The Davos Devotee: Day Four

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What happened to the demonstrations? In the weeks leading up to Davos-in-New York, the local papers were full of dire warnings that Gotham might see the sort of demonstrations that marred the last two conferences in Davos, as well as disrupting the EU summit in Goteborg and the meeting of the G8 in Genoa last year. That hasn't happened; this has been the quietest WEF Iíve seen in five years.

The lionís share of the thanks for that should go to the New York Police Department, who have laid down a security cordon around the Waldorf-Astoria and other midtown hotels, and manned (or womaned) it, by and large, with great good humor. Demonstrators — followers of Falun Gong have been the most prominent — have been segregated across the street, squashed into a narrow area behind barricades. The main demonstration, on Saturday, went off remarkably quietly, as the marchers were kept well away from the delegates; I had no idea that the NYPD had so many police horses.

But there are reasons beyond the police departmentís expertise for our quiet time. Plainly, demonstrators had no stomach for a real confrontation with the heroes of Sept. 11; equally, it has been very clear from talking to representatives of NGOs that the events in Genoa, which led to one death, have persuaded them to stay away from any demo that was likely to be hijacked by anarchists and the Black Blocs. Some of us have been urging responsible NGOs to take such a position since the riots in Prague at the World Bank/IMF meetings in 2000; better late than never.

That doesnít mean that the critics of the WEF have gone away, even if they have been less visible this year than many expected. But two things about their case against Davos continue to puzzle me. First, I think they misunderstand the nature of the businessmen and businesswomen who attend these conferences. By and large, those who come here (remember: many of them are European) do so at least partly because they are genuinely interested in non-business issues, and because they want to learn more about questions of corporate social responsibility and the like. One long-time WEF attendee, indeed, says that most of the business attendees here are "self-lacerating." Second, the critics continue to fail, in my view, to articulate a true alternative to the business-led model of globalization on offer at the WEF. At the opening press conference of the Public Eye on Davos, an umbrella NGO group, those on the platform were asked who the intellectual leaders and heroes of the anti-globalization movement might be. Apart from praise for the writings of Nobel laureate and former chief economist of the World Bank Joe Stiglitz, there was an embarrassing silence. But the critics of the globalization wonít get far until they can make a case for their own way of looking at the world.

Maybe those gathered at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, made a better case for their movement. Iím tempted to go there next year. On second thought: no skiing in Brazil. So back to Davos it will be.