With the economy deep in recession and the banking industry nervously awaiting a second, multibillion-dollar government bailout, titans of industry did the most logical thing they could under the circumstances: They went skiing in the Alps.
I jest, of course (kind of). More than 2,500 industry leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland, this week for the World Economic Forum. The annual event draws some of the top names in business, including
founder Bill Gates,
CEO John Chambers and
CEO Indra Nooyi, as well as their European counterparts.
Also on the
list of luminaries
CEO Jamie Dimon,
chief Brady Dougan,
founder Michael Dell and
Charles Holliday, just to name a few. NBA Commissioner David Stern also took the time to make the trip.
In years past, the Davos conference was just a minor annoyance, a few days of rich corporate executives and well-heeled investors gathering in central Europe to ostensibly discuss business, met by seemingly nonstop coverage from
The Wall Street Journal
might weigh in with the occasional piece if something were of actual interest.
But to hold this event in 2009, with the world suffering through what many observers believe is the worst economic slump since World War II, is the height of arrogance. Quite simply, it is everything that is wrong with capitalism, and my, did Vladimir Putin have a fine time this year running down the western way of doing business.
Companies around the globe are cutting jobs, closing plants, slashing costs any way they can. But still, hundreds of our finest business leaders managed to justify the expense and time of jetting around the world to a lavish, obnoxious confab.
Might this not be necessary to get the engine of capitalism turning again? Hardly. We have phones now. And email. How about saving a few pennies until the economy recovers? Doesn't matter if a CEO's decision to attend the event didn't cost shareholders a dime. Davos doesn't just happen for free. Somebody, somewhere, is paying for all that caviar that's being consumed.
At least a few people were decent enough to skip the event -- reportedly names such as
Vikram Pandit, Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair.
Here's a suggestion. Let's hold off on future World Economic Forums until things improve a little. At least then, we might be able to live with its existence.
This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.com.