Crisis, what crisis? (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

June 16, 2021   5 mins

It’s always awkward when a mad conspiracy theory turns out to be not so mad. Take the idea that Covid leaked from a Chinese laboratory; what the experts were dismissing as crazy talk a year ago has become a plausible explanation.

Perhaps, then, we should be more open-minded about other conspiracy theories, particularly those about the so-called “Great Reset”. On one level, the Great Reset doesn’t count as a conspiracy at all — because it isn’t a secret. Rather, it’s a very public initiative by the World Economic Forum (better known as “Davos”, the usual location of its highly-exclusive annual conference).

Last year, the WEF launched the Great Reset as a response to the Covid pandemic. “To improve the state of the world,” it announced, “the World Economic Forum is starting The Great Reset initiative.”

It was, in effect, a desperate attempt to keep itself relevant in the middle of a global disaster that years of Davos-style prognostication did little to prevent. Still, having carefully considered the situation, the various Great Reset authors — including WEF chairman Klaus Schwab — clearly believe that what the world needs now is even more of Davos and everything it represents.

Indeed, according to Schwab, the pandemic is “a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future.” Likeminded politicians such as Justin Trudeau have also described the pandemic as an opportunity — further arousing the suspicions of conspiracy theorists.

In its most extreme form, the imagined conspiracy is that mass vaccination is being used to do something truly horrible to us — mass sterilisation, for instance. The less extreme form of the conspiracy is that those in power are exaggerating, or at least exploiting, the dangers of the pandemic in order to advance an ideological agenda. For instance, in the US, the right-wing Heartland Institute claims that “global elites are using the ‘existential threat’ of climate change to advance socialism under the guise of a Great Reset of the economy.”

Might these critics have a point? Is the vision set out by the WEF in 2020 now translating into a programme of interference by big government and big business?

According to Klaus Schwab, the Great Reset has three main components — the first of which is to “steer the market toward fairer outcomes”, for instance by governments improving their coordination on “tax, regulatory, and fiscal policy”. And guess what? The leaders of the G7 countries have just agreed a deal to impose a minimum level of business taxation on multinational corporations.

The second component is to “ensure that investments advance shared goals”. This includes major public sector spending programmes — which are now underway in Europe and America. As for private finance, that’s swinging behind Great Reset goals in a major way — with companies like BlackRock making huge investments in the low carbon economy.

The third, meanwhile, involves harnessing new technology “to support the public good, especially by addressing health and social challenges.” On this front, we’ve seen dramatic developments over the last twelve months — not only the mass roll-out of new vaccines, but also the use of technology to control the spread of the virus by controlling the movement of people.

The notion, held by some extreme conspiracy theorists, that vaccines are being used to inject tracking technology directly into our veins is, of course, nonsense. As per usual, the conspiracists have put two and two together to make five. Nevertheless, the two and two do exist. Indeed, we already use sub-cutaneously injected microchips on our pets.

Even the most nightmarish conspiracy theories contain a grain of truth. For instance, I feel confident in stating that vaccines are not being used to sterilise the population; however, lockdown has accelerated an already worrying decline in birthrates.

A collectively experienced nightmare is pretty much what a conspiracy theory is. The dream itself might not make any sense, but the anxieties and insecurities that cause it are often very real. In other words, you don’t have to believe a conspiracy theory to take it seriously.

Consider the news that investment companies are now piling into the property market, buying up housing en masse in order to rent it out. What is the ordinary aspiring homeowner to make of that? What chance do they have against corporations that have billions of dollars at their disposal — not to mention privileged access to market information and tons of political influence?

In that position, how would you feel about the World Economic Forum video that starts with the statement that, by 2030, “You’ll own nothing. And you’ll be happy.” To be clear, this was presented as a possible scenario, not a stated goal on the part of the WEF, but the optics are horrible. It doesn’t help that one of the institutional investors active in the housing market is BlackRock — whose CEO, Larry Fink, is a prominent WEF participant.

For someone facing the prospect of renting a pokey flat into middle age and beyond, this is what the Great Reset looks like.

The irony is that when Klaus Schwab says that “we need a ‘Great Reset’ of capitalism”, he’s absolutely right. But that’s not primarily because of the pandemic, but because the system was already in a state of decay. Over the 21st century, we’ve seen capitalism lurch from one crisis to another and we need to remember who’s been in charge during that time — not Herr Schwab, but the political and business leaders who attend his annual jamboree.

If we do need a new capitalism, the last people we should ask to reset it are the architects of the present-day variety. Why on Earth would we entrust those who have grown so rich and powerful from the status quo with the task of reform?

The Great Reset might sound like a new commitment to real change, but at Davos the only thing that gets reordered are the ingredients of that year’s word salad. Just look at a list of themes for all the annual conferences since 1988: In 1991, the theme was a “new direction for global leadership”, in 1994 “redefining the basic assumptions of the world economy” and in 1997 “building the network society”. 2007 was about “shaping the global agenda” and “shifting the power equation”. In 2009 it was “shaping the post-crisis world”. In 2012, Davos was still “shaping” things, in this case “new models” for something called “the great transformation”. In 2014, it was “reshaping the world” and in 2019 “shaping a global architecture” (whatever that is).

When not shaping and reshaping, Davos is about “rallying”, “redefining”, “creating”, “sustaining” and “mastering”. Furthermore, they’re always doing it on some inconceivably vast scale: “the world economy”, “our global future”, the “post-crisis world”, the “new reality” and, my personal favourite, “responsible globality”.

Like the world’s dullest Bond villain, “Davos Man” is forever trying to remake the world in his image. But, of course, this never amounts to a true “reset”. Rather, our stagnant version of capitalism goes on and on, making the minimum adjustment required after every crisis. And, despite the conspiracy theories, this time is no different.

The terrible truth about the Great Reset is that there is no Great Reset.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.