Mid-day Thursday, Bloomberg TV spent nearly five minutes speculating on Elon Musk’s flight plans for Sun Valley. The Tesla, SpaceX and maybe-but-probably-not soon-to-be Twitter chief, who is scheduled to speak at Allen & Company’s annual confab here on Saturday, still had yet to arrive at a weeklong summit that most executives attend more or less from start to finish. Musk would arrive later that evening, but the uncertainty surrounding his plans had become a preoccupation for media outside the conference, as well as an amusing sidebar for executives inside the Lodge. This was understandable: Musk, intriguingly idiosyncratic—even by the standards of the Sun Valley set—was effectively the week’s headliner, occupying the close-of-conference slot usually reserved for a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.
Many executives won’t be staying for Musk’s address, conference attendees told me (in some cases, as they were heading for the airport). It turns out that it takes at least a Buffett or a Gates to keep many of these people here into the weekend, especially since the lingering pandemic put the kibosh on Mark Zuckerberg’s annual, highly-attended Friday night karaoke party in Ketchum. But, more to the point, Musk actually isn’t the real headliner—at least, not in the eyes of so many of the tech and media luminaries I’ve spoken with here. That informal nod goes instead to a far less colorful historical figure: former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who speaks Friday morning.
In previous years, the “conversation” at Sun Valley—to the extent that hundreds of executives from media, technology, finance, sports and so on can ever really have one monolithic conversation—has focused on myriad topics: consolidation, innovation, regulation, and so on. But this year, there actually has been one very omnipresent subject dominating the attendees’ time: recession. “It’s all recession,” one Silicon Valley executive told me when I asked what people were talking about on the inside. “Covid stories and recession.”