DAVOS, the shorthand by which the World Economic Forum's annual jamboree in this ski resort is known, is over for this year. Nelson Mandela, Yasir Arafat, Bill Gates and Jack Welch, among others, spoke. And while they were not talking -- in fact, even while they were up there on the podium -- the business elite used their view from these Alpine peaks to ponder and discuss where the world is and where it may be going, in forums large and small.
So your company declined to pay the $20,000 entry fee, plus expenses, to send you to Davos? Do not despair. If Tom Peters, the consultant, can offer "Business School in a Box," surely what goes on in Davos can be summarized in, say, 1,200 words. Here's the skinny you need to make it look like you were here.
Think of Davos as a kind of global Renaissance weekend, only bigger, longer (six days) and more serious. With as many as nine panels happening at once -- and many more, somewhat lighter topics (like Chinese medicine and the future of movies and television) programmed for discussion over daily lunches and dinners -- Davos is a pot-au-feu of conversation starters and conversation stoppers.
Except for the plenary session speeches, Davos conversation is considered to be off the record. Here, lacking attributions to protect both the innocent and the guilty, are some of the more thought-provoking tidbits.
GLOBALIZATION This year's focus may have been "Building the Network Society," but the Globalization Question reigned in the way that the German Question once dominated European politics. No one doubted the inevitability of globalization, which is a product of the triumph of capitalism. But many fear it, for many reasons.
Some see globalization as the villain behind increased poverty, unemployment and inequality. They believe it threatens the sovereignty of nations, especially small ones that feel obliged to court international capital no matter the impact on their social and development agendas. Direct foreign investment, someone pointed out, is growing faster than international trade.
Globalization may be harmful, too, because it homogenizes the world's cultures. National cultural differences are being sacrificed on the mega-brand altar of companies like Disney and MTV, which thrive by peddling the same products everywhere.
Paradoxically, some experts say quick and nimble small companies may well end up being more powerful than huge corporate titans that fall behind in technology. One man even predicted the demise of America's largest corporations.
THE INFORMATION AGE In contrast to globalization, the arrival at last of the Information Revolution won many more plaudits than raspberries. In the political sphere, for example, information technology is seen as undermining repressive governments.
GOVERNMENT One drawback to the information age is that it exposes and demystifies all governments, exacerbating the loss of confidence in them. In some areas, governments are struggling to make themselves relevant.
Yet governments themselves contribute mightily to that loss of faith. They tend to do things that succeed in the short term but fail in the long term. For example, the social welfare systems that European nations erected after World War II to protect people are now hurting them, as they steer away jobs and wealth. Unemployment is rampant.
Plutocrats know that these social systems must be dismantled -- after all, not a single net new job has been created in Europe since 1970 -- but they have done nothing to create a constituency for change.
BANKS The very existence of banks is in doubt. Some experts believe that new forms of commerce, like the use of cybermoney, will make them obsolete. Others predict that they will thrive in the information age because they are the only institutions trustworthy enough to make electronic commerce work.
CRIME Like everything else, crime is going global. Experts expect organized crime -- drug trafficking, money laundering, financial fraud and corruption -- to increase. They worry about increases in digital terrorism, with hackers wreaking havoc on information networks. And they fear the emergence of black markets in nuclear material that the Soviet republics never tracked after their empire broke up.
HEALTH Nearly half of United States cancer patients are now surviving at least five years -- and the challenge to health care providers is to make that percentage, at the least, hold for the rest of the world.
Scientists are scrambling to discover genetic secrets, but one avenue of exploration -- testing for genetic susceptibility to various diseases -- carries its own risk: nearly everyone will be at risk for some disorder. How genetic profiles will be used -- including by insurance companies -- and who will have access to them remains a huge question. True confidentiality is unlikely.
And what will happen if courts accept the idea that some criminal behavior has a genetic basis?
THE ENVIRONMENT Energy is still being used -- and wasted -- in vast amounts, degrading the environment. Some experts say the only answer is to reduce energy consumption, to make people live more frugally. But others say information technologies can help countries and consumers cut back by eliminating the waste. For example, better traffic management could slash the gasoline wasted in traffic jams.
LEARNING Education must reach more people -- and it must go to them rather than forcing individuals to go to schools to learn. People may then see education as a lifelong activity, rather than something that takes place when they are young.
It's also not too late to join the information age -- worldwide, fewer than 5 percent of people use computers, although the proportion in the United States is upward of 30 percent.
POPULATION By 2000, half the world's population will be under 20, with profound consequences. The vast majority will live in poor nations, many in the streets of mega-cities that cannot provide jobs.
Worriers are certain that these leaps in population will test the world's ability to feed everyone. Still, recent surveys in China show that the amount of arable land there is greater than previously thought, and some scientists see biotechnology as the savior that will increase food production. No matter what happens, food may well cost everyone a lot more.
THE FRENZY Are you tired? Just wait. The pace of life in the developed world will only get faster, leading some to suggest that some people will opt out of post-industrial life altogether and others to predict a big business in building sanctuaries for the harried. Alienation is a huge risk.
Considering that a huge part of Davos is the talk that goes on in the corridors, attendees had a good Davos if they covered anywhere close to the ground outlined here. If it all sounds squishy, however, remember that Davos functions best when it provides questions, not answers. After all, Elie Wiesel said at one meeting, "Questions unite people, and answers divide them."