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All Aboard the Crazy Train
The site of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 20
gian ehrenzeller/Shutterstock

All Aboard the Crazy Train

Walter Russell Mead

Davos, Switzerland

For half a century the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum has brought a mix of business leaders, politicians, pundits, academics, activists, “social entrepreneurs” and celebrities to this small village high in the Swiss Alps. For the year-round inhabitants, the conference is a mixed blessing. Security barriers and heavy traffic turn the narrow streets into a nightmare. With well-situated one-bedroom apartments renting for as much as $5,000 a night, however, many a Davos-dweller can escape the madness and pocket a nice profit. The resort’s hotels also make out well; with corporations and governments competing to reserve ballrooms and salons for their events, local hoteliers can clear more in a week than they likely could make during the whole ski season in the old pre-WEF days.

There is something inescapably ridiculous about a gathering this self-important; certainly Marie Antoinette and her friends dressing up as shepherdesses to celebrate the simple life has nothing on the more than 100 billionaires descending, often by private jet, on an exclusive Swiss ski resort for four days of ostentatious hand-wringing about the problems of the poor and the dangers of climate change. This year an earnest young aide at registration told me that, to reduce the event’s carbon footprint, no paper maps of the town were being distributed; one could almost feel the waves of relief from the nearby Alpine glaciers at this sign of green progress.

Yet smirk as one may, and sometimes as one must, this year’s WEF arrived at a difficult time for the Davoisie—those who are at home in the thin air of this global gathering. Leaders the world over are now having to come to grips with a new age of populism, nationalism and protectionism.

Read the full article in Wall Street Journal

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