Participants in the World Economic Forum's annual meeting gather Wedneday in Davos, Switzerland.
Participants in the World Economic Forum's annual meeting gather Wedneday in Davos, Switzerland. - 
Listen To The Story

The origins of "Davos Man" are murky.  

As a name, it's often an epithet, spoken with venom. It refers both to the individual human beings who attend the World Economic Forum each year at a ski resort in Davos, Switzerland, and the global, capitalist power structure they are taken to represent.

Its first use is often credited to "The Clash of Civilizations" by Samuel Huntington, but the words "Davos Man" never appear in the book. The earliest reference I could find was a 1997 editorial in The Economist, "In Praise of Davos Man," that ostensibly reviews Huntington's book. It seeks not to bury, but to praise and defend "Davos Man" as a paragon of a global capitalism that could transcend culture and bring people of the world together. Here is the ending:  

Although 40 or so heads of state will troop to Davos this weekend, the event is paid for by companies, and run in their interests. They do not go to butter up the politicians; it is the other way around (see previous leader). Davos Man, finding it boring to shake the hand of an obscure prime minister, prefers to meet Microsoft's Bill Gates.

All this should cheer up Mr Huntington, not cast him down. Some people find Davos Man hard to take: there is something uncultured about all the money-grubbing and managerialism. But it is part of the beauty of Davos Man that, by and large, he does not give a fig for culture as the Huntingtons of the world define it. He will attend a piano recital, but does not mind whether an idea, a technique or a market is (in Mr Huntington's complex scheme) Sinic, Hindu, Islamic or Orthodox. If an idea works or a market arises, he will grab it. Like it or loathe it, that is an approach more likely to bring peoples together than to force them apart.

Matthew Bishop, an editor at the Economist who was in the meeting that debated this editorial in 1997, says elements of the argument are still valid.

But Seyla Benhabib, professor of political science and philosophy at Yale University, says the forces that Davos Man represents have also pulled people apart, exacerbating global inequality.

Felix Salmon, a senior editor at Fusion cable channel, says Davos Man hasn't changed since Salmon started attending. "Rich people don't change that much, I don't think," he says.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the 1997 editorial in The Economist was called "In Defense of Davos Man." The actual title is "In Praise of Davos Man." The text has been corrected.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.