The first meeting of the World Economic Forum, then called the European Management Symposium, convened in Davos, Switzerland, organized by Klaus Schwab, in collaboration with Hilde Stoll. (They married shortly afterward.)
Aureilo Peccei, an Italian industrialist, delivered a speech calling for balancing economic goals with environmental concerns.
Political leaders were invited for the first time, and the European Energy Commissioner asked the United States to cut fuel consumption by 5 to 10 percent.
In an effort to engage with society at large, the conference began inviting a wider slate of speakers, including Ralph Nader, the consumer rights advocate.
Henry A. Kissinger, a former secretary of state, warned that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan posed a fundamental challenge to the United States.
The Economist wrote: “Europe’s industrialists are never happier than arguing with such folk what is wrong and what is right with free enterprise. After all, any economic system that gives you a tax-deductible week in Davos at the height of the ski season must have something to recommend it, mustn’t it?”
In a harbinger of the Iran-contra affair, the Austrian chancellor warned that the United States’ support of dictatorships in Latin America could harm its relations with European powers.
A Saudi prince, Saud ibn Faisal, said the United States and Europe should address the wrongs done to the Arab world, including brokering the establishment of a Palestinian homeland.
China announced a $1 billion plan to import Western technology. The New York Times reported, “Diplomats at the meeting here said China’s growing demands for modern Western technology raised strategic problems for the Western countries.”
“The key word you hear at the Davos sessions is disintervention,” The Financial Post reported. “What that means is downsizing government, selling off public-sector companies, reducing government regulations, lowering tax burdens, and encouraging success rather than subsidizing failure.”
The Greek prime minister, Andreas Papandreou, and Prime Minister Turgut Ozal of Turkey averted war with a face-to-face meeting.
Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the foreign minister of West Germany, urged the West to be receptive to the perestroika and glasnost initiatives begun by Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the Soviet Union.
Asher Edelman, the managing general partner of Plaza Securities Co., gave a blistering speech, decrying business leaders “who are not only unethical but immoral,” and was met with loud booing.
Carlo Rubbia, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1984, said the consumption of fossil fuels was a significant threat to life on earth and urged investing in nuclear fusion reactors to counteract the greenhouse effect.
The East German prime minister, Hans Modrow, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany met just two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Guardian reported: “A spiritual breakfast with Mother Teresa, a contact lunch with Ted Heath, dinner with the Prince of Darkness, Richard Perle, and a fiesta mexicana paid for by one of the most indebted countries, were among the delights available here yesterday as some of the most important people in the world (some might say self-important) assembled for an annual bout of networking.”
Nelson Mandela, the head of the African National Congress, and South Africa’s president, F.W. de Klerk, shook hands, in their first meeting outside their country.
Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister, and Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, reached a tentative agreement on settlements in the Gaza Strip and Jericho.
Russia assured world leaders that it was committed to a market economy after the fall of the Soviet Union. “The course of reform won’t turn back,” said the first deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais.
Bill Gates addressed Microsoft’s competitive landscape, saying: “There’s still a chance for Apple. It’s tough, though. It will take a great leader to stop the downward spiral.”
The Swiss president, Arnold Koller, expressed regret for his country’s role in the Holocaust to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. “We’re serious when we say we want the full truth also about the troubling time of our history,” Mr. Koller said.
The gathering that later became known as the Group of 20 was assembled for the first time at Davos.
In the wake of protests in Seattle the previous fall, Mike Moore, director general of the World Trade Organization, said as he went to Davos, “For the first few months of this year, the W.T.O. will adopt the posture of the swan serene on top of the water and paddling furiously under the water.”
In a show of solidarity after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the World Economic Forum was held in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria, the first time outside Davos.
As the United States laid the groundwork for war in Iraq, world leaders were harshly critical at Davos, saying the case for war had not been fully made.” I think the evidence is there, and I think the evidence is clear,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said.
The economist Samuel Huntington coined the term “Davos Man.”
Bono, Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone were among the celebrity attendees.
During a panel discussion on the relative success of the Iraq war, Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism analyst leading the Washington office of the RAND Corporation, said: “In terms of perception, we’ve already lost the war. I believe that a cult of the insurgent has emerged from Iraq.”
The British prime minister, Tony Blair, voiced support for the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States had declined to sign on to. “There are differences that need to be reconciled,” he said. “And if they could be reconciled or at least moved forward, it would make a huge difference to the prospects of international unity, as well as to people’s lives and our future survival.”
A report on avian flu published at Davos stated that the disease’s “impact on society might be as profound as that which followed the Black Death in Europe in 1348. That plague caused a fundamental transformation of socio-economic relations in Europe.”
Nouriel Roubini, chairman of Roubini Global Economics, warned at a panel of the increased use of derivatives as financial instruments. “The amount of leverage in the system is growing at rates that are scary,” he said. “We don’t know if derivatives are diffusing risk or concentrating it. The risk of something systemic happening is rising.”
Thomas Russo, chief legal officer of Lehman Brothers, disagreed, saying, “Risk is spread out in the financial services industry now much greater than ever before.”
George Soros said that systemic failure might already be upon us, and that the current state was “not a normal crisis but the end of an era.” Fred Bergsten, the director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, nevertheless said a global recession was “inconceivable.”
After the global credit-market meltdown and the failure of several major banks in the United States, the mood at Davos was described in news reports as “subdued,” “shaken,” “resigned” and “a little humbled.”
During a debate over fighting in Gaza with the Israeli president Shimon Peres, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, stormed off the stage and vowed never to return to Davos.
The director James Cameron said in a speech: “I always used to turn down invitations to Davos, since I know plenty about making movies, but nothing about economics. This year, I changed my mind — after all, we’ve seen from the last year that it turns out no one here knew anything about economics either.”
The Google chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said the company would stop censoring its search results in China. “We love what China is doing as a country and its growth,” he said. “We just don’t like the censorship. We hope to apply some negotiation or pressure to make things better for the Chinese people.”
The Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, said inequality could lead to long-term social unrest. “Politically, I believe we are at a turning point,” he said. “There are signs in Europe of more nationalism, more racism, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitism, fundamentalisms of all types.”
In a speech, Klaus Schwab said that capitalists “have sinned” and that “people feel it’s a difficult time. They are irritated.”
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, was the event’s only female co-chair.
The World Economic Forum offered a free extra spot to any company bringing a female delegate, but as one veteran female attendee told The Observer, “Lots of firms just don’t have a woman senior enough to send.”
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said that pay for executives and bankers must be cut to avoid another crash. “Excessive inequality is corrosive to growth; it is corrosive to society,” she said. “I believe that the economics profession and the policy community have downplayed inequality for too long.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, promised not to evacuate the West Bank settlements.
Delegates participated in a “Refugee Run,” meant to simulate the conditions of being a displaced person. Orders like “Get down on the ground, heads down!” “Get up, into the tent, go to sleep!” were yelled at them.
More than 100 attendees observed 10 minutes of silence in a conference room, as part of a presentation on mindfulness. “Even Goldman Sachs is doing it,” Bill George, a member of that company’s board, said of meditation. He added, “Here we are in this beautiful country, and has anyone bothered to look up at the mountains?”
Leonardo DiCaprio accepted the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award for his environmentalism, saying in his acceptance speech: “We simply cannot afford to allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil and gas industries to determine the future of humanity. Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system have denied, and even covered up, the evidence of our changing climate.”
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, said “no country would emerge the winner from a trade war.”
President Trump delivered a speech, declaring the United States “open for business.” He said: “The world is witnessing the resurgence of a strong and prosperous America. I’m here to deliver a simple message. There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States.”
Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish environmental activist, delivered a speech beginning: “Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire.” She added: “At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed.”