Pity the Poor Souls Who Didn’t Make It Back to Davos This Year [Updated]

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Photo: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One way to figure out who had the worst 2011 among the global elites, writes DealBook, is to compare last year's list of Davos attendees to this year's. Once people start going to Davos, they usually keep going to Davos, unless something goes terribly wrong for them. Like, say, they were accused of rape and lost their post as the head of the IMF (Dominique Strauss-Kahn), or they stand accused of securities fraud (Rajat Gupta), or they were involved in a huge hacking scandal (Rebekah Brooks). Or their dictator father is deposed and killed in a bloody revolution (Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, who formerly held the title of World Economic Forum Young Global Leader). The list of people sitting at home in sweatpants, presumably chugging bourbon and shooting out their television sets à la Elvis in the late years every time a ski slope shows up on CNBC, also includes a number of top executives who didn't rape or pillage, but plain old got the boot. At least they'll all be saving $40,000 by staying home.

But even for people who did schlep out to the chalets, the mood this year is different, writes Felix Salmon. Even if only George Soros is being blunt about his worry that the world is facing "one of the most dangerous periods of modern history—a period of 'evil'", others there are feeling it.

Security this year is tighter than ever — the first rule of security at these events is that it can only get ratcheted up, rather than loosened at all — and there’s a besieged feeling to this Alpine town I haven’t felt before. The financial crisis concentrated minds and was seen as a big problem to be addressed and even maybe solved. But the current breakdown of trust in global institutions cuts at the heart of the World Economic Forum’s founding principle — that if you get a bunch of important people together in the same place, they can actually make a difference.

An existential crisis for Davos?