It may not be a shadowy communist conspiracy to "destroy American capitalism," but it should still scare you.
Those familiar with The Blaze founder Glenn Beck may have understood what it meant, on Monday, when "The Great Reset" started trending on Twitter.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said in a speech to the UN that the coronavirus pandemic "provided an opportunity for a reset." And for those in the know — or those looking for evidence of a totalitarian scheme in every instance of global cooperation — that was reason enough to start panicking.
But even if you're not an aficionado of right-wing conspiracy theories, you may have seen TIME Magazine's October issue on the topic of "The Great Reset". In which case you're likely confused as to why anyone would find it frightening.
Coronavirus: Trudeau tells UN conference that pandemic provided "opportunity for a reset" www.youtube.com
The vision for the future proposed by the World Economic Forum — and laid out in TIME — doesn't sound particularly scary. The coronavirus pandemic has stalled many aspects of the economy, and the WEF calls for reforms to be implemented as the economy gets back into gear.
Among their suggestions are a voluntary adoption of more corporate responsibility, acknowledging the social and ecological costs of doing business. They call for businesses to take proactive steps in auditing their operations and shifting toward long-term, sustainable models that value "stakeholders" rather than just investors.
But the vague gesturing toward a more virtuous form of capitalism is presented as a grand vision for revolutionizing every aspect of society and the global economy. And in that exaggerated language, it's easy for people like Glenn Beck to perceive a hostile takeover of their beloved America.
The Conspiracy Theory
According to Beck's YouTube channel, the plan is to "DESTROY American capitalism." With Joe Biden's help, the "elites" want to replace American enterprise with a planned economy, akin to the China's state capitalism.
Beck, along with guest Justin Haskins — of pro-tobacco, anti-climate science think tank The Heartland Institute — argue that the term "Stakeholder Capitalism" is coded language. According to them it's a euphemism for the total subversion of individual sovereignty to the imposed will of the sinister "collective."
Pictured: Glenn Beck about to explain his conspiracy theory.
This is the same tune Beck has been playing for years now. Calls for regulation and anything less than unfettered capitalism are really just covers for allowing totalitarian rule to take over.
In Beck's vision of the world, "elites" use excuses like a global health crisis and impending ecological collapse in order to seize power from the little guy. And there is an element of truth in that.
As Naomi Klein laid out in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, natural disasters and economic crises often provide openings for radical reforms that serve ulterior motives. Disguised as recovery and aid, these reforms often end up benefiting the powerful while doing little to serve the interests of those most affected by the crises.
But Klein's observations on this phenomenon differ in one important way from the conspiracy theories Glenn Beck peddles. The radical reforms that Klein points to in post-Katrina New Orleans and elsewhere tend more toward neoliberal privatization than toward increasing government control.
Rather than a shadowy, big government agenda, the disaster capitalism Klein writes about serves the simple purpose of making rich people richer. After all, since the 1970s, American politics have been solidly on the side of wealthy private interests against the expansion of government services or the protection of workers.
Shrinking the role of government has long been treated as a dogmatic good that will put more power in the hands of individuals. And that kind of thinking has resulted in situations like the end of public schools in New Orleans.
Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine www.youtube.com
But there is something that people like Glenn Beck consistently overlook. While entertaining nightmares about the government forcing "Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics" on small businesses, they forget that Governments aren't the only force capable of eroding our freedoms.
How Corporations Steal Your Freedom
If a corporation knowingly dumps poisons into your water supply — because those chemicals aren't regulated — doesn't that affect your freedom? And if wages are so low that you're forced to sink all of your waking hours into multiple dead-end jobs, what freedom do you have?
Beck always frames things from the perspective of the business owner losing freedom to government regulation. But what about exploited employees, defrauded customers, or neighbors made to deal with the health effects of industrial pollution?
Ask the residents of Louisiana's "cancer alley" if they are more concerned about "government overreach" than they are about the freedom to breathe air without being poisoned by private industry.
Those are the "stakeholders" who Klaus Schwab and the WEF are referring to. They're people who don't necessarily receive the benefits of short-term profits, but have to deal with the consequences of corporate malfeasance. And for decades their interests have been systematically stripped out of the equation of corporate success and neoliberal governance, leaving only the eternal pursuit of quarterly returns.
So when an organization like the World Economic Forum — with membership representing the wealthiest people and the largest corporations on Earth — starts promoting major reforms to the global economy, we should all be nervous.
Generally, when the wealthy and powerful align on an agenda, it's an agenda that serves the wealthy and powerful. And when they manage to get leaders from the US to the UK to Canada all promoting the same motto — "Build it Back Better" — we should wonder who stands to benefit.
This 'Build Back Better' nonsense must stop. The World Economic Forum is a corrupt racket and their 'Great Reset' a… https://t.co/TUqXMUXKP9— Mahyar Tousi (@Mahyar Tousi)1605608116.0
And yet, the rhetoric of "The Great Reset" and the "Build it Back Better" campaign seems to be a repudiation of exactly the kind of neoliberal reform it resembles. Instability and a disruption of normal order has made our system ripe for reform, so wealthy interests are stepping in to…decry tax evasion? What has changed?
A Societal Shift
The simple answer is laid out in WEF founder Klaus Schwab's introductory piece in TIME's "Great Reset" issue. The neoliberal policies that have dominated in recent decades "have proved wrong." Amid the insistence that our economy will function better without government intervention, workers, citizens, and the planet have suffered.
From declining wages, to the rising cost of basic necessities like housing, healthcare, and education, and the rapid approach of climate collapse, things have not been going well. So the WEF is pushing a new approach.
The more complicated answer is that we have changed. The attitude of the citizenry has adapted. No longer devoted to a Cold War battle between capitalism and communism, we have adjusted to a reality in which 42% of the workers earn less than $15 an hour.
We've adapted to the fact that the wealthiest family in the world makes its fortune on the backs of workers who rely on government assistance to make ends meet. We've adapted to the fact that most of us won't live as well as our parents. We've adapted to the fact that a basic standard of education requires taking on massive debt, and that a single medical event can be financially crippling.
We've adapted to the fact that the global temperature has been trending steadily upward — along with wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and other effects of climate change. And we've adapted to the fact that the fossil fuel companies that knowingly caused this horrifying reality continue to operate with impunity.
It's only natural — in the context of rising inequality, environmental catastrophe, and the immiseration of generations of workers — that many of us would abandon allegiances to the system that brought us here.
For people like Glenn Beck, the thought of paying higher taxes may still conjure the specter of communism. But for those of us who don't make $20 million a year — with $250 million in the bank — the thought of things continuing on our current trajectory is quite a bit more frightening.
Protesters at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos
That's why Democratic Socialism has seen a sudden surge in popularity. It's why free, government-run healthcare is now a widely popular proposal, and why the slogan "eat the rich" has become a rallying cry in recent years.
People are hungry for real change. And if they don't get it soon, there will be consequences. Those consequences could look like economic collapse due to the erosion of the American middle-class. Or they could look like an armed revolution.
In either case, investors and executives who are paying attention know that it won't be good for the bottom line. That's where "The Big Reset" comes in.
If corporations and governments can make some bare-minimum changes to counteract the ravages of laissez-faire economic policy, maybe they can avoid the worst. And if they can make themselves look good in the process, all the better.
And that's why we should all be scared of "The Great Reset." It is not a high-level plot to install a global hegemony. It's a PR campaign to restore the reputation of the current global hegemony.
Whatever the plan's merits — the full details will be revealed in Davos in January of 2021 — the companies and the executives who are promoting it have their own self-interests at heart. They can express ideas about stakeholders and a collective good all they want, but if they can find a way to make themselves look benevolent without sacrificing profits, they will.
Ultimately, the idea underlying "The Great Reset" is that government and industry should work in tandem to determine the best policies. They want to prove that they can police themselves by implementing things like Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan's "Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics."
The Great Reset www.youtube.com
Whether they acknowledge it or not, they are asserting that we don't need stronger government protections to step in and force them to stop exploiting workers or ravaging the Earth. They are responsible. They can be trusted.
They can dress that idea up as something new, and tell us they're looking out for us this time, but it's the same old story. It's neoliberalism by another name.
In the best case scenario, "The Great Reset," does result in some incremental improvements in policy. As we move on from the coronavirus pandemic, the plan could borrow concepts from The Green New Deal to offer a slightly more tolerable system — until those gains begin to erode again.
In the worst case scenario, the execution of the "The Great Reset" will be co-opted by the familiar forces of neoliberalism, changing things for the worse while the PR campaign convinces the public that everything is okay. If they succeed in persuading us that we don't need to keep fighting for a more equitable distribution of power and wealth, we will continue to creep toward oligarchy, with wealth controlling every aspect of our society.
So, no, there is not a communist conspiracy to use COVID-19 and global warming as an excuse to establish the dreaded "New World Order." The capitalists behind "The Great Reset" are not interested in destroying capitalism, and most of them are probably well meaning.
But we should all be scared that this band-aid will be used to cover up the festering wound of our diseased system.