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Davos's Color-Coded Class System

By Caroline Baum
January 24, 2013 1:21 PM EST

Ah, Davos. A place, yes, but much, much more. No one says, "I'm going to the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos in January." They say, "See you at Davos." Not "in," "at."

The theme of the 2013 annual meeting is "Resilient Dynamism," a worthy topic and something developed nations could use a dose of right now. Davos always picks lofty-sounding themes in conjunction with the WEF mission of "improving the state of the world."

And Davos claims to have done just that. In 1994, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat reached a draft agreement on Gaza and Jericho at Davos, according the WEF historical timeline. "Peres and Arafat spontaneously joined hands and walked to the Congress Hall stage to thunderous applause," according to the site.

Fast forward seven years, and I had an opportunity to witness Arafat blast Peres on that same stage for waging a "savage and barbaric war" against the Palestinians.

While many U.S. chief executive officers go to Davos each year to see and be seen, the ethos is European social democratic. Founder Klaus Schwab even developed the "stakeholder theory" of management, which puts the interests of "employees and the communities and societies in which they operate" on par with those of the companies' shareholders and customers.

That's what makes Davos's class system so surprising. At Davos, you are the color of your badge. Holders of white badges -- corporate bigwigs, government officials, panelists, and some media pooh-bahs -- have access to all lunches, dinners and private sessions, which are generally off the record. An orange badge gets you into the conference center. Period.

We are all equal in the eyes of the law. At Davos, some are more equal than others.

(Caroline Baum is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)

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