Friday, 23 January 2015

Why give a dangleberry about Davos?

Consider these two extracts from the Davos Devil’s Dictionary1:

- Davos, Davos
Several million gigaloules
Of dead loss


- Oh to be in Davos
Now that pricks are here

As we speak, the, (ahem) World Economic Forum is meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos to discuss political means to keeping attendees at the top of the tree.  The week began with 1700 private jets flying in to discuss the main item on the agenda: climate change (yes, it turns out global warming actually causes private jets.) It continued with IMF head Christine Lagarde declaring Eurozone QE is “already working” to trash the currency. It reached its highlight, for me at least, with Daniel Hannan’s masterful expose of the cronyist corruption on display.

Davos, he says, is a phoney-baloney cronyist.

Davos Man... derives most of his income, directly or indirectly, from state patronage. If he is in the private sector – and he is more likely to be a lobbyist, politician or bureaucrat than a businessman – he’ll be an instinctive monopolist, keen to persuade ministers and officials to raise barriers against his potential rivals…
    We know in our bones that Davos Man despises us and our values. As Samuel Huntingdon once put it, the delegates “view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the élite’s global operations.”
    All right, you say, but surely it’s useful for powerful people to exchange ideas and learn from each other’s mistakes. Well, yes; but this lot rarely seem to learn. Whatever the problem, their preferred solution is always to establish a global bureaucracy staffed by people like themselves. Obviously, they don’t put it like that. “The stability of the global economy” is a much prettier phrase than “a juicy public sector post for me.”
    It’s like an Ayn Rand novel, where lobbyists reach cosy arrangements with each other in elliptical language. Remember the way she described members of a company board? “Men whose careers depended on keeping their faces bland, their remarks inconclusive and their clothes immaculate.”2 That’s Davos.

The Ayn Rand novel on point, of course, is Atlas Shrugged – her virtual textbook of anti-cronyism.

The World Economic Forum would … be a dodgy enough event even if all its members were disinterestedly seeking to advance human happiness. But, of course, most of them are doing no such thing. Surrounded by power and patronage, delegates naturally line one another up for jobs – jobs paid for, more often than not, by taxpayers.
    A mild aversion to cliché has, until now, held me back from quoting Adam Smith’s most famous aphorism. But, in the context of the World Economic Forum, nothing else will do: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Yup. And free-marketeers want no part in it.


1, Yes, I confess, no such tome exists.
2. For AR pedants, the precise quote, from the chapter ‘Account Overdrawn,’ is: “men who, through the decades of their careers, had relied for their security upon keeping their faces blank, their words inconclusive and their clothes impeccable…” But who would begrudge the man a bit of poetic licence.

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