In May 2020, as the global COVID crisis was entering its third month, representatives of the World Economic Forum (WEF) announced a project called the Great Reset.
The Great Reset was described as an effort to “build back better” following COVID, which its spokesmen described as a rare opportunity to “reinvent capitalism” and “build entirely new foundations for our economic and social systems” involving new social contracts.
Many immediately wondered if this was some kind of power-grab, a conspiracy, on the part of the business and political elite. Some even speculated that the WEF may have released COVID as a pretext for implementing the Great Reset.
What should we make of all this?
The World Economic Forum is a non-governmental organization based in Geneva, Switzerland that brings together business, political, and other leaders to discuss policies and issues of global concern.
Although it presents itself as independent and nonpartisan, it advocates a center-left ideology.
It was founded in 1971 by Swiss business professor Klaus Schwab, and both he and the U.K.’s Prince Charles were early advocates of the Great Reset.
The WEF is famous for holding a conference every January in the ski resort town of Davos, Switzerland, and it has been the subject of protests and criticism.
Anti-globalization activists have argued that the capitalist policies advocated by the organization hurt the poor and the environment, while others have accused it of promoting socialism. People of multiple perspectives have described it as an unaccountable elite; Irish singer-songwriter Bono has described its Davos meetings as “fat cats in the snow.”
The WEF has sought to project a positive image, saying it advocates “stakeholder” capitalism.
The idea is that, instead of just maximizing profits for its shareholders, corporations should take into account the needs and interests of a broader selection of people who have a stake in the company, including customers, employees, and members of society in general. The organization also places a great deal of emphasis on “green” environmental initiatives and running businesses in environmentally “sustainable” ways.
It also speaks of a “fourth industrial revolution”—a term coined by Klaus Schwab—which involves a technological transition using Big Data and internet-connected systems to improve the generation and delivery of goods and services. Navigating this transition is one of the WEF’s key projects.
Talk of prioritizing the interests of all stakeholders in society, doing environmentally friendly things, and improving life through new technology sounds good to many. But some have wondered how much of this is just corporate happy talk and virtue-signaling, and they have questioned how serious WEF leaders are about these goals.
And, as always, the devil is in the details. Even positive-sounding goals can be implemented in destructive ways.
Thus far, the Church has taken a position of constructive engagement with the WEF. Recent popes like Benedict XVI and Francis have supported environmental initiatives.
For the organization’s fiftieth anniversary, Pope Francis sent a message to the WEF, in which he stressed themes that resonated with the idea of caring for all stakeholders in society.
However, he did not endorse the Great Reset or any concrete policy proposed by the organization, and he warned that “all too often materialistic or utilitarian visions, sometimes hidden, sometimes celebrated, lead to practices and structures motivated largely, or even solely, by self-interest.”
That’s a notable warning in light of the secular views of many business and political leaders.
What of the idea that the Great Reset is a conspiracy? Conspiracies are real, which is why we have laws against them. Legally speaking, a conspiracy is an agreement among two or more people to do something illegal in the future.
I am not aware of evidence that the WEF has done anything illegal or that it proposes to do anything illegal.
There is no evidence that the WEF released the coronavirus on the world. The virus originated in China, and China has only distant and tentative relations with the organization.
What the WEF has called for are meetings of business, government, and other leaders to discuss what policies should be implemented following COVID.
So far, what has been proposed are basically things that the WEF was already pursuing. Klaus Schwab has described the Great Reset’s essential goals as being furthering stakeholder capitalism, implementing environmental initiatives, and navigating the “fourth industrial revolution.”
But the WEF can’t implement any of these things on its own. Business leaders can seek to implement policies in their companies, though they are accountable to shareholders. And politicians can go back to their countries and seek to implement new laws, though they are accountable to voters.
Forum leaders have been remarkably non-specific about what these policies and laws would be, which suggests that they really don’t know the specifics of what they want to do. They’re figuring it out as they go.
That makes the Great Reset look not so much like a detailed, well thought out conspiracy as an opportunistic publicity stunt to use the COVID crisis to further the WEF’s goals.
That itself is reason to be skeptical about the Great Reset. Whenever anyone is using dramatic language like “build entirely new foundations for our economic and social systems” and speaking of altering the social contracts that nations function under, he’s talking about big changes.
But big changes should not be hastily formulated and implemented on the fly. They should be undertaken slowly, incrementally, and with ample time for reflection and debate. Illegal or not, policy changes should not be sprung on the public and rammed through in the wake of a crisis.
The WEF also deserves careful scrutiny. In 1776, Adam Smith warned of how business leaders can harm the public interest:
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices (The Wealth of Nations 1:10).
Smith concluded that although it is impossible to prevent business leaders from getting together, the government should do nothing to encourage such meetings.
Yet at WEF gatherings, business leaders and politicians actually meet behind closed doors to discuss policy.
No matter what the organization’s representatives say about serving the interests of all “stakeholders” in society, the WEF remains an elite that discusses policy in private, without the public present.
As a result, its members and whatever policies they end up proposing deserve the closest scrutiny.