Hair shirts mix with tailored variety at Davos 2012

Frugality and philanthropy are key themes for the super-rich this year, says Ben Chu

To the untrained observer Davos man and Davos woman might look the same as ever: well-fitting clothes, mobile phone clamped to ear, iPad affixed to finger, a confident "master-of-the-universe" gleam in the eye.

But something has changed inside the delegates of the World Economic Forum this year. A powerful sense of social responsibility has been kindled in their hearts. The message of the global "Occupy" protesters, and all those jibes about the runaway wealth of the "1 per cent" have not, contrary to popular assumption, fallen on unheeding ears. Capitalism is about successful adaptation, and these delegates have duly adapted to the new environment. The evidence? Two themes have run through the first two days of this year's summit: frugality and philanthropy.

First the frugality. Happily, the British have been world leaders in this area. To bang the drum for the London Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee and the ailing UK economy, the British delegation held a tea party at Schneider's café on the promenade. The event was described by the mayor's office as "frugal and efficient". It did however have the British model Lily Cole thereto provide some glamour.

And it's not just governments that are attuned to the need to cut out the excess at a time when global unemployment is heaped as high as this year's record snowfall in Davos.

An Indian billionaire (one of the estimated 70 in attendance this year) said that he hoped this year's meeting wouldn't be "just about glamour and people having a big party." And indeed the after-conference soirées, so far, are reported to be more sober than in previous years.

Philanthropy has been big too. The Ukrainian steel pipe billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, held his annual philanthropy round table this week, chaired by Chelsea Clinton. Sadly, Tony Blair, who was to attend, apparently couldn't make it because of commitments in the Middle East. The Irish telecoms magnate, Denis O'Brien, has tried to encourage investment in Haiti. "Corporations need to engage in giving a chunk of their profits to social issues," Mr O'Brien urged.

Bill Gates lead by example, announcing a $750m contribution to a global fund to eradicate malaria.

Britain's International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was mingling with the well-heeled. Did he think the global rich were dipping their hands into their pockets sufficiently deeply? "They're doing a lot, but I want them to do more. That's why I'm here" he said.

But there can be contradictions when it comes to philanthropy. Daniel Och, founder of the New York hedge fund Och-Ziff, told me that charitable giving is important to him and his family. But the hedge funds are reported to be playing hardball over the Greek debt write down, something that, some say, is serving to extend the misery of the Greek population.

There are blind spots too. How about requiring the wealthy to pay more in tax, rather than simply urging them to make donations to worth causes? "If you change the law we will pay the taxes," sniffed David Rubenstein, of private equity firm Carlyle Partners.

Self-interest has not been entirely extinguished then. And it is notable that, while there has been a good deal of talk about the dangers of growing inequality, there has much less discussion about what to do about it.

And frugality? Well, it's all relative here in the Swiss Alps. CNN estimated the average cost per delegate is $40,000; registration $20,000, flights $6,000, transfers $4,000, food $2,000, hotel $3,000. And there is plenty of conspicuous wealth on show. The so-called "oligarch's wives" were in attendance looking slightly lost in the conference centre in their fur coats and snow boots.

The helicopter hiring stall was doing decent business. "How much to fly to Zurich airport," I asked. "Between $5,000 and $9,000" replied the lady. "Why the difference?" "It depends whether you want a single or a double engine." Perhaps the Davos billionaires ought to charter a single and give the saving to charity. Frugality and philanthropy combined in perfect Davos-style.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker