Thursday, January 24, 2013

Davos: cocktail party, soft law generator

Davos is about as lucrative as it gets in terms of international networking, hence FT's headline: Davos is no conspiracy – it is infotainment. The assessment:
The fact that the World Economic Forum has been going since 1971 and can pull 2,600 professionals away from their desks without knowing precisely why they come is quite an achievement. Any event that can charge SFr22,000 ($23,600) per seat – and up to SFr500,000 for membership – has things to teach rivals.
 But here is the part of interest for those listening for signs of soft law in global governance:
...“It allows bankers or people in business to meet and make deals they couldn’t legally do in their offices,” says Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the Ted conferences.
Not stated: this includes with politicians, policymakers, people who might be closely scrutinized if they meet you in their offices at home, but whose ear you can command at a cocktail party without public scrutiny.  I talked about this phenomenon in this paper, and noted the problems for democracy and accountability in governance when epistemic communities take their deliberations off-line, that is, out of the observable paths of governance and into international networks. In these networks, what these private and public elites are doing doesn't look like lawmaking--they are having cocktails, they are listening to speeches--yet ultimately translates into just that. That is the power and the puzzle of soft law, and we can see hints of it in the FT article:
...Davos is serious – its participants discuss weighty topics and review the state of the world. They hear from policy makers and economists what is going on, and what they think will happen (rightly or wrongly). “Davos is a factory where the conventional wisdom is manufactured,” says David Rothkopf, the author of Power Inc. 
...Third, it is a club. Entrance is tightly restricted and it plays to people’s vanity to be invited, or even permitted to join. ... people pay to be with other people they want to become peers with, or whom they admire. The currency of a club is its members. 
...Corporate membership, star guests, personal contact, intellectual stimulation and parties make a potent combination. The network effect is hard to break, even with reverses such as the anti-globalisation protests of the 1990s. Once a quorum of the elite signed up, Davos grew until everyone complained it was too big.
So, a network of elite normmakers and the elites who want to influence them. If you care about the rule of law and how legal principles and institutions develop through power and influence, you will pay close attention to Davos. However you must concentrate not on what you see but what you don't see.

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