a nifty term that refers to the global elite of wealthy men whose members feel themselves to be part of a cozy fraternity where national affiliations mean little next to their membership in monied circles (see helpful phrenological chart for additional information on this species). Arriving from Zurich by private jet, the typical Davos Man enjoys the high altitude as a great place to look down upon the world’s woes -- and have another glass of bubbly.

You would not be surprised to learn that the foundation that puts on the WEF is funded by its 1,000 member companies, the typical firm being a global enterprise with over $5 billion in turnover. Representatives of small businesses and cooperatives, which constitute much of the global economy, are naturally unwelcome in Davos Man's habitat. You will be even less shocked to know that all of the 30 video messages from Davos co-chairs and partners posted ahead of the meeting featured men, most of them western and white. Columbia University’s Anya Schiffrin commented on the notable lack of female participants, saying, “I understand there are not a lot of women running hedge funds, but in that case change your category, maybe don't only have CEOs.” A bold idea. But a bit too innovative for Davos Man.

The takeaway of the 2012 Davos Man was that the eurozone was in trouble and that countries like Greece, and maybe Portugal, will be leaving. German chancellor Angela Merkel, a rare Davos Woman, spoke of the urgent need to restore confidence in Europe and improve “competitiveness” (read, screw workers in other countries) but admitted that Germany doesn’t want to put more money up to underwrite weaker countries (read: have-nots can continue to enjoy the fiscal austerity death-spiral).

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