One of the major themes of the World Economic Forum this year and every year is “Full payment required in advance.” This, more than anything else, explains why the show is going on in somewhat inappropriate style here in the midst of global economic crisis. Sponsors’ dollars were already in, hotel rooms were already paid for and—perhaps most important—party locales were already booked before it became apparent to all that the global economy was collapsing. All this will almost certainly be different next January, leading to a much smaller, more sober event even if the economy is already recovering.
For now, though, the parties go on. As the FT’s Gideon Rachman writes:
I was expounding my theory that this is the party-free Davos to a colleague from The Economist, who then dismayed me by producing a vast folder of party invitations. So it appears there are lots of parties – I just haven’t been invited. My former colleague rather grandly picked out some of the B-list invitations he wouldn’t be using and tossed them my way – a German bank, an Indian newspaper, that kind of thing. Then he spotted a functionary from the Clinton Global Initiative, called him over and suggested that he invite the FT’s foreign-affairs columnist (me) to the CGI party in the Davos museum. The functionary looked at me for a moment and then said: “I’m afraid it’s a very restricted space.” Oh well, I’m going to a South African jazz party instead – and I won’t even have to gatecrash.
I’m about at Rachman’s level of party access (I didn’t even know about the Clinton party), and I’ve still gotten invites to more events than I could ever attend. And I go to them, instead of sitting in my room blogging (or sleeping), mainly because there doesn’t seem to be any point in coming all this way if not to interact with interesting/famous/important/rich people in a different sort of context than journalists usually get to do.
Last night’s most surreal such interactions came at TIME’s cocktail party, a modest little event that by virtue of its location (in an art gallery on the way from the convention center to all the other parties) and its starting time (about an hour before all the other parties) briefly attracted a shockingly star-studded crowd. At one point, not long after Jimmy Wales had introduced me to Peter Gabriel, I was talking wonky stuff with Stanford economist Paul Romer when I realized that actor Jet Li was standing politely by waiting to be included in the conversation. So I asked him a question about his One Foundation, and that got things going.
What good does any of this do me and the shareholders of Time Warner? Not sure—although the TIME party’s turnout must have impressed any potential advertisers in the crowd (if there are any potential advertisers out there anymore) at least a little. In any case, I’ll be out again tonight, in part because of the sense that, after this week, the Davos party circuit may be in for a long hiatus.