“Build Back Better”.
The term has recently been in vogue, and used by governments in the English-speaking world and Continental Europe to define a progressive reform approach following the Pandemic. What the term vaguely means is that the recovery offers opportunities to create a new and superior type of system.
That a disparate cluster of Western governments have chosen the same term is associated with the term “the Great Reset” which is being championed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which holds an annual summit in Davos, Switzerland, and is sponsoring a “Young Global Leader programme” which includes political leaders at different levels from various countries – from heads of state like Sanna Marin, to legislators like Ida Auken – the latter infamous for an article she wrote for the WEF website, which was called “Welcome To 2030: I Own Nothing, Have No Privacy And Life Has Never been better”.
For the Anti-Globalization/Nationalist Right, this new trend of Post-Covid material produced by the WEF was declared as evidence for a sinister “globalist plot” of sorts, which either would utilize the pandemic for its own end, or outright had manufactured the virus and the pandemic/pandemic responses in order to transition Western society away from capitalism and towards some form of totalitarianism.
As a representative of an organisation which actually envisions a post-monetary/post-capitalistic future, I took a passing interest in these claims – though the only sources about the Great Reset and the term “Build Back Better” either were short articles were the terms were mentioned in passing (i.e – “The temporary pandemic subsidies could be utilized as a template for our governments Build Back Better programme”, or “The Vaccine Passports together with Digitalization can become a model for how identification of citizens is conducted in the future.”), articles about WEF itself which were of medium-length and descriptive of the trends of the future, or – in the majority of the cases – more or less hysterical texts which drew maximalist conclusions about tech-dystopias run by “psychopathic communist mega-corporations”.
Comparing the writings of the proponents of “the Great Reset” with those of their detractors, a casual reader becomes none the wiser – since the descriptions vary so much in scope. While the proponents talk in optimistic terms about turning the page and installing new and more robust healthcare systems, the detractors talk about RFID chips and mass sterilizations.
The question is where one could find serious and balanced critique. In the old days, back in the early days of this century, proponents and detractors of various concepts would vehemently disagree about the desirability of political and economic goals, but their view on what those goals were would usually converge. During the heydays of ATTAC, the World Social Forum of Sao Paolo and the leftist Alt-Globalization movement, progressive critics’ generally offered critiques of the WEF programmes based upon their textual content, while the current generation of critics (who mostly are rightists of the nationalist variety) focus on single statements or articles, like that of the aforementioned one by Auken.
This is not conductive for a debate, and it is not inviting for the public to partake in these discussions.
Therefore, because I simply wanted to know better, I purchased and read Mr. Schwab’s book – Covid 19: The Great Reset.
Now I have read it, and this article is an attempt not primarily at critiquing the book, but to describe its contents, and hopefully be of some help to those who wish to better know what it is about.
Summary by points
- The book is divided into two segments, focusing on a macro reset for the international community, supranational institutions and nation-states, and a micro reset for corporations and individuals. For this article, I opted to focus on the macro reset.
- Rather than offering prescriptions for a brave new world of tomorrow, the book offers broad descriptions of the society that the author(s) believe is emerging and of which the onset of the pandemic has spread.
- The political preferences of the authors could be vaguely discerned from the focus of the analyses, as well as the probably unintentional usage of hyperboles – especially at the beginning of the text. Also, in one particular case, the lack of a counter-narrative could discern a certain – guilty or reluctant – advocacy of a political position that deserves more critique and illumination.
- However, the descriptive nature of the text makes it difficult to ascertain what descriptive analyses are in reality prescriptive recommendations.
- The book cannot be seen as a definite statement about the political preferences of the WEF – for a deeper understanding it would probably necessitate further studies of WEF materials, for example choices of lecturers, themes and workshops during their broadcasted seminars (of which they generously have provided a plentitude of on Youtube).
- While the claim that the WEF controls the Western World cannot conceivably be called a serious analysis, there is a serious critique to be made against a society which allows well-connected think tanks to have an outsized influence over the democratic processes.
Covid-19: The Great Reset
The book starts with a hyperbole – namely that the recent Pandemic has “plunged the world into a challenge we have not experienced in generations”, that it means an unprecedented challenge for governments, businesses and individuals to adapt – that many will fall but “a few will thrive”.
A quick remark about this postulate is that even the West – which arguably has had the best conditions for the Post-1945 era – has undergone many crises during the preceding decades (the 1973 and 1979 oil embargos, stagflation, the 2008-2010 financial crisis). What made the Covid Pandemic unique was the actions undertaken to combat it – namely lockdowns, vaccine passports and measures of control which in some countries made the economy contract by 20-30%.
It should also be noted that Sweden, which went against the current and instituted were minimal restrictions, during the course of the pandemic did neither do worse or better than the general mortality projection of countries.
The outline of the argument proposed by the book is “to never let a good crisis go to waste” and that governments and other decision-making entities should take the opportunity to for example institute badly needed ecological, financial and political reforms. These are of course well overdue, though it can be argued that the current configuration of global resource usage cannot be solved within the current incarnation of the market system.
However, the book then outlines as its mission to describe trends which we can see emerge.
The Green New Deal
The book outlines that the Pandemic has strengthened trends towards the automation of the service industry, and is mentioning basic income and strengthened focus on healthcare and a comprehensive welfare system at the expense of a focus on economic growth. It does also state that Japan’s model – often derided as stagnant and inefficient – has seen a growth in wealth if we account for the population decline.
These statements are outlined as a description of the trends we will see in the future, and they represent trends which are desirable – at least if you have a low to medium income, is disabled, have small children or other issues which may increase the stress levels on your life.
Schwab and Malleret do not see or describe any trends in the opposite direction. For example, it could be postulated that the rise of crypto-currencies would sap the state coffers from needed tax revenue, and it can also be drawn from experience of the stagflation of the 1970’s and the financial crisis of 2008 that economic hardships which threaten the viability of the monetary stability and financial systems are often counter-measured with infusions of capital into banks and other financial institutions. These measures would often lead to the growth of deficits – and traditionally these have been paid by cuts to the welfare systems – so called austerity policies.
While the EOS agrees with the WEF that there needs to be greater focus on accessibility to resources for all human beings (see the third criterion), there is yet to be seen whether the current monetary and financial system is capable of reintroducing the social democratic model. Canada, which has a government with many Young Leaders, have recently made strides in that direction.
The question is what intent can be derived from the book. The description of what policies states may indulge in seems to line up well with what the WEF prescribes. However, this could well cause confusion when the WEF describes other trends – which are far more controversial. It remains unclear whether or not the book is endorsing or describing these policies – and if the answer is the latter it is unclear why the book has not described trends in the opposite direction.
One of the chief characteristics of international development since the 1980’s has been the gradual increase in the number of supranational institutions, as well as their growing clout and power at the expense of national governments. To a large degree, this transition has coincided with the advent of Neoliberalism and the growth of Information technology, which to a large degree has affected the policies of these structures.
The EU is the most far-reaching example – to a large but unclear degree, it has deprived the states which are members of the Eurozone of their ability to conduct monetary policies, and also of a large amount of their ability to conduct financial policy. While this can provide scope benefits for trade and growth within the current system, it also deprives the citizenry of a large degree of economic and social political power. In an article written back in 2016, I theorised that this deprivation of political power towards treaties like NAFTA or institutions like the EU is one of the main reasons for the growth of right-wing populism.
The WEF has since its increasing visibility been associated with this trend of moving political authority from democratically mandated nation-states to goal-mandated supranational bodies.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Covid-19: The Great Reset is focusing a lot on health, and especially how the WHO and other international bodies and private institutions have helped countries dealing with the supply crisis at the beginning of the Pandemic, and that the authors state that a lot could be learned from this in terms of health coordination and the introduction of health as a focus point for international travel.
There are undoubtedly a few benefits of that kind of standardization, but it is a precarious trend to transfer health policies from the state – not because the state necessarily is a superior provider (which isn’t the case with a lot of developing nations), but because the state, despite everything, has a mandate which can be affected by the decision of its constituents, whereas international institutions only have responsibilities towards their mission statements (which may be affected by numerous nation-states, where the conflicting wills of numerous peoples are diluted down to compromises which will leave most citizens with a feeling of alienation and may not even be ideal to the varying situations on the ground).
Yet again, it is unclear whether the book endorses this development or merely describes it. It should also be noted (and it is actually mentioned by the text in passing) that the crisis caused by the Pandemic also saw countries becoming more protectionist in terms of guaranteeing access to medical equipment and vaccines, at the expense of poorer countries. While the WEF are correct in their assessment that pathogens do not care for international travel, their emphasis on supranational solutions risk causing more deprivations in democratic accountability.
New avenues for surveillance
On page 166, Covid-19 (the book) describes that the pandemic will most likely lead to a demand for more surveillance and monitoring for health reasons, and that new technologies are already in the making which will make it possible for institutions such as governments and corporations to for example measure the blood pressure and heart-rate of every citizen in real-time, which together with geo-location can help authorities map an image of the feelings, thoughts and aspiration of the individual citizen. The book itself states that it could become the basis for a totalitarian society, explains the mechanisms for its arising and the technologies needed for it to occur, but does not describe any type of resistance or counter-trends (like for example more advanced VPN or cloaking technologies, or the advent of parallel economies, based on Crypto or RBE principles). Rather, the type of resistance described is formatted in passive terms, with “individuals feeling that the system is oppressive, but choosing to try to keep their personal dignity.”
While the authors seem to lament the loss of personal or communitarian freedom replaced by a techno-managerial system, they seem unable or unwilling to imagine any type of conceivable, realistic alternative to this dystopia.
Critics of Schwab, the WEF and the book seem often to believe that the main purpose of the WEF is to institute a techno-totalitarian future – which often is envisioned as an extreme version of the type of cancel culture and banning waves which often affected right-centrists and right-wingers during the waning years of the Trump Presidency and the Pandemic, and that this is the hidden, nefarious purpose of their every action. To a large extent, Schwab seems to increasingly replace George Soros as a Blofeld-esque bogeyman in this mythology.
Supporters of the WEF views the book as a well-intentioned call for a more compassionate, fair and equitable system.
Most people (who aren’t a part of the Young Global Leaders or those 0,0001% of the global population which is ostensibly following the WEF, which as of this moment has 717 subscribers on its main Youtube channel) seem to not know so very much about it and some would even believe that the terms have been created by conspiracy theorists.
What then, is the Great Reset?
The book is not that very helpful in that regard, though it briefly touches upon multiple subjects, all from Green Energy to social policies and international cooperation. If we look at the introduction video with the same title for the Davos Agenda of 2021, it is described in this manner:
“The pandemic has radically changed the world as we know it, and the actions we take today, as we work to recover, will define our generation. It’s why the World Economic Forum is calling for a new form of capitalism, one that puts people and planet first, as we come together to rebuild the world after COVID-19.”
The only thing that stands clear is that a change is needed, and that this type of change will be a “new form of capitalism” (which is described as “stakeholder capitalism”, which would “put planet and people rather than profit, first”), and that “we must come together to rebuild the world after Covid-19”.
Who are that “we”?
Among those featured in the video, with short quotations combined with a type of music that indicates that something great is going to happen, is a high-ranking official of the International Monetary Fund, the UN Secretary-General, the CEO of Mastercard, the CEO of Salesforce, and a high-ranking operative of the WEF itself.”
This leaves room for an interesting, critical perspective which has unfortunately not been aired more.
The Great Reset in actuality is a quite apt term, even if it is quite vague.
It is envisioned as a reset of capitalism itself, which is (rightfully) seen as unsustainable, and that by moving towards a type of capitalism which “takes into account” the interests of stakeholders (“working class people, indigenous peoples, environmentalists, eco-systems”) the “bad parts of capitalism” could be replaced with “good parts”, and a “good capitalism” where the inner contradictions of the systems would be negated could arise.
This is not a new idea. Already in the 1840’s and 1850’s, the early Victorians believed that charity and Christian compassion could birth such a type of society. To some effect, the 20th century Labour movement realized that in bits, though if we take a global outlook, what in reality happened was that the exploitation of the human body in debt slavery, child labour and sweatshops transferred towards the developing world (which during the 19th century merely had been the place where resources and raw materials were extracted).
From a purely ecological perspective, the ideology underpinning the Great Reset is a techno-optimistic type of green market-based social liberalism. It is an ideology that deals a great deal with hope and sentimentality as its basis, and with the perceived unity of interests between the ruling elite and the people – or rather those parts of the people who are platformed by the ruling elites for five second snippets of Sandfordian statements like “it is important that we all come together for the greater good” and “humanity has never been at such a crossroad as today”. Within the EOS, we call that type of ideology “Cornucopianism”.
The vision offered is one of a capitalism without inner contradictions, where the important actors are the leaders of major supranational institutions, powerful governments, multi-national corporations and think tanks such as the WEF. Human rights activists, indigenous leaders and other types of grass-root representatives are sometimes invited to hold speeches for the leaders of “the international community”, but are seldom parts of steering committees and workshops.
And we agree with Schwab &/co.
Humanity needs a restructuring of its socio-economic system. Currently we are living on the annual equivalent of what 1,7 Earths could renew each year, we are rapidly destroying the oceans, the soils, the fresh-water reservoirs and the bio-diversity of key life-supporting biomes.
It is highly unlikely that we can achieve a kind of sustainability within anything resembling the current system without new wonder technologies which currently do not exist (proponents of the current system mean that greed is the only driver for innovation which “will” make these technologies a reality).
Cornucopians generally present a binary choice between “Old Capitalism” and “Stakeholder Capitalism”, and claim that the only alternative to the latter is a collapse of the world.
We (as in the EOS) claim that there are more alternatives, and that one must dare think outside the box.
One of the tenets which we need to question is the term “we”. Is “humanity” responsible for the degradation of the planet? Is humanity responsible for the destruction of the ecosystems? Is humanity responsible for the advent of an ecological collapse by 2075?
Or is the culprit a socio-economic system based on a model of growth which automatically transfers 80% of any revenue to the 20% at the top of the income ladder, and where the growth in profits correspond with the growth of resource usage?
This is a system which is both emergent, as in being a consequence of the laws of supply and demand of the market, and designed, in terms of being directed, streamlined and affected by sophisticated institutions and corporations which – when put into place – would want to protect their own continued existence.
And is not the WEF to a large degree consisting of the very same people who are a part of this super-structure which has helped to move the Earth this close towards a sixth mass extinction event?
When we look at the convergence of crises which we already are suffering from, and which will be exacerbated in the future due to the type of socio-economic system that has been imposed on humanity, those who are suffering the most and who will suffer the most are the majority of the Earth’s population, consisting of farmers and workers in the developing world.
The Great Reset may be several things, on a spectrum.
In its most benign but inefficient form, it is a marketing ploy and a way for the corporate and financial elites of the planet to legitimize their continued dominance for themselves internally, by showing how much they care for the planet by producing flashy films and summits in an Alps country famous for clocks, cheese, tax evasion, money-laundering and summer holiday homes for ultra-wealthy dictators. In that regard it would be dishonest, but nothing spectacular – already l’ancien regime of France sponsored portraits of Marie-Antoinette distributing bread to the starving peasant children of France.
In its most malign form, the Great Reset might be a stakeholder capitalism in the sense that it would transform capitalism into an integrated system of corporate, financial, institutional and social leadership, where the elites in a maternalistic fashion would take a keen interest in the life of ordinary people, to the extent that their physical health, their diets, their daily routines and interests, and their values and opinions should be an issue not for the individual and not for their local communities, but for “the Davos boys”.
The WEF may mean well.
The problem is that any real solution to the current crisis would not be a “reset”, but the establishment of an entirely new system – one which would need to do away with the kind of wealth and inequality that makes possible such institutions as the WEF.
Another problem is also that a stakeholder capitalism may become a more authoritarian, dystopian, corrupt and elitist society than what we have today, and therefore far more volatile. The same neoliberal elites which brought us the Great Recession and the rise of right-wing populism are now supposed to lead the revolution towards a utopia based on green energy, progressive politics and a responsible stewardship of the planet, under the guise of a new, “green liberalism”.
This is and remains the real conundrum.