This year I've decided not to call the pilot, pop on to Vanguard's G-4 and jet to Davos. Partly because we don't "do" corporate airplanes. Partly because I've never been important enough to receive an invitation to the perennial World Economic Conference. But mostly because what was once truly a global economic conference has become a "happening," a magnet for the rich and famous -- including business stars and Hollywood starlets -- to see and be seen, sort of like walking on that red carpet to the Oscars.
I confess I looked at this year's program before I made my decision. And I'm only truly sorry to miss Morgan Stanley's Steve Roach, whose persistent gloomy warnings about the global economy have yet to come home to roost. And I'm kinda sorry to miss the apparently impassioned defense of speculating in today's financial markets ("Beyond Short-Termism: Not on my Watch"), which I hope -- but doubt -- is an attack on my attack on the folly of short-term speculation in my new book. To say nothing of "Hedge Fund Fairy Tales," although that can hardly be covered adequately in the allotted hour. The sessions "Happiness is . . . ," "The Trust Deficit," and "Transforming Neurotic Corporations" may also have been interesting.
Confession being good for the soul, the session I'll really be sorry to miss is "All You Ever Wanted to Know about Relationships -- But Were Afraid to Ask," a rare three-hour session that vastly exceeds the customary one hour-limit. Here, psychologist Dagmar O'Connor will tell what I'm certain will be a capacity audience why "relationships and sexuality may be the only universal part of human life," and give us "tools to overcome old problems and keep desire flowing." We can all learn, can't we? (Even though I'll soon be 77, I'll celebrate my 10th anniversary as a heart-transplant recipient on Feb. 21. The heart is actually now 35.)
Speaking of CEOs, the Forum exults that among its select horde of 2,340 participants are a record 735 chief executives, chairmen and CFOs, "the highest figure of corporate leaders ever." With all due respect, I won't miss glad-handing most of them. They get paid as if they're solely responsible for their firms' success, and even if they fail, they get handsome rewards. In 2004, their compensation rose another 39% to 475 times that of the average worker -- the guys and gals who get out of bed every morning and do their jobs, with never a ride on the corporate jet whose cost is paid 60% by shareholders and 40% by taxpayers. Truth be told, most CEOs I've met are greatly overrated. But I don't complain; I may have been the most overrated of all.
So sorry, Bono, I can't be with you for lunch. Sorry, other Michael Jordan, that I won't hear the latest on EDS. Sorry, David Stern, that I can't shoot some hoops with you. Sorry, Jacques Rogge, that I won't learn more about "the impact of sports in the world." And sorry, Jean Claude and Christo, but please know that I took my whole family to "The Gates" and loved it.
But I already knew, as I suspect everyone there knew, that "China, India, [are] Key to the Future," CNN's headline about Chancellor Merkel's speech. And I didn't need to fly to Davos to learn that "plumbers, construction workers, and electricians" will still be needed in the global economy of the future. With 226 sessions, I would have had to miss at least 200 anyway.
Deep down, however, I may just be jealous. Perhaps if I call President Clinton I can hitch a ride on his jet, arriving late tomorrow afternoon for a closing panel with Forum founder Klaus Schwab. Then I'd have avoided all the foolish, self-righteous show-biz baloney, but be able to assure my pals: "Yes, I was at Davos, 2006."
Note: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Vanguard's present management.
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