January 21, 2020

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Davos Crowd Frightened, Baffled By Rise Of Populism.

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.

For the Davoisie the rise of populism is a huge problem. A world increasingly separating into rival blocs as supply chains begin to decouple isn’t a hospitable environment for global governance, Third Way capitalist reform and their many other hopes and projects. . . .

As the millionaires, billionaires and Greta Thunberg assemble in Davos this week to debate the future of the world, they face a crisis of relevance. What if, with all of their competence, experience, cosmopolitan vision and, yes, goodwill, the Davoisie are merely passengers, comfortably ensconced in first-class seats, on a train whose route they do not know and cannot control?

It’s the blow to their self-importance that’s hardest to endure.

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