Howard Davies in Davos: Record growth creates a sense of warmth and well-being in the snow

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The Independent Online

"China will be defined by the way the world defines it," the seminar moderator said sagely, to a chorus of nods from the assembled corporate chieftains. I even nodded myself. On reflection, the sentence clearly means nothing at all. Perhaps it's the altitude. After a couple of days, your critical faculties begin to decay.

There's a whole lot of China chat this year, and a larger than usual cadre of representatives of the regime. There is a durbar full of argumentative Indians, too, as Amartya Sen calls his compatriots. Will their vertiginous growth rates continue? No one dares to say no: their component plants and software labs depend on it. So it is hard to generate a serious difference of opinion, though one suspects a chronic case of groupthink in action.

One can find no dissenters either on climate change, now that even Bush wants to guzzle less gas. But there were some notable no-shows in a "call to action" session on global warming. Perhaps John Browne's absence was not a huge surprise, but where was John McCain, and where was Margaret Beckett? Come to think of it, why was Margaret Beckett?

But as for Stern and Stelios, you can't put a carbon paper between them. We are all environmentalists now, except for those Jeremy and Jenny Clarksons who signed up for the extreme driving course in Audis the length of bendy buses.

There was a glimmer of heat amidst the light in a debate on terrorism. Michael Chertoff, the US Secretary of State for Homeland Security (and an LSE alumnus to boot, as it happens) was sophisticated, and David Cameron bold. He distanced himself from the language of the war on terror, as an unhelpful and misleading policy prescription. The mountain air is good for him, clearly.

But the Goldilocks global economy is in such a benign state that it is quite hard to unsettle the CEOs and their bullish bankers (Goldilocks would have trouble finding a bear these days). Quarter after quarter of record earnings growth and oodles of in-the-money options (hardly any need to backdate these days) create a sense of warmth and well-being even in the snow.

When asked to "synthesise their findings on the Hypertiles" - a natty new toy like big floppy fridge magnets - they produce challenging notions like "innovate for growth" or "move up the value chain". Heatmaps are in this year, but the markets are hot all over, so they display a uniform red glow. And corporate avatars, this year's must-have for the CEO with a wide global control span, ensure that tribal dynamics are maintained across the blogosphere.

The big hitter in the media sessions this year was the facebook guy, reminiscing about his time designing the program in his last year at Harvard. Google? Sooo 2006.

Now we troop off to dinner to ask why brains need sleep. Seems obvious to me, but then I am guilty of thinking inside the box, I fear. That has always seemed a nice place to be. But the key to success these days, I was solemnly told, is not to think out of the box, but to know that there is no box. Until they carry you off in one, I suppose.

Sir Howard Davies is the Director of the London School of Economics

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