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January 25, 2017

The World Economic Forum at Davos - Continued

The world elite in a happier time.

The World Economic Forum at Davos was probably a happier place in 2000 at the height of the Internet bubble than it was lat week. Back then globalization seemed a huge success (at least to those who were succeeding), the World Trade Center still stood, and Donald Trump was still an iconic playboy (but wasn't at Davos). Even peace in the Middle East seemed a possible dream. There were some anti-globalization protestors then but they seemed like a radical fringe and were held back by the Swiss Police with water cannons, which are very effective on cold nights,

I can tell by the headlines and bylines that many of the same people still attend Davos. I imagine, but don't know, that Brexit, Trump, and whatever may come next seemed like cold water thrown on their party. The story below is about Davos as we saw it in 2000 and is from my book hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble. The fictional characters are hackoff.com CEO Larry Lazard, his wife Louise, and their new Israeli friends the Roslovs.

 

On Saturday afternoon, Bill Clinton speaks. Tickets to the Great Hall are almost impossible to get, but there are a sufficient number of listening rooms furnished with headsets which translate to many languages and wide screen television views of the podium. Larry and Louise are in one of these.

There is a delay. Apparently the American Secret Service has become alarmed and want everybody out of the hall so that they can go through and look for bombs. They have both dogs and electronic noses ready. But they can’t empty the room because of the crush of people trying to come in. There is a dissatisfied mutter about the arrogance of the Americans who are not satisfied with security arrangements, which were, after all, good enough for everyone else.

The Secret Service compromises on just clearing the first five rows since these will be closest to the President. This is doable but means that the VIPs who have these rows will have to be shuffled out, so more offense is taken. To make matters worse, once the Secret Service and its hounds have finished, the relative plebeians flock into the seats meant for the patricians. It takes most of the staff and tact of the WEF to sort this out.

Finally, it’s time for Herr Klaus to introduce the President. “You graduated from Yale University. You were a Rhoades Scholar who studied in London,” he says to the President. “You were Attorney General and then Governor of the State of Arkansas. In 1992 you were elected to be President of the United States of America; and, in 1996, you were re-elected. You have pursued a strong domestic agenda and you are well-known and well-liked in the capitals of the world. You have been a strong voice for negotiated settlements to the world’s problems.

“President William Jefferson Clinton, it gives me great pleasure to introduce you here at World Economic Forum 2000 in Davos, Switzerland. The delegates look forward to your remarks.”

Clinton beams. He likes the audience and the audience likes him. He jokes about the security and he is forgiven for it. He speaks nonspecifically but sincerely about a “shared vision”. The audience shares this nonspecific vision.  When this likeable man speaks, it does seem that differences will disappear, that prosperity will overcome despair, that the darkest, coldest corners of the world will be lit and warm — that, indeed, the spirit of Davos, the vision of Davos, the inclusiveness and well-meaningness of Davos, can and will become the spirit of a happier world.

“He was good,” says Louise afterwards.

“He didn’t say a fucking thing,” says Larry.

“He doesn’t have to,” says Louise.

Saturday night is the big night at Davos; on this night a tux or equivalent national dress is suggested. The main hall at the Congress Center has been transformed into a huge nightclub with small tables in front of a large stage.  Counters of food line the edges of the room with ample small bars between them. Larry and Louise have come early and take a table near the stage.

Simon Peres, his wife, and another couple take the table in front of them.  Peres nods to Larry and Louise but it is not clear whether he recognizes Larry from the meeting or is just friendly. [nb. See previous post for how Larry met Simon Peres.]

There is much table-hopping. The Peres table is visited first by the new King of Jordan and his wife. The women are on cheek-kissing terms. The men shake hands warmly. The Jordanian royalty chats with the Israelis for ten minutes or so before moving on. Various delegates in national garbs stop by to pay their respects to the Pereses; a good percentage of them are in Arab robes.  Peace seems possible at Davos.

The premier act of the night’s entertainment is a group of 200 gypsies playing violins. They fill the huge hall with rich sounds alternating between joy and sorrow. The country-less violinists are a hit with the delegates, all of whom have countries of their own at the moment.

After the nightclub dinner and show, there are national parties to discover throughout the Congress Center. Sometime during the entertainment, Larry’s new friend Chaim Roslov has joined them at their table with his wife Devorah. Larry and Louise and Chaim and Devorah go first to Mauritius for a party. It is in and around a huge pool, perhaps used as a swimming pool at other times, in a building which connects through a huge walkable (and warm) hose to the Congress Center. The awesome Mauritian band is on a platform in the middle of the pool as isolated as Mauritius itself is in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It’s not clear how they got there or how they’ll get back. They can’t and don’t take breaks.

At one end of the pool is food, which is presumably Mauritian. There are large variety of vegetarian dishes ranging from mild to extremely spicy; these are the contributions of the island nations’ mainly Hindu population. There are also a variety of the spicy pork and goat dishes favored by the minority Creole population. Most confections have a coconut base.

At the other end of the pool is a dais where some Mauritians give speeches. They are very glad to have the delegates visit their party and hope that they soon will visit Mauritius. They will find it is a country that realizes its future is within and not isolated from the world economy. To that end, the Prime Minister has begun a program of legal reform to create the required transparency and to assure that contracts are respected. Protectionism is as dead in Mauritius as the dodo which once thrived there.

It would be helpful if the developed world would remove punitive tariffs on the agricultural and manufactured products of Mauritius and would stop unfair subsidies to domestic sugar growers. That is, the world should notice, all that Mauritius is asking in addition to some reasonable forbearance of debt contracted by previous profligate regimes. Mauritius is not asking for foreign aid. The new loans it seeks are economically sound and can be amply repaid.  Even the old loans can be repaid if only those unfortunate and unproductive tariff barriers were just to be removed.

The Mauritians are good hosts who speak briefly and smile often. The band plays very danceable Reggae, and the delegates and their spouses dance standard American dances on platforms erected on the sides of the pool. Magdala, the Lazard’s appointed guide to the WEF, is there with her “significant other”, a tall thin Swiss of about thirty with a German accent. He is a consultant and dances well. Chaim and Larry each dance a couple of times with Magdala and each other’s wives while Magdala’s significant other makes sure no trailing spouse is left a wall flower. Chaim has a brief conversation with Magdala and the significant other in German.

Next to the food tables there is a bar. A very potent punch, which may or may not be indigenous to Mauritius, is served there, as well as a standard selection of bar wines, beers, and hard liquors. It is not clear what the scion of an Argentinean steel company was drinking before he fell off the dance floor and into the pool. No matter; he is quickly and efficiently hauled out by a combination of wait staff and quickly-appearing security forces. The dancers stop to cheer as he is helped wetly away. The puddles behind him are immediately mopped.

Chaim exchanges a few words of Hindi with some of the hosts.

The US party features blues from Chicago sung by a very sexy black woman who is an expatriate Chicagoan, but usually to be heard in Europe and sometimes Japan. The room is dark, partly illuminated in ultraviolet, and with creative neon outlines of jazz instruments on the walls.  Either there is no speaker at the US party or the Lazards and their new friends the Roslovs arrived too late to hear them. These blues are not meant to be danced to, although some people try.

Chaim and the singer speak Italian for a few minutes.

The Russian party is renowned for its vodka and caviar — especially the caviar. The Lazards and Roslovs first heard rumors of the Russian caviar while still in Mauritius. In Chicago, between blues numbers, they speak to people who have actually been there and seen and eaten the mountains of tiny eggs. But no one can describe exactly how to get to the Russian party. Undeterred, the Lazards and Roslovs set out to find the land of vodka and caviar.

In one of the many sublevels of the Congress Center, they follow music hopefully into a loud room. Wrong country: it’s France. But it would be rude to tear yourself out of the grip of the buxom French farm women with plunging décolletage who pull you into the room. The food here is mainly elaborately constructed pastry. Champagne bubbles from a replica of the fountains of Versailles. A chamber trio plays baroque music in a corner.

Now, unfortunately, there will be a short speech. It is in French, which Larry understands not at all, and Louise only a little. However, Chaim translates concurrently: France is very much in favor of economic globalization. After all, the French invented international trade. However, there is a danger in globalization. This danger is cultural. One country in particular has imposed its culture on much of the world to the detriment of other cultures everywhere.

“Yeah, we make everyone wear fucking jeans…” says Larry a little too loudly. He is hushed by Louise and some of the people around them.

The speech goes on to regret that the benefits of the Internet — an outgrowth, one might say, of minitel, which was invented, of course, in France — these benefits are denied to much of the world because so much of the Internet is in English. In fact, the Internet, which ought to be international is fast becoming a mechanism for dangerous cultural imperialism. It is to be hoped that the delegates gathered here in Davos can work together to stem these unhealthy excesses of globalization and restore balance to international culture and…

“Anyone know where the Russian party is?” asks Larry rather loudly and very rudely of his neighbors. They either don’t know, don’t speak English, or don’t care to answer.

Chaim engages one of the security guards in a conversation in an unidentified language. He swears he has obtained the true location of Russia. To get there one must go up one staircase and down another; one must also go east in one hallway and west in another. There are various detours north and south and a final half story descent into a hallway at the end of which is, sure enough, the fabled land of vodka and caviar.

The mountains of caviar have suffered the ravages of time and appetite. You can deduce their former scale by the diameter of the plates the crumbled hills and scraps still sit on. Cracker crumbs have been ground into the floor and pasted down by squashed eggs. There are no longer crackers on tables with caviar nor is there caviar on tables with crackers. Condiments, in general, are available only on tables with neither crackers nor caviar. The persistent can still find more or less clean plates, load them with crackers from here, add caviar from there and find condiments somewhere else. This is what Larry and Louise and Chaim and Devorah do.

Here, as in France, breasts push up from low-cut peasant blouses. The Volga boatwomen are better-endowed and certainly more friendly than their French counterparts. Ignoring the women and the caviar, but drinking vodka freely and usually neat, there are multi-national clusters of over-dressed men.

“What do you think they’re talking about? Basketball?” asks Larry looking at an almost seven-foot Cossack in a black suit talking to an over seven-foot Chinese in a yellow suit. “I don’t understand Russian.”

“Actually,” answers Chaim, “they are speaking Mandarin and they are discussing oil in large quantities which does not pay taxes.”

“Really?” asks Louise. “Are people allowed to do business at the World Economic Forum? I haven’t seen or heard anyone else doing that.”

“Russians make their own rules,” says Chaim. “They are new to Davos as capitalists and they are enjoying themselves. But they still can bang their shoes on the table if they want to. Over there, for example, there is a Chechen discussing ‘precious weapons’ with a Kuwaiti.”  He is looking at a very small man in electric blue talking to an equally small man in Arab robes.

“Shouldn’t we tell someone?” asks Louise. “I mean that can’t be good, especially if precious means what I think it means.”

“Actually, I believe that the Kuwaiti works either for the CIA or Mossad so he is on the way to finding this source.”

“How could you possibly know that?” asks Larry. “If the Chechen doesn’t know who he’s talking to, how would you know?”

“I have sources, my friend,” says Chaim. “Didn’t I find Russia for us?”

By 3:00 AM the countries are a blur. Most of the food is gone, although there is apparently no end to the liquor or the music. Larry and Louise head unsteadily down the hill to Sunset Reising. It is bitter cold and a wind is blowing seriously. A few lights on the mountain sides illuminate huge swirls of blowing snow across and around the avalanche fences.

The water cannon and its accompanying troops are gone. There is no sign of protestors. Globalization is apparently safe for the time being, at least in Davos.

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