Economic summit: When Davos freezes over...

It is usually an opportunity for the rich and the powerful to pat each other on the back. Not this year, reports Sean O'Grady

The annual World Economic Forum, kicks off today in the pleasant Swiss ski resort of Davos. For the past three decades and more, the elite of the world's business financial and political elites – about 2,500 movers and shakers, plus another 5,000 hangers on and media – have gathered here to discuss the state of the world, do some deals and take in a little skiing.

In the boom years, the evening parties became more lavish, the noise of mutual congratulation louder, and you could almost sniff the arrogance polluting the crisp, alpine air. The triumph of capitalism and its promise of never-ending prosperity was celebrated, often none too subtly, over canapés and champagne.

In the good times, none were more sure of themselves than the bankers. They came to Davos in ever-increasing numbers to see each other and to be seen. Not now.

This year, it seems, they are too ashamed to show their faces – and Davos will have to do without their telling the rest of us how they got the world into the crisis in the first place. At the last moment, Bob Diamond, president of Barclays Capital, one of the highest earning bankers in the world, dropped out.

"Bob is no longer able to attend Davos," Barclays said in an email to Reuters. A spokesman declined to provide a reason but said Barclays Capital chairman Marcus Agius and others from the bank would still attend.

Mr Diamond is just the latest in a growing list of no-shows. Many other bankers, especially the American ones, are avoiding the glitz of the Davos slopes this year. Those who have dropped out at the last moment include Citigroup chief executive Vikram Pandit and former Merrill Lynch chief John Thain. Other colourful and high profile ex-masters of the universe such as Dick "The Gorilla" Fuld, chairman and chief executive officer of the now defunct Lehman Brothers, and Sir Fred "The Shred" Goodwin , ousted in November as boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, will also be unavailable for the various sessions on "what went wrong". Indeed, RBS, now 70 per cent owned by the British taxpayer, will not be sending anyone this year.

And, while you're never going to go short of a glass of bubbly here, the scale of entertainment has been trimmed, just like the banks' balance sheets.

Davos hoteliers report that those who once ordered Dom Pérignon and Krug have scaled back to the somewhat cheaper Laurent-Perrier.

Goldman Sachs has quietly dropped its usual extravagent bash. Few public figures seem willing to allow themselves to be seen with a drink in their hand and a grin on their face while back home people are being thrown out of work and their houses repossessed. Some of the parties may be much more exclusive affairs, for fear any stray blogger or journalist may witness such scenes opf relative excess.

Perhaps for different reasons, Davos will also be bereft of Bono this year. Even as the financial crisis was gathering pace last year participants such as Condoleezza Rice and Gordon Brown still had to be publicly accountable to the U2 frontman for progress, or lack of it, on the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

This year, apparently, Bono is finishing an album, but you get the impression that concerns about world poverty and climate change – two of the indulgences that occupied Davosians when they assumed that capitalism's difficulties had been solved for good – were never going to get much of a look-in at the 2009 event.

Not even Bono could raise their profile when market capitalism faces such immediate threats. The violence and destruction in Gaza also casts a pall over proceedings. A session entitled "meet the peacemakers" starring UN Middle East envoy Tony Blair has disappeared from the schedules.

Bill Gates, nowadays appearing at the Forum as the world biggest philanthropist rather than its most famous geek, has hinted at the pessimism felt by many in the aid world.

He said: "I believe that the wealthy have a responsibility to invest in addressing inequity. This is especially true when the constraints on others are so great. Otherwise, we will come out of the economic downturn in a world that is even more unequal, with greater inequities in health and education and fewer opportunities for people to improve their lives."

Still, Mr Gates will be here, helping to ensure that this small corner of the Alps has concentrated in its environs a substantial majority of the planet's power and wealth.

The truth is that even such a gathering as this is unlikely to find any answers to the economic crisis. No magic solutions will emerge from the picturesque mountains here. But, as Downing Street prepares to host the G20 summit in London in April, Davos should help Gordon Brown to frame the agenda for that meeting.

He will have an opportunity to canvass views from financiers and representatives of other governments on how we get out of the mess.

"Shaping the Post-Crisis World" is the slogan for the 2009 WEF. The trouble is, no one quite knows how or when that such a post-crisis world will arrive.

World Economic Forum: Who's who

No shows

In previous years, bankers like John Thain might have rubbed shoulders with rock stars like Bono. This time, discredited former Merrill Lynch boss Thain – famed for spending $1,400 on a rubbish bin – is lying low, and Bono, perhaps mindful rock stars seem a mite frivolous right now, conveniently has an album to record. They're not the only stayaways. There will be no Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, or Richard Fuld – who took $186.6m in pay as Lehman Brothers CEO in the three years before it went bust. Barclays president Bob Diamond has dropped out for reasons unknown; Vikram Pandit, CEO of ailing Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein won't be there either. Another A-list absentee, who is a little busy: President Barak Obama.

Turning up

As the money men wane, politicians are reasserting their grip: 41 heads of state and government, including our own Gordon Brown, are attending, compared with 21 last year. They're joined by entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Among economists will be Nouriel Roubini, the New York professor who was one of few to predict the crunch. For excitement, look to the reunited motley crew of Peter Mandelson, George Osborne, Nat Rothschild, and Oleg Deripaska.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam