This week, the world's political and economic elite (not to mention a few movie stars) will gather once again for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Whether you look at the WEF as a model for the future of global governance or an unseemly celebration of wealth and power at a time of economic distress, the inner workings of this unique institution are always fascinating to watch. Throughout the week, the Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer will be in Davos, blogging on what's happening in the banquet halls and conference rooms -- and how it will affect the world for the rest of us.
What if Italy's Silvio Berlusconi asked America's most famous sex columnist for help...
I have a problem. I like to think of myself as a pretty powerful guy: Let's just say that, in my current gig, I have at my disposal the seventh largest GDP in the world. And it wasn't just handed to me: I worked my ass off for it. Built my own media company from the ground up, and charmed and networked and elbowed my way to the top of my field. Along the way, I've been known to indulge occasionally -- OK, often -- in my fondness for extracurricular women, the younger the better. (Still in high school? Don't mind if I do.)
The peccadilloes in my work and social lives always fit hand in glove: borrow a little money from the business account to woo a pretty young thing (ladies don't pay for themselves, you know?); then bring her into the office to win the admiration and respect of my colleagues and clients.
But I'm starting to lose my magic. It started when my wife left me a year ago. She didn't go quietly -- it was public and messy. Then the Feds started auditing my business after years of looking the other way. (Morale at the office is low -- I was nearly fired a few weeks back.) And to top it off, the women I've been with are either trying to extort me for even more money than I've already given them, or they're gabbing to the cops about our pay-for-play arrangements.
So here's my question: Why can't I get away with it anymore? I remember what they told us in Catholic school about sins of the flesh, and I'm starting to think they were right -- that my years of risky romantic escapades are catching up with me. Judging from all my other powerful friends, you don't have to be a saint to be successful in this world, but maybe it's just a matter of time.
Or maybe it's just the fact that I'm getting up there in years? (Though I doubt that: With the procedures I've had, you wouldn't guess I'm 74, trust me. And I've still got my natural charm -- hey, back in the day I was a singer on a cruise ship.)
Well, at least I'm not gay, right?
—Confused Italian Approaching Obsolescence
No, CIAO, you're not gay -- well, not yet.
Many social conservatives believe that being gay is a choice. If they're correct, CIAO, and the ladies disappear -- or if you should ever find yourself in a place where there are no ladies (pirate ship, Vatican City, Italian federal prison) -- you will have options. High-powered career people like yourself are usually pretty flexible when it comes to networking and making business deals: If the conservatives are right, perhaps you'll negotiate homosexual affairs just as easily.
That is, of course, if the social conservatives are correct. Which, putting your Catholic schooling aside, is something you might want to reconsider. You've probably lost all the buddies you used to go to Sunday Mass with. Why not lose the dogma, too?
Backing up for a moment: Henry Kissinger famously observed that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. I'm shocked that a man in your position -- you built your own media company, you have the world's seventh-largest GDP at your disposal -- has to pay for it. Bill Clinton and François Mitterrand managed to attract "extracurricular women" without having to pay-for-play. Either you're living in a place where there are no women aroused by power (Vatican City?), or you're not nearly as powerful as you think you are (seventh largest? You sure?).
Perhaps the problem is the particular type of women you find attractive, CIAO. The younger the better, you say? So we're talking about girls then, CIAO, with little to recommend them save taut bodies and empty heads. Girls are unlikely to know who you are or much care; they're also unlikely to find your bloated body and balding head attractive. They will, therefore, require compensation and -- as a certain former governor of New York can tell you -- compensation can lead to complications.
Women who are genuinely aroused by power, on the other hand, usually have something on the ball; that is, they're informed enough to know you're powerful and care. These women regard getting close to power as its own turn-on/reward and typically don't need to be paid, or paid to go away.
Ah, but I haven't answered your question: Why can't you get away with it anymore? Because, CIAO, in some ways luck is like a first wife (it dries up), and in some ways luck is like a first husband (it runs out).
Your luck, like your wife, stuck around for a long time, CIAO, and things might have stayed as they were, if you hadn't come to see your good fortune as the natural state of things. Once a man does that, CIAO, he can begin to take his luck for granted and to presume upon it. And we all know what happens to men who get overconfident: They get sloppy, they get caught, they get indicted, and sometimes they wind up getting sent places where there are no ladies.
You've managed to wriggle your way out of trouble more than once in your long career, presumably, and your professional Teflon may yet save your ever-loosening hide. Just remember, CIAO, the general public, unlike your entourage, is not composed of so many brainless, easily impressed girls. They don't expect you to be a saint or to have a personal life less complicated than their own, but they do expect you to keep it legal and keep it discreet. If you can't manage your affairs without breaking laws and making news, the public is unlikely to entrust you with the management of theirs.