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In this final edition of Semafor’s Davos Daily, a parting scoop about the WEF inching rightward, a p͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
snowstorm Davos
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January 19, 2024


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Davos Today

  1. A parting scoop
  2. Agenda
  3. Thursday’s news
  4. Sightings
  5. A provocation from Steve Clemons
  6. The weekend beckons
  7. A plea from Evan’s parents

Welcome to Day 5 of Davos

Sign Up for Semafor Business from Liz Hoffman: Her twice-weekly newsletter, delivered on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is loaded with scoops, analyses, data dives, and ephemera from Wall Street and beyond. Sign up here.


The WEF edges away from the left

Thank you for joining us at Davos in 2024. We’ve loved writing for you, hearing from you — and more frequently than we could have hoped, running into you and discovering that…you’ve actually found time this insane week to read us!

We leave you with a scoop, which may explain an inchoate feeling we heard all over town that the WEF sure seems to have reversed course after years of leftward drift — toward ESG, stakeholder capitalism, and DEI.

This year’s motto could have been…. “never mind.” And the reason, as we report this morning, is a push from three directions:

  • Dan Schulman, the former CEO of PayPal, and a Davos mainstay who is known in the U.S. for progressive public stances, was among a group of CEOs privately warning WEF Chairman Klaus Schwab that the Forum had shifted too far left. Their goal was to “ensure that the dialogue at Davos and WEF is at the center, and not just on the progressive side,” and they brought in Richard Edelman and prominent Republicans to help.
  • The Forum’s leaders themselves have quietly sought the counsel of Washington Republicans on winning back friends on the right.
  • The Gulf monarchies, whose oil money flows down the promenade and helps underwrite the Forum, have also grown weary of criticism of fossil fuels and signaled to the Forum that, “we can do this elsewhere,” a prominent WEF participant said.

Some small signs of the change: The phrase “ESG” appeared twice in the 2022 program, once in 2023, and zero times this year. “Diversity” appeared five times in 2022, four times in 2023, and once this year.

This change may calm down some WEF members. But it’s hard to imagine that the WEF can ever really placate Javier Milei and his friends at Rebel News, the Canadian populist outlet that ambushed attendees as they left the Congress Centre. The populists, more than anyone else, need Davos, which serves as a pillar of the conspiratorial politics of right-wing populism. If Davos didn’t exist, the new right would have to invent it.

— Ben Smith


What’s on today

10 am: Feeling like you never want to attend another panel again? Climate Scale-Up is hosting a skiing and network event at Jatzhütte at 10am. BYOS (bring your own skis) or rent them.

10 am: Alternatively, start your morning off with the Swedish brunch at the AlpenGold Hotel. Invitation only.

11 am: The IMF’s Kristalina Georgieva, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, and Singapore’s President Tharman Shanmugaratnam, will discuss the global economic outlook at the Congress Centre.

11:15 am: Axios’s dialed-in Barak Ravid, Jane Harman, chair of the U.S. Commission on the National Defense Strategy, and Karin von Hippel, director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, will discuss the Middle East.

12 pm: Børge Brende, the WEF president, will hold brief closing remarks at the Congress Centre.

7 pm: The best reason to stay in town Friday is Shabbos at Davos. We won’t make it this year, but Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz promises to save an iconic World Economic Forum Yarmulke for Liz Hoffman.


What you may have missed

“One needs to be very careful in this environment, when everyone is pointing the finger at populists, not to alienate the people who actually vote for them. Because some of these grievances are very real.” — Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis

“The world is being rewired. Our trade routes are being rewired through derisking of supply chains; energy systems are being rewired with addressing climate change.” — Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, as he warned that supply shocks are to be expected with a “relatively high degree of certainty.”

“I think we’ll come in below that.”WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on the WTO’s forecast that trade growth would increase to 3.3% this year. She said the Red Sea shipping crisis and the drought in the Panama Canal has made the WTO less optimistic.

“This is like being a foreign minister or a leader in Europe in the 1930s, we have got to not appease Putin. We have got to stand up to the evil that his invasion represents.” — U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron

“We don’t want to see an AI Hiroshima.” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff

“Clearly, the Saudi option, as part of it, of the whole normalization process is key to the ability to exit from the war into a new horizon.” — Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Israel-Saudi normalization

“We have seen that movie before,” Ukrainian Ambassador to Washington Oksana Markarova told Semafor’s Steve Clemons of Russian peace proposals. “Unfortunately I wish we didn’t have to fight but we have to win it on the battlefield.” (She also told Clemons, who invented a nickname for her during an extended Donald Trump impression, that “Nobody calls me Oxy.”)

Big reads: Politico founding editor John Harris on how secret insider wisdom has grown banal … the FT on how “the curious appeal of a snowy week of networking and partying, of garnering social kudos and hoping for a life-changing chance meeting, remains undimmed” …“Attendees and leaders here do not view either war as a significant threat at the moment to the global economy,” notes Jim Tankersley.


Seen and overheard

Lally Lunch: Lally Weymouth’s famous Thursday luncheon at the Seehof remains perhaps Davos’s highest-level convening, reports Steve Clemons.

There was John Kerry, who said Dubai really, really, did matter despite the skepticism …Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, who delivered an emotional address about the moment and the hostages … JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, who warned Democrats to stop blasting MAGA (it sounds to him like “deplorables”) and warned that this may be the moment the Western order falls … Sam Altman, who noted how fast we all got used to talking to computers, then hit his time limit and got shut down by the host … Steve Schwarzman, who offered to yield his time to Altman … David Rubenstein, who said that if guests were happy with their seating, Lally did it, and that if they were unhappy, AI did it.

Also present: Paul Kagame, Michael Dell, Penny Pritzker, Radek Sikorski, David Miliband, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Dmytro Kuleba, Christine Lagarde.

Who They’re Wearing, Squawk edition: “Our motto is: ‘Look Good. Feel Warm,’” says Mary Duffy, the Vice President of Strategic Talent Development & Senior Executive Producer for CNBC whose responsibilities in the network’s hectic Davos week include nailing what hosts Becky Quick, Joe Kernen, and Andrew Ross Sorkin wear as CEOs and world leaders cycle through their three-hour broadcast. The trick, Duffy says, is “layering each anchor with base layers of fleece and sweaters and the ultimate coat.” No hats, however: “We sacrifice the warmth there so our viewers recognize our talent!” The look, she says, involves “balancing the fine line of making sure the anchors don’t look like they are ready to hit the slopes but also looking organic to the Swiss Alps backdrop.” Duffy didn’t want to get into the details or name brands. But Ben, who clearly has nothing better to do, reported it out during his appearance Thursday morning, and brings back word that it’s the (relatively affordable!) Italian label Herno.

Another Washington Post exclusive: New Washington Post CEO Will Lewis was quite cagey about his plans for the Post in an interview with Matt Garrahan Tuesday, but couldn’t resist breaking some news he picked up at his last event. “Gillian Tett’s getting married — that’s a scoop!” he announced of the FT columnist. (Who, we hasten to add, provided a second source for the happy news.)

PR-Napping: We had, we admit, canceled a meeting with HR software company Workday — which is extremely eager to talk about its AI products — and hadn’t rescheduled. But Thursday afternoon, Semafor’s Reed Albergotti walked into Workday’s Promenade HQ by accident, looking for a different tech company. He said something about a meeting, and was promptly escorted in to see an executive whose spiel, he reports, was surprisingly compelling.

Racing toward 2028?: Coca-Cola hosted Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, whose fluency with the state’s economic stats had some attendees convinced he’s courting a centrist pro-business crowd for future political ambitions.

TIL: Cloudflare’s Matthew Prince demonstrated to us, with a screen in the louche Cloudflare HQ, that the number one source of internet outages is now government action — and the number one cause is blackouts associated with standardized tests! The internet might as well have been out when Semafor left the building, which doubles as Barry’s Piano Bar, after 2:00 a.m.

Semafor/Ben Smith
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Browder vs. the WEF

Last year, financier and full time anti-Putin activist Bill Browder said he’d boycott the World Economic Forum — though he’s ubiquitous on the Davos sidelines — when the organization jacked up his price of entry to $250,000 from $70,000.

Browder has long been an unusual Davos figure, paying for the privilege of going into any session that had a key Russian government apparatchik and questioning them about the hypocrisy of saying Russia was a safe and sound place to invest when they had murdered Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in prison and then covered up the crime.

Ukraine House Davos

Interestingly, after Browder did this a few times, the Russians asked for their sessions to be off the record, but some journalists would still recount the testy exchanges between Browder and senior Russian officials. And then the Russians told WEF they would only appear if there were no questions at all — and they were accommodated.

I checked in with Browder, author of the best-selling books on his ordeal trying to secure justice in the wake of Magnitsky’s murder — Red Notice and Freezing Order. He told me that last year, WEF senior leadership had informed him there were essentially two categories of attendance: business people who paid their way in, and NGOs and non-profit activists who paid a different price, usually zero dollars or Swiss francs (according to Browder’s account).

While for many years, he had pursued his activism informally, successfully securing passage of human rights-focused “Magnitsky Acts” in the United States and other nations around the world, this past year he said he formalized his work and role by establishing a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, the Magnitsky Justice Foundation.

So, he applied for entry at WEF in 2024 in his role as a formal and full-time NGO head. According to Browder, the note he got back said, “Dear Mr. Browder, I’m sorry to say we are unable to honor your request. Thank you very much.”

Browder didn’t just lick his wounds and stop his work. His well-known Monday night dinner involved global leaders and human rights advocates, whom he called “the great and the good” — and he spent the week meeting foreign officials whom he drew out of the highly guarded and restricted meetings hall.

— Steve Clemons

Read more of Steve's Provocation on the web →


The real reason you’re here


One good text

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo

Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich are the parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been held in Russia’s notorious Lefortovo prison since March 2023. The U.S. State Department has declared him wrongfully detained.

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