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Semafor LogoBen Smith
Ben Smith
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Semafor Davos Daily: Deglobalization or reglobalization?

Welcome to Day 1 of Davos 2023.

You may be wondering why you’re here in Davos (or, worse, reading a Davos newsletter from some warmer spot). What’s the point of globalization’s annual trade show as the old global order unravels?

The forum has just the answer for this: more Davos.

This year’s obsession may be artificial intelligence, and its most enthusiastic participants are so-called middle powers like India and the Philippines. But the buzzword is reglobalization. That’s the subject of Ian Bremmer’s panel at 8:30 Tuesday morning, featuring academic-du-jour Adam Tooze.

We at Semafor have some of the same challenge, building a new global news organization at a moment stories and interest are more global than ever — but as economic ties are fraying and reshaping.

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In this daily newsletter, we’ll hope to answer some of the same questions about Davos and about the world it hopes to affect.

Among the most closely-watched characters: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to present a tough and assertive new vision for Europe. And Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will have the opportunity to signal that the surprising pivot back toward engagement is real, or to walk it back.

Also: Are you wearing boots? Wear boots! The sidewalks are still a mess.

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— Ben Smith, Steve Clemons, Liz Hoffman

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Title iconRoll Call

Who’s here:

Power women: Davos still has the demographics of an oil rig (see above) but a generation of women have emerged as the gathering’s most effective operators. They include the EC's Ursula von der Leyen, World Trade Organization President Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Crypto: Blockchain, that is. The industry’s laser eyes are focused on finding problems to solve, from carbon credits to AI to finance, and their deep roots in Switzerland helped them buy out much of Davos’s promenade, to the mild chagrin of event organizers. The last crypto golden boy left standing, Circle’s Jeremy Allaire, is in attendance.

Wall Street, in force: JPM’s Jamie Dimon, Goldman’s David Solomon, BlackRock’s Larry Fink, Citi’s Jane Fraser, Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman, KKR’s Scott Nuttall, General Atlantic’s Bill Ford, Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio and Nir Bar Dea, Andreas Halvorsen of Viking, Ken Moelis, Lazard’s Ken Jacobs.

The new Marcos: Davos will be Philippines President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s debut on the global stage, and an opportunity to feed the ever-optimistic crowd some version of reality in which he’s a democratic modernizer.

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Who’s not:

Western centrists: Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, and Rishi Sunak are all skipping Davos this year, as the forum becomes "faintly toxic." Olaf Scholz is the only G-7 leader in Davos this year. (Have you searched “Davos” on Twitter? Yikes.)

Chinese business leaders: Davos has never been that welcoming to a crowd that isn’t fluent in English, but Jack Ma used to be a regular and ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming turned up in 2020. WEF’s dream of bridging the gap remains unrealized.

George Soros: The billionaire has recently used Davos as a platform for Jeremiads against targets from China to Facebook, but this year his son and heir apparent Alex Soros will lead the Open Society delegation. He’s talking to Steve Clemons Wednesday morning at Promenade 69.

Russians: The oligarchs are a memory. Russia House was turned last year into Russia War Crimes House. And even anti-Putin Russians seem to be staying away.

Tax talk: The Club of Rome, which is pushing for higher taxes on corporate profits, has been "sidelined" at Davos, along with talk of taxing the rich and of inequality, notes the former WEF spokesman Peter Vanham.

Title iconSkirmish

Bill Browder, the anti-Putin financier who championed the human rights-promoting Global Magnitsky Act, tells Semafor’s Steve Clemons he’s skipping the WEF after he found out it would cost him $250,000, more than triple what he paid in the past.

Browder famously confronted a top Russian official on stage at Davos in 2011 for not being upfront that investing in Russia could lead to corruption schemes and murder. He believes he should be admitted for free as an activist, and has only grudgingly ponied up. “I continued to pay just so I could show up and challenge the Russians,” he said.

This week he is meeting with officials on the sidelines of Davos to promote the use of frozen Russian central bank assets for Ukraine.

Forum uber-spokesman Adrian Monck told Semafor that “invitations to activists and civil society figures tend to prioritise people with considerably less resources.”

Title iconStatus Update

There are about a dozen types of badge this year. They include a couple of all-access categories, White for Participants, and Blue for Forum Staff.

Then there’s a Byzantine hierarchy that ranges from Orange (journalists who can access the Congress Center but not attend sessions) to Red (drivers) to Purple for medical and technical staff, Orange/Purple for production staff, Brown for aides to white-badges, Green for other members of the entourage, Light Blue for forum contractors, and Orange hotel badges that just let you into certain hotels.

There are also badges with yellow or red stripes or blue stripes, the last of which indicates that you are a participant rather than his or her spouse.
Collect them all!

Title iconToday's Agenda

Monday’s events skew late, with the WEF’s stages opening Tuesday.

5:00 p.m. The historian Niall Ferguson will make exactly this face (above) while leading the FT’s Circle-sponsored discussion of whether crypto is in crisis, at the Belvedere.

7:30 p.m. The WEF is holding a welcome reception for the the media in Davos, featuring the actor Idris Elba, and the Hilton Garden Inn. (That is, conveniently for the American press, home base for members of the U.S. Congressional delegation, which includes Senators Chris Coons, Maria Cantwell, and Joe Manchin, and Representatives Seth Moulton, Joaquin Castro, Darrell Issa, and Mikie Sherrill.)

8:30 p.m. “Whose Metaverse Will It Be?” The party people seem to actually want to get into is hosted by Lightshed and Games for Change, at Barry’s Piano Bar.

8:30 p.m. Time and its owner Marc Benioff, a Davos fixture, are hosting a kickoff party at the AlpenGold Hotel.

And good luck getting invites to Monday night’s exclusive dinners: Lally Weymouth’s annual power dinner, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman's annual one-table dinner conversation, and Bill Browder’s Ukraine-themed gathering.

And the Egyptian industrialist Shafik Gabr is hosting a gathering of economists and central bankers, whose consensus tends to shape Davos Man’s outlook on the world.

Title iconAccomodation
Title iconGroup Chat

Event organizers say they live in fear, and hope, of the power of groups on WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal to make or break a panel or party.

Power chats include everything from "WEF Friends" to "Burning Man at Davos" to "Climate People" to GEDI, organized around gender and inclusion. But the one that really moves the masses is is unDavos, originally organized by Mark Turrell, the impresario of Davos’s less stuffy social scene.

unDavos is "for YGLs, Global Shapers, Tech Pioneers, GLFs, GAC members, their spouses, friends, and cool people," says its Facebook page: "If you are not connected with anyone in here, or part of the WEF communities — you will likely be BLOCKED."

Don't block us! Send your best screenshots to davos@semafor.com or +16463693687 on all the platforms!

Title iconEin Guter Text ... mit Klaus Schwab
Title iconStaff Picks
  • In The New York Times, Roger Cohen sees reason for optimism about Davos’s mission at a difficult time: “The world that will be debated in Davos is sobered but not stripped of the idea that the pursuit of human dignity and equal opportunity are the necessary accompaniment to the pursuit of profit.”
  • “The Davos crowd have to contend with a world which is de-globalising and increasingly fragile,” Larry Elliott writes in The Guardian. “In a way, a bit of soul-searching and humility would be no bad thing, because for those struggling to get by, there are few things more nauseating than the self-styled masters of the universe wringing their hands about the need to address inequality.”
  • Greenpeace released a report on the hundreds of short private flights to Davos: “Davos has a perfectly adequate railway station, still these people can’t even be bothered to take the train for a trip as short as 21 km. Do we really believe that these are the people to solve the problems the world faces?” asked the organization’s Klara Maria Schenk.
Title iconSemafor in Davos

Connect with Semafor at Davos

On Wednesday, join Semafor's Steve Clemons for conversations with the UAE's space chief Sarah Bint Yousif Al Amiri on the country's exploration plans and with Open Society Foundations chair Alexander Soros on global blindspots. Register here.

Want to connect with the Semafor team, while we're here? Email us at partnerships@semafor.com

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