More than two years later, the world has been upended by the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But for the rich and powerful arriving in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, very little has changed.
“Davos is the epitome of one of the greatest challenges to society right now, which is self-congratulatory elites,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale management professor who speaks regularly with many well-known executives.
The conference — which famously combines high-minded panels with flashy parties — aims to bring important people together to tackle pressing issues like inequality, climate change, the future of technology and geopolitical conflict. But the logic behind inviting some of the wealthiest people on Earth to solve these problems from a resort town looks even shakier these days.
“The last two years have dramatized and clarified what has been true for some time now, which is an elite plutocratic class is not just leaving the rest of the world behind, but is thriving precisely by stepping on the necks of everybody else,” said Anand Giridharadas, author of the book “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.”
The main event is likely to be a speech on Monday by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is expected to participate via videoconference. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are also scheduled to deliver addresses later in the week, which will be scrutinized as EU countries struggle to agree on a formal oil embargo against Russia.
In the past, Russian politicians and oligarchs were a fixture of Davos. Founder Klaus Schwab has long emphasized that dialogue and deeper economic ties can promote peace between political adversaries.
“At this moment in history where the world has a unique and short window of opportunity to move from an age of confrontation to an age of cooperation, the ability to hear your voice — the voice of the president of the Russian Federation — is essential,” Schwab said when introducing Putin in 2021.
In 2020, the CEOs of Lukoil, Sberbank and Yandex were on the list of attendees, along with the country’s energy minister.
This year, Putin won’t be attending. Nor will any Russian officials, magnates or executives. Rather, the program features discussions on issues such as “Cold War 2.0” and the “Return to War.”