KOFI ANNAN is to the Davos crowd what a busboy is on a cruise ship. If he is lucky, he might get a good tip. As for mingling in a tuxedo at the banquets or chatting at poolside, he might as well be Cinderella sweeping for her two sisters. He is to be tolerated as long as he knows his job is to pick up the crumbs.
The elite met once again on how to stay elite at the World Economic Forum. To be completely accurate, they were forced by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to display a veneer of conscience. Financier George Soros said: ''We need a global society and not just a global economy. We need to address wealth disparities and inequalities.'' Bill Gates said: ''People who feel the world is tilted against them will spawn the kind of hatred that is very dangerous for all of us.'' Even Horst Koehler, managing director of the International Monetary Fund said: ''Societies in the advanced countries are too selfish to give up their privileges.''
Beneath the soft veneer was hard, unvarnished greed. US Treasur y Secretary Paul O'Neill said not to even bother asking the United States to pull out its wallet to help out the world's poor, even though the United States gives out less foriegn aid per capita than any developed nation in the world. O'Neill said: ''Over the last 50 years, the developed world has spent trillions of dollars in the name of aid, and I would submit that we have precious little to show for it. How much money we spend is not the right issue. How fast we raise every human being's standard to our own, that's the question.''
O'Neill's argument is laughable on the face of it, since the American standard of living is possible only because our 5 or 6 percent of the world's population consumes about a quarter of the world's energy. The United States and the developed world comprise a quarter of the world's population but eat half its cereals and two-thirds of its meat. As for how the remaining 75 percent of the world is supposed to raise its standard of living while having access to only half the cereals and a third of the world's meat, O'Neill has no answer. Giving aid with precious little to show for it is the American way, from bloated Pentagon contracts to the current $15 billion bailout of shoddy airlines.
O'Neill does not want to spend the money on the poor because a moment of fun cannot be missed on the cruise ship. The 3,000 participants at the World Economic Forum, which drifted through the hallways of the Waldorf, dropped $100 million on New York hotels, ballrooms, and restaurants, according to the New York City tourism board.
That comes out to $33,333.33 per person. In five days in New York, each participant of the World Economic Forum spent on average what the average American makes in a year, four times what the average Mexican makes in a year, 14 times what the average person in India makes in a year, 22 times what the average person makes in Bangladesh, and 74 times than the average person makes in a year in Sierra Leone, according to United Nations figures.
To that body, the world's spokesman for the globe's busboys and buswomen of cheap labor made his appeal. Annan asked for $50 billion annually in new aid to cut the most extreme of world poverty in half by 2015. That amount is quite small considering that it would still leave the developed world giving less than 1 percent of its gross national product to developing nations. In the United States alone, that is a puny figure, given what we will do for airlines alone.
It is an eerie figure, given that President Bush just asked for an increase in military spending of nearly $50 billion despite the stark evidence at Ground Zero and in Israel that heavily armed militaries do not stop suicide bombers.
Annan tried to turn the cruise ship into a ''small boat driven by a fierce gale through dark and unchartered waters, with more and more people crowded on board, hoping desperately to survive. None of us, I suggest, can afford to ignore the condition of our fellow passengers on this little boat. If they are sick, all of us risk infection. And if they are angry, all of us can easily get hurt.''
By their spending in New York only five months after Sept. 11, the elite have made it abundantly evident that they still consider themselves invulnerable to infection and in no need of an infirmary aboard their vessel. Annan was allowed to come topside at the World Economic Forum, but the rich showed him no tux, no pass to the pool, and certainly no invitation to step over the crumbs to get a taste at the banquet table.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company