The outlook from Davos is bright and clear. The sun shines on the mini-Matterhorns that rise on both sides of this Alpine ski resort; at least two panels of experts have concurred that there are no important financial, political, or military conflicts on the horizon; the forces of growth are networked in harmonious synchrony. Finally the European moderator of a panel on "thriving in the 'new' economy" can stand it no longer. I am tired of hearing that government is irrelevant, he explodes at length. The audience is much amused.
As usual, the most important things are going on behind closed doors. The United Nation's new secretary general, Kofi Annan, after discussions with concerned officials from the United States and other countries, is said to be meeting with Arnold Koller, president of the Swiss Confederation, in hopes of working out an amicable solution to the Swiss banks/Nazi gold issue. In the spirit of comity, a journalist friend of mine who, pressed for time at the airport, has failed to procure any Swiss francs, announces that he has renounced his plans to march into one of the local banks and demand reparations. He will borrow from me instead. The gesture is widely admired.
At this point it is important that you get some feeling for the lay of the land. All of Davos is divided into three parts. At least while the World Economic Forum is in session.
I do not refer to its geographical divisions. Of these there are only two: Davos Platz and Davos Dorf, a sectoral differentiation that scarcely seems necessary in a village whose outer limits are within reasonably easy walking distance.
For a participant in this global colloquy, the important distinctions are, appropriately, economic. First, but scarcely noticed, are the locals. They are polite, but firm; they have seen it all; they are Swiss. Second, are the performers. In this category I will lump not only journalists, high and low, but also academics (including a nest of Nobelists), think-tankers, and yes, political leaders. We are here for the gratification of the third class: The Money.
The Money pays for the conference in hefty membership and attendance fees. The Money does not ride on the bus from Zurich; it powers along the narrow and hilly roads in silver Audis (for a still higher price, Mercedes--some with armor--are available; also helicopters). The Money meets for "contact sessions" behind closed doors. It gathers at small black-tie dinners in the world-class hotels and restaurants that are scarcely noticeable from the village-like streets that traverse this Swiss town and the neighboring Klosters, where Greta Garbo once secluded herself and Prince Charles skis with his pals. The Money is accompanied by elegant, bored-looking wives (The Money is almost--but not quite--exclusively male).
When you bump up against The Money in the remarkably democratic halls of the Congress Centre, however, you hardly notice it at all. It lines up at the sign-up desks to put in its bid for popular sessions or special briefings. Should you fall into conversation, as one does at luncheons or in the various schmoozing places that dot the Centre, you will find it charming and interesting. It may even offer you a ride in its Mercedes.
Of course, this is only a front. It is well known in conspiracy circles that gatherings such as this--not to mention the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers, and the Council on Foreign Relations--are the direct descendants of the Illuminati, which go all the way back to 18th-century Europe and which, in turn, are the descendants of groups going back to the dawn of Christendom and beyond. They are composed of people with big stakes--political, economic, and financial--in the world economy. Their task is to create a counterfeit reality (using the dupes in the media, which they also control) for the rest of us, while they manipulate the true reality.
Come to think of it, I am a member on the Council on Foreign Relations. When I go to meetings, however, I always seem to miss out on the secret of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, whose worship is said to be a principal council activity. Instead there is someone going on about the latest tensions in Cyprus or the state of public opinion on the West Bank. But, of course, people like me are just part of the camouflage for the true purposes of the organization.
Still, I gratefully accept the lift to my hotel.
The luncheon session on prospects and predictions for the U.S. economy, at which I am among the panelists, is full. This is surprising, as we are competing with what seem like far more interesting panels, notably one on "Taking Sex Seriously." (I especially regret that my panel tomorrow will conflict with another titled "Back in Time," in which, according to the program book, a learned professor will discuss the fact that while Einstein's relativity theory allows time to be warped to permit travel into the future, travel into the past is considerably harder. Still it's not theoretically impossible, though it would give rise to some "deeply disturbing paradoxes" about the nature of physical reality. No doubt these will all be solved by better networking next century.)
The popularity of the session may owe something to the fact that among my co-panelists are such notables as two former chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Bush and Clinton, the current deputy secretary of the treasury and director of the Congressional Budget Office, and Fortune magazine's Marshall Loeb. No doubt the audience thinks we are going to tell them when to dump their stocks. We keep the secret. For almost two hours, I practice economics without a license. I hope that no one will tell Paul Krugman.
It is generally agreed that the most interesting insight of the day came from a British professor of genetics and biometry. He revealed, at a session on the implications of genetic knowledge, that the most consistent correlation between the characteristics of married persons is in neck size. No one had quite figured out the practical implications of these findings, but we are all sure that it is profound.