Billionaire set at Davos turns its attention to the wealth gap

Income inequality is trending and leaders are jumping on the bandwagon

Goldie Hawn speaks to a delegate during a break in sessions on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday. The actor is speaking at the forum about the merits of meditation. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Goldie Hawn speaks to a delegate during a break in sessions on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday. The actor is speaking at the forum about the merits of meditation. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Thu, Jan 23, 2014, 09:38

Anybody looking for timeless wisdom in Davos will find it not in the sprawling conference centre, where 2,500 political and business leaders have convened, but rather on the gable wall of a nearby house.

In careful German gothic script, a proud Davos homeowner pronounces: “Satisfaction in one’s own small house is greater than having a big pad and never being happy.”

That may be news to the billionaires paying a small fortune for their visit to the Magic Mountain. It’s interesting, therefore, that the debate at the 44th World Economic Forum is turning to the wealth gap and the rising battle between more and less.

Income inequality is trending and leaders, anxious not to miss a trend, are jumping on the bandwagon.


Tautologous insights
Around the coffee bar, executives trade tautologous insights. “There will be more innovation in the next five years than the last 15.” See you in five years, so.

Despite that, Davos still attracts a more eclectic crowd than you might think. In one corner you’ll find a Buddhist monk on his iPad, in another a scientist enthusing about her “ants in space” experiment.

And let’s not forget the Hollywood glamour: Matt Damon getting a gong for his water advocacy; and Goldie Hawn speaking about the merits of meditation.

People-watching is the greatest charm of Davos as, for four days a year, leaders leave their security bubble for the roomier Davos enclosure.


Cheery soldiers
Surrounded by several rings of razor wire and several hundred Swiss soldiers (officially the cheeriest in the world), you can watch Tony Blair having a coffee and telling jokes or listen in on Al Gore talking about his son’s wedding.

Though there’s less snow around this year, many delegates have abandoned the slippery dress shoes of death to once again embrace the traditional Davos look of suits or smart casual matched with mountain boots.

With no natural light in the congress centre, attention starts to flag by mid-afternoon. Then the battle begins: for seats and sockets in the coffee bar to replenish brains and smartphones respectively.

Soon the crowd departs for their Davos disco nap before the real work – the parties – swings into full gear.