The World Economic Forum is taking place in Davos, Switzerland. CNN is full of Important People being interviewed in front of snow-hung pines; at first I thought it was the Winter Olympics, which I suppose it kind of is. Over at that notorious nest of economic radicalism, the New Republic, even Timothy Noah is moved to remark:
The Wall Street Journal reports that there are 70 billionaires among the 2,500 attendees. That makes Davos the only place on earth where a billionaire, for a few days anyway, can bust out of the top 1 percent (not to mention the top 0.01 percent). When billionaires represent roughly 3 percent of WEF attendees, that means, arithmetically, that about two-thirds of those billionaires get to slum it for a few days in the bottom 99 percent. What a lark!
He also notes that in all its history, Davos seems to have held only one panel on global inequality. There’s none this year; obviously there are more significant things going on. Anyway, with the 70 billionaires compelled to share seating with around 2,400 non-billionaires, they probably figure that’s equal enough.
Human Rights Watch, my old employer, which was in love with power, used to love boasting about the senior staff it sent to Davos. Part of the frisson was lobbying those in possession of power; part of it was meeting the billionaires. By contrast, it never sent anybody of importance to the World Social Forum, which is full of the unwashed and uninfluential 99% who comprise most human rights movements around the world. This always seemed to me an unfortunate expression of priorities.
This year, however, and happily, there is an Occupy WEF, and they have set up an igloo encampment near the main deliberations. Its website says,
Every year, self-proclaimed «global leaders» allegedly committed to improving the state of the world meet up for the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss mountains to propagate their own businesses and network amongst the so-called global economic elite. This year, we will not let them exclude us, the 99%!
Nothing, of course, would draw the billionaires into conversation with the (real) ice-dwelling 99%, unless they run out of icecubes for their cocktails. But maybe the human rightsters can wander over there for a talk. It might be interesting.