A surge of private jets—roughly 1,700—converged on Switzerland’s airports this week. The Swiss Armed Forces even had to open up a military base to accommodate the air traffic jam. That’s because, as is tradition, the global elite have gathered together at the World Economic Forum to tackle the big global economic, political, and social issues—as far away from the rest of society as possible. Business juggernauts, prime ministers and presidents, academics, and entertainers are cloistered away in Davos, Switzerland, a small ski-town nestled in a valley in the Alps.
The forum, also informally called Davos, after the host city, is a many-headed monster. It’s the flagship meeting of the non-profit of the same name, created by Klaus Schwab in 1971. In that time, it has ballooned from a few hundred attendees to nearly 3,000. The media has called the conference a “Super Bowl of schmoozing,” where industry leaders will pay hefty ticket prices—estimated to be around $71,000, and that’s not including the cost of chartering a private jet—to rub shoulders with other industry leaders. But no one can just buy their way in. The meeting is invite only; color-coded badges reinforce the hierarchy. “So frequently did gazes slip to re-examine my badge that I came to know what it must be like to have cleavage,” wrote Nick Paumgarten in the New Yorker in 2012.