Davos is in lockdown, complete with its crystal ball

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 26, 2021

Davos in years past. Security used to be tight as the global elite gathered

This is the week the World Economic Forum (WEF), normally held in the Alpine surrounds of Davos, goes virtual. Really virtual. No physical events. No hobnobbing, no kibitzing, no frothy fabulous parties.

But that hasn’t stopped Davos Man & Woman from peering into their crystal ball, seeking to reveal the future. The 51st edition of the event, to be be held in two phases – this virtual one in January and another, face-to-face, in Singapore in May – will muse on ‘The Great Reset’.

Is that over-confidence, sightlessness or a special kind of tone-deafness?

Certainly, post-pandemic, we will need to re-engineer the world. Will that be the great reset or building back better? We might know once the pandemic force of the novel coronavirus is tamed, but it’s rather glib to do so right now.

Davos has drawn rising levels of scorn in the past few years. The standard joke is that it has rich men arriving on private planes to discuss climate change, sexism and inequality.

Most of the criticism increasingly focusses on the Forum’s (lack of) predictive ability. For instance, as Simon Kuper recently lamented in the Financial Times (paywall), in January 2008, Davos was spectacularly unworried about the subprime mortgage crisis that had started to become visible the previous year. In January 2016, Davos was supremely unconcerned about a disastrously consequential Donald Trump presidency. And in January 2020, Davos spoke briefly about the “next superbug” even as the coronavirus pandemic had begun.

Mr Kuper has a point. Davos has rarely been able to look into the future and see the contours of the world we must rejig to make it fit for purpose.

But it is, as everyone admits, a great networking forum – a place to be seen and to see the great and the good. That is the purpose of Davos. The crystal ball is the stuff of packaging.