Davos Confab

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND–From David Aaker to Klaus P. Zumwinkel, we are, weather permitting–which, at the moment, it is not–all here. Among us, at least according to the preliminary program, are such luminaries as: HRH the Princess Royal (I’m not sure which princess that is, but since she’s listed under the A’s and hails from the United Kingdom, perhaps it’s Anne), Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak, His Holiness Bartholomew I (patriarch, Constantinople), and Hans Tietmeyer, president of the Deutsche Bundesbank (though with the coming of the euro and a left-leaning government in Germany, he’s not the formidable figure he once was). HRH Crown Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan was supposed to be here, but since he’s just been deposed by the ailing King Hussein, one doubts he will make an appearance.

Also Russia’s éminence grise Yevgeny Primakov, Malaysia’s enfant terrible Mohamad bin Mahatir, the United Nations’ Kofi Annan, U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and Jane Fonda. Oh, and U.S. Vice President Albert Gore, plus a smattering of U.S. senators and congressmen (if they really tear themselves away from their impeaching), along with so many presidents of countries and conglomerates, CEOs and Cabinet secretaries, managing partners and ministers and vice ministers, deans and laureates and editors in chief that to name any would be to dishonor the others. (Though I will mention Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNealy, and AOL’s Steve Case–the “digital divas” as my friend Andy Glass has dubbed them.)

We mingle democratically at the World Economic Forum opening reception Wednesday evening. Among the predominantly male assemblage it is not easy to distinguish those who arrived via private jet, helicopter, and Mercedes, and those who toughed it out in cabin class, train, and bus. The distinction between haut monde and hoi polloi is only apparent in the coiffures and attire of the female attendees. Not that I would want you to worry for a moment that your correspondent failed to hold up her end of things, despite having walked more than a mile from her hotel in a raging blizzard. (For more on the social hierarchy of Davos, click here.) We admire the Picassos and Klees on the walls of the Kirchner Museum and talk of global connectivity–specifically, how does one dial one’s home computer from one’s hotel room.

To be honest, the atmosphere is not as electric as it was at last year’s gathering. Then the Asian economies were in full collapse, and clusters of worried journalists and dignitaries gathered in the hallways to discuss … Monica Lewinsky. There is no buzz as there was last year as to whether first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton would actually show (she did) and whether she would actually have Vernon Jordan in tow (ditto). This year we are determined to focus on the chosen topic: “Responsible Globality: Managing the Impact of Globalization.” Our concentration will be assisted by the fact that Monica ennui is clearly of global proportion.

At the special briefing dinner (for moderators of the 333 planned panels) that follows, we are told that this year’s sessions should be more controversial–but also more disciplined. We are cautioned not to upstage the expert panelists and hog the scarce time. A couple of moderators protest that since their expertise is at least as distinguished as that of their panel members, the audience will be disappointed if they cannot participate fully. That is not a concern that will trouble this moderator.