“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
In the last week of November, a scandal broke out on the Canadian right over a seemingly just discovered speech made by the country’s reliably centrist prime minister, Justin Trudeau, two months before. Speaking at a U.N. conference, Trudeau said, “This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts, to re-imagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality and climate change.”
This part of a longer speech was highlighted by a Conservative member of the country’s Parliament, Pierre Poilievre, who asked Canadians to sign a petition to “protect our freedom” against a cabal of “elites”.
Trudeau’s remarks, while uncontroversial to all but the most heartless people, are the kind of bland neoliberal stuff this Prime Minister has been saying for years while making little progress on any of the issues he raised. In the end, a single word was seen by those looking for one that there’s another ‘leftwing’ conspiracy afoot. The offending word? ‘Reset’.
The conspiracy theory around the use of this word, which has already been widened to include the U.S. president elect and other liberal politicians in Europe and North America, is vague enough that it can accommodate a more mainstream conservative like Poilievre while also pulling in the far right fringes searching for a replacement for Qanon.
Although that bit of weirdness still seems to be growing in some places, pulling in new converts from various ‘wellness’ communities, especially anti-Vaxxers, the failure of so many of Q’s predictions to actually materialize, especially the promised Donald Trump election victory in the lead up to ‘The Storm’ in which cannibalistic, Satanist, ‘liberals’ (also referred to by some as ‘Marxists’ and ‘Socialists’) were to be arrested with public executions to follow, has led many ardent supporters to the kind of doubts that have upended such conspiracy theories in the past.
The new theory benefits from being a bit of a throwback, revolving around the World Economic Forum (WEF), best known for its annual events in Davos, Switzerland, where very wealthy, well connected people claim to be planning the planet’s future but the reality of which seems to be more of a networking event for plutocrats funded by the world’s most powerful corporations.
This past summer, Klaus Schwab, who founded and chairs the WEF, began to call for a ‘Great Reset’ of capitalism to deal with the systemic problems exposed by the ongoing pandemic. In reading about this both wide ranging and incredibly vague plan, I couldn’t help but wonder how the WEF had failed to really take note of many of these problems before.
To further explain the idea, Schwab wrote an article on the initiative’s very slick website, “Every country, from the United States to China, must participate, and every industry, from oil and gas to tech, must be transformed. In short, we need a ‘Great Reset’ of capitalism,” he opined, “Clearly, the will to build a better society does exist. We must use it to secure the Great Reset that we so badly need. That will require stronger and more effective governments, though this does not imply an ideological push for bigger ones. And it will demand private-sector engagement every step of the way.”
What this actually entails is anyone’s guess; it isn’t impossible that calls for further austerity for working people is in the offing, always a favorite of the jet setters at Davos, many of whom demand action on climate change after arriving there on private jets. One tell is the emphasis on the belief that these problems can somehow be solved without governments growing bigger.
Perhaps trying to bring the Great Reset more into the mainstream, there’s a collaboration with Time Magazine (produced in ‘partnership’ with Sompo Holdings), which is filled with various thought pieces and interviews, a few of them decent while still palatable to the center right. Others are little more than advertising for corporations. As we might expect, there is a lot of ‘greenwashing’ here that gets us nowhere closer to really facing the climate crisis, let alone the income inequality accelerating in many places due to the continuing health crisis.
For a ‘conspiracy’, it’s remarkably easy to find out what Schwab and his neoliberal pals are up to. As progressives might expect, it’s mainly verbose virtue signaling drawing on the wisdom of figures like the self-proclaimed ‘radical centrist’ Tony Blair, until recently occupied with selling his services to a variety of dictatorships and despotisms around the world.
One of the few voices on the right to see this Great Reset idea for what it is was Ben Sixsmith who wrote on the U.S. version of the British Spectator magazine, “Schwab is peddling his idea of ‘stakeholder capitalism’, which essentially maintains that corporations have more expansive duties than maximizing profits for shareholders. This is a concept so vague that Facebook, IBM, Lockheed Martin et cetera are free to interpret it quite as they wish.”
Despite all this, much of the North American right, who only recently found an exploitable hatred of so-called elites like those who meet in Davos, have taken Schwab’s corporatist drivel and transformed it into an Alex Jones style future filled with property seizures and ‘socialist’ FEMA camps.
Justin Haskins of the climate change denying Heartland Institute was allowed to weigh in on the Great Reset on The Hill, normally a pretty mainstream political outlet, using this bully pulpit to once again argue against climate action in the name of ‘freedom’ as the think tank has done for decades, “The present pandemic is a “golden opportunity” for radical change. And if Al Gore, Prince Charles and the rest of the World Economic Forum can convince enough people that attempting to stop climate change is also worth dramatically pushing humanity toward greater government control, then radical – and catastrophic – change is exactly what we’re going to get.”
Taking this in a predictable direction, Fox opinion reader Laura Ingragam claimed Schwab and his co-conspirators have already found their most powerful agent in President elect Joe Biden, using her Fox News platform to say, “His handlers, who are basically all old Obama staffers, believe in something called the Great Reset of capitalism. It’s a plan to force a more equitable distribution of global resources.”
On the even further right World Net Daily, the warning about the Great Reset is even direr, “In this collectivist future, free enterprise will disappear, replaced by the economy advocated by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Big businesses must have government charters granted only if leftist politicians see them as serving not stockholders but primarily “stakeholders.”
While some on the American left were disappointed by Warren’s 2020 campaign for her party’s presidential nomination, especially her abandonment of Medicare for All, she mainly ran on technocratic policy plans, not one of which, to my recollection, involved forced ‘collectivization’.
Having said this, the idea of advancing the interests of ‘stakeholders’ like workers and their communities over ‘stockholders’ is an objectively good one, but anyone who thinks this is anything but empty talk needs to look at some of the other corporations that fund Schwab’s public relations exercise. In terms of oil and gas alone, donors to the WEF include BP, Chevron, Occidental and Saudi Aramco.
As previously stated, I think the most interesting thing about the Great Reset as a conspiracy theory rather than as the vanity project of plutocrats that it so obviously is, is that it’s being used to further cements a paranoid political coalition of Trump loving ‘populists’ and more traditional free market and religious conservatives.
It isn’t as if the wealthy and powerful need to meet in secret to pillage the world and rob working people of the value of their labor, they do it openly and are celebrated for it in place like Davos and in the business pages of newspapers around the world. Most of those who attend the WEF live in an objectively different reality from the rest of us, but it’s in many ways worse that so many ordinary people choose to believe in grotesque conspiracy theories and often blame others, usually less privileged than themselves, for their economic difficulties rather than the deeply flawed free market system championed by Schwab and so-called populists like Trump alike.