Political News

Global Elite? At Davos? That’s News to Mnuchin

Posted January 12, 2018 6:24 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s decision to attend the World Economic Forum, a global gathering of industry titans, government ministers, celebrities, activists and others at the mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland, raised eyebrows in Washington, given Trump’s professed disdain for the “globalists” who typically attend the retreat.

But on Friday, one of his top economic advisers suggested that so-called Davos Men are closer to Average Joes.

“I didn’t realize that it was the global elite,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the administration official who will lead the delegation to Davos, said during an event sponsored by the Economic Club of Washington at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Mnuchin went on to explain that the World Economic Forum was no more elitist than the Group of 20 gathering of finance ministers or meetings such as the annual Milken Institute conference, which brings together financiers and executives for discussions about the global economy.

“If you look at the list, there’s an awful lot of world leaders, there’s an awful lot of finance chairs, there’s an awful lot of business people,” Mnuchin said. “This is an important economic agenda.”

The World Economic Forum is not just any economic conference. The cost of a basic membership and ticket is more than $70,000, and attendees tend to incur heavy expenses on luxury cars or helicopters to get from the airport in Zurich to the resort in Davos, where panel discussions on subjects like global income inequality and the threat of climate change are held.

Those attending include top executives like Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft and Ginni Rometty of IBM, along with Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, and scores of other executives, economists and academics. Celebrities are also a mainstay, and last year’s forum included interviews with Matt Damon, Shakira and Forest Whitaker.

The parties surrounding the conference also feature celebrities such as Bono and Leonardo DiCaprio. As for more interactive entertainment, one popular event is a simulation of a refugee’s experience, where attendees crawl on their hands and knees to better understand what it is like to evade an advancing army.

The World Economic Forum has in the past drawn scorn from anti-globalization groups as a symbol of lavishness and elitism, and at times attendees have tried to be less conspicuous. In the wake of the financial crisis in 2009, Gary D. Cohn, who is the director of Trump’s National Economic Council and was then chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs, was among the banking executives who opted to fly commercial to get to the forum.

Trump will be the first president since Bill Clinton to attend. As a candidate, he lashed out at his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for being a patron of “globalists” and elite bankers. In 2014, Stephen K. Bannon, who went on to be Trump’s chief political strategist, said that working-class men and women were tired of being dictated to by “the party of Davos.”

Some supporters of Trump have cast him as a populist “party crasher” at Davos, while others think the journey is unwarranted and unwise. Stephen Moore, the Heritage Foundation economist who advised Trump’s campaign, told CNN that he was not pleased by the decision.

“I was disappointed that he’s going to Davos because I think it’s a lot of self-important people who have a totally different view of the world than he does,” Moore said.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the president suggested that he was going to Davos to be “a cheerleader for the country” and highlight his economic success. Trump is expected to use the platform to boast about the improving American economy, including the rise in the stock market and the low jobless rate, and to deliver the type of protectionist message on trade that he gave during his Asia trip.

Mnuchin, who has never attended the forum himself, said at a White House briefing Thursday that the gathering was a good place to talk about the administration’s “'American first’ economic strategy.”

“I don’t think it’s a hangout for globalists,” Mnuchin said.