The television channel for BBC World Service News has begun to run self-promoting advertisements about its coverage of this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. This year’s gathering will begin on January 17 and will last for four days, meaning that it will probably conclude around the time that Donald Trump will be taking the Oath of Office for President of the United States on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Those who have followed this site for several years known that it has pulled no punches in writing about this event in the past. In 2014 it went as far as to compare Davos with Prince Prospero’s fortified castle from Edgar Allan Poe’s tale “The Masque of the Red Death;” but Davos seems to be far more insulated from harsh (if not deadly) realities than Prospero’s castle. Even when the Forum invites the likes of Joe Stiglitz, it has been clear that the gulf between inviting a participant and paying attention to him/her continues to entail an unscalable width.
Still, one has to wonder how the rich and mighty have been so successful at maintaining their oblivion. Will their gambits continue to work in an age when Great Britain voted to secede from the European Union and the United States voted Trump to succeed Barack Obama as President of the United States? Think of the mileage the Brexit leader Michael Gove got out of his declaration that his followers “have had enough of experts.”
Davos has traditionally been the venue in which the rich and mighty get to drink from the deep pool of expertise and then go forth with their policies refreshed. The reality, however, it that, being all-too-human, they only listen to observations that reinforce opinions and strategies that they already have, which is why someone like Stiglitz can only survive by realizing that he is fighting a losing battle.
So the question to ask is whether or not those “wise men of Davos” can sustain a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment and recognize why so many people around the world chose to celebrate New Year’s Eve with the motto, “Good riddance, 2016?” Do they view Gove and Trump as nothing more than “outlier” points on whatever multidimensional landscape currently feeds their econometric models? Alternatively, has the “echo chamber” effect of social media combined with fallacious attempts to extract knowledge from Google snippets so numbed their capacity for decision-making that they do not even realize that the “wise men” epithet can only be read sarcastically? My guess is that Davos will continue to provide the cloud of ignorance that has nurtured its denizens for many years. The raison d’être behind the venue’s isolation may well be that it supports deep thinking by insulating attendees from the hassles of day-to-day life; but history has taught us that it is just another echo chamber where world leaders in both business and politics can reassure each other that they are all making wise decisions without worrying about how well those decisions mesh with down-to-earth reality.