Davos Confidential

It's easy to sneer at Davos as a place where the rich, powerful and famous come to talk to each other and arrogantly put the world to rights. But there has been little sign of arrogance at recent gatherings.
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It's easy to sneer at Davos as a place where the rich, powerful and famous come to talk to each other and arrogantly put the world to rights. But there has been little sign of arrogance at recent gatherings. Nor any settled view of how to overcome the challenges our world faces. If there is a global conspiracy underway at Davos, no one has yet let me in on the secret.

Instead Davos mirrors the uncertainty in the world in general. The real story this year was not arrogance but anxiety over how we could channel turbulent global forces in a more positive direction so that everyone gains. It's a rare chance for people -- whether political or business leaders -- to check their more narrow interests at the door and discuss these challenges from a broader perspective.

So we heard real and widespread concerns about the direction of the American economy and, for the first time, the danger of stalemate in our political system. There was intense discussion, too, about the eurozone and levels of debt. Here, too, there were concerns about politics, the lack of clear direction and lowest common denominator decisions.

Set against this sober assessment of the future of liberal democracies, we have to come to grips with the new strength and success of those countries which don't fit neatly into the traditional Davos model. China, of course, tops this list.

Its economy continues to power ahead, generating jobs and innovation, competing increasingly not just on price and scale but on quality. The question is the sustainability and wider damage of an economic boom fueled by an undervalued currency. There were fears, too, of the impact of the massive surpluses it has built up. The United States is by no means the only country whose debts are held in Asian hands.

Given China's success and the way power and wealth are shifting east, Google's recent announcement on China generated a lot of debate at Davos. It was a decision seen as both courageous and foolish, often at the same time. Weren't we quitting the Yukon just as gold was found? It's a good question. But in the end, you have to do what you believe is right.

It is the chance to discuss such difficult choices and the wider challenges we face with people from different continents and industries in an informal and open way which makes Davos so stimulating. You are certainly never bored. Where else could you take part in a discussion on "'The Bard and the Buck' -- today's financial economy through the plays of Shakespeare".

Davos, of course, has its own place in literary history. It was the setting a century ago for Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. In his novel, the Alpine retreat is a cloistered and peaceful haven which becomes a laboratory where the intellectual forces which were to shape the twentieth century are shaped.

I am certainly not making the same overblown claims for Davos today. Nor could anyone describe it, over these intensive few days, as a peaceful haven. The protesters and helicopters alone make that impossible.

But in the time I have been attending -- and despite this recession -- we have seen prosperity increase, poverty reduced, democracy spread and a growth of global opportunities.

Access to knowledge has been democratized beyond imagination allowing the powerful to be held more easily to account. Businesses are much more aware of the need to look beyond the balance sheet and their responsibility to the wider society.

These successes all rest on principles central to Davos. Principles such as the benefits of free trade, free societies and free speech and, above all, open collaboration between business people and politicians who recognize that with freedom should come responsibility. Yes, the world has critical challenges, especially in 2010, but I believe that in these Davos values lie our solutions. It's this hope and optimism that will ensure I keep coming back as long as I am invited.

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