GOOD Guide: to Shadowy Organizations, the World Economic Forum

Davos makes an Ivy League board of trustees meeting look like a beef-and-beer at your local VFW.

"Committed to improving the state of the world"

DOCTRINEDavos' official motto-"Committed to improving the state of the world"-suggests a bland and universal beneficence. In reality, the conference is the primary generator of the apolitical change-the-world-through-business ethos that unites the highest echelon of global capitalism today.

HEADQUARTERSThe WEF's official headquarters is in Geneva. Write it at 91-93 route de la Capite, CH-1223 Cologny/Geneva, Switzerland. Davos is where the club gathers each January. You can go skiing there during the year, but you will need credentials-or an excellent disguise-to get anywhere near town during the forum.

MYTHICAL ACHIEVEMENTSThe "Davos Dilemma" describes a world in which soaring economic growth goes hand in hand with war and disaster. The term "Davos Man" was coined by a conservative pundit, and refers to a dangerously cosmopolitan version of Homo sapiens who lacks any national loyalties. Davos is also one of the main villains in dystopian globalization narratives pushed by Naomi Klein, Slavoj Zizek, and Adbusters.GREATEST ACTUAL ACHIEVEMENTSuccessfully absorbing the humanitarian cred of its longtime nemesis, the World Social Forum, an international conference of disempowered antiglobalization muckrakers held each year, often in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

MembershipThe forum is colloquially known as Davos, for the Swiss ski resort where 2,500 power brokers gather once a year to swap business cards, trade information, and plot the course of the world's future. Security measures include digital pass cards and some 6,000 guards. There are also a few hundred journalists, most of whom are kept sequestered in a media center at a safe distance from the real action.

AlumniThe 2008 guest list included Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Al Gore, George Soros, Bono, Rupert Murdoch, Lawrence Summers, the Google guys, 27 heads of state, 74 CEOs, plus the usual Davos assortment of shadowy billionaire plutocrats and Middle Eastern oil princes. Davos makes an Ivy League board of trustees meeting look like a beef-and-beer at your local VFW.

The ExposéIn 2003, Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, emailed a 2,000-word dispatch from Davos to a few good friends. It was soon forwarded around the world. The takeaway? "The world isn't run by a clever cabal. It's run by about 5,000 bickering, sometimes charming, usually arrogant, mostly male people who are accustomed to living in either phenomenal wealth, or great personal power. A few have both." Also: "The global economy is in very very very very bad shape."

In Their Own WordsThe WEF is among the more transparent of the world's elite power conglomerates, with an especially robust website trumpeting the group's openness and benevolence. "Companies today are responsible for much more than what they produce," says Borge Brende, a former Norweigan cabinet member who now serves as one of the WEF's managing directors. "We shape the global agenda and catalyze the results to improve the state of the world." In 2008 the forum invited all 6 billion of the world's uninviteds to post their gripes on YouTube.LEARN MORE

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