Corridors of power

by Terence MacNamee

As I write this, the World Economic Forum is going on up in Davos, a few miles from here. An editorialist in a local newspaper has commented that while the WEF means a big security operation, it attracts less opposition these days, and it has in fact lost its meaning. People in politics and business go there just for the informal contacts.

C.P. Snow knew all about “the corridors of power”, a phrase which he coined as the title of a novel in the 1960s. Real political power, he figured, is exercised in small groups of people who know one another and meet informally behind closed doors. The corridors of power are more important than the halls and assemblies in which it is publicly exercised.

This year the contacts in the corridors of WEF have again shown themselves to be worthwhile for the host nation in particular. Chinese premier Li Keqiang was there with a delegation. While they were in Davos, an agreement on Switzerland becoming a renminbi hub was finally signed. Switzerland’s status as a “renminbi hub“ will give commercial traders here the ability to make and clear direct trades with their Chinese counterparts in the PRC. (The renminbi is one of the top ten currencies used for payments worldwide. In the past year, it outstripped the Swiss franc in this regard.)

Another example of worthwhile wheeling and dealing in the corridors of WEF: Switzerland and France finally came to a deal on the disputed tax status of the Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg Euro-Airport.

With all this wheeling and dealing, I wonder who actually goes to the meetings where the problems of the world are so earnestly and volubly debated. It can’t be the people who are getting things done.

But then it never has been otherwise, has it? Switzerland’s impresario of the corporate sector Klaus Schwab organised this thing just so that the people who count could meet and network on the sidelines. The attempts to solve the world’s great problems were no more than an elaborate kind of window-dressing. Ever.