What is The Great Reset?

Amid the monumental societal changes brought about by the response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the virus itself, influential figures and organizations around the world have recognized that we are standing at historical crossroads. This year’s events have shown to what extent people are willing to tolerate and comply with commands issued by their governments in a situation of widespread fear and uncertainty. For those who would like to see major socio-political changes in the world, this offers hope for the future. If the only way to bring about those changes is when there is little pushback from the public, the pandemic offers an unparalleled opportunity.

The Great Reset is an initiative uniting many projects that had already existed before the corona crisis, adding new context and perspective to ‘update’ them for the world around us today, launched in the spring and summer of 2020 by the World Economic Forum (WEF). All sources cited in this article will be taken directly from WEF’s ‘Strategic Intelligence’ repository, where articles and other resources are featured and presented on topics selected by the WEF - among them The Great Reset. Authors and works referenced below are, therefore, either directly tied to the WEF, or implicitly endorsed by the WEF by being featured and promoted on its portal.

In the summary of the initiative, the WEF sees the pandemic as “an opportunity to rebuild in a more inclusive and responsible way”. The most prominent advocate (and to an extent the author of the initiative) is WEF’s founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab. In his co-authored book, titled simply The Great Reset, Schwab explains that the idea encompasses many parts. On the macro-scale, these include economic reset, societal reset, geopolitical reset, or environmental reset. In most of these spheres, Schwab promotes worrying ‘solutions’ and problematic courses of action:

In the economic reset section, continued lockdowns and economic repression is promoted over concerns about quality of life and poverty, and the Modern Monetary Theory is publicized, along with its highly questionable fiscal and monetary policy suggestions.

The societal reset section promotes the growth of government powers as a solution to pressing social issues. It proposes that there should be a “move towards actively shaping and creating markets that deliver sustainable and inclusive growth”. Even if one agrees with goals included under these umbrellas, an increase in government involvement in the economy is historically tied to the opposite - a more unsustainable and exclusive growth. It is unclear, therefore, why such a course of action is recommended.

The third section describes a geopolitical reset, where lack of international cooperation is cited as the cause of the spread of the coronavirus. “COVID-19 tells … a story of failed global governance. From the very beginning, a vacuum in global governance … undermined international efforts to respond to the pandemic.” It implies that a world government would be a suitable way to prevent such dramatic events in the future.

In the environmental reset part, alarm bells are rung, claiming that if nothing is done, the world will face a climate catastrophe. “The moment must be seized to take advantage of this unique window of opportunity to redesign a more sustainable economy for the greater good of our societies.”

Beyond Schwab’s book, how exactly society is to transform under the auspices of The Great Reset to deliver a brighter future is then suggested and brainstormed by many authors and contributors featured in WEF’s repository. The major themes here are a ‘sustainable’, ‘resilient’, ‘fair’, and ‘inclusive’ future.

These resources feature a broad tendency of calling for greater government interventions in the economy, greater scope of policies designed to shape and engineer society to reflect the preferences of the writers (who could, in the most part, be reasonably described in a moderate way as left-leaning progressives), and greater international involvement in local affairs under the auspices of multilateralism and regulatory harmonization. 

Notably, these resources tend to blur the line between the coronavirus itself and governments’ responses to it - which leads to questionable conclusions and recommendation for further action.

For example, in an article titled 4 Priorities for Climate Action and Social Equity in the COVID-19 Recovery, it is observed that hundreds of millions of people are at risk of hunger as a result of recent events. It is implied, however, that the virus itself was to blame for this, not the world-wide lockdowns instituted in its wake. This gives the impression that until the virus is gone, this situation is inevitable - rather than suggesting that the supposed benefits of the continued lockdowns need to be weighted against their very real costs. Instead of solving the hunger problem by solving the lockdown problem, the author thus instead moves to posit that “as countries launch efforts to reboot their economies, they have a critical opportunity to pursue a course that is more sustainable and resilient - and to achieve this shift, they must also put tackling inequality at its core.”

It is clear from such proclamations that alleviating the problems brought about by lockdowns and other economically harmful policies is not the priority. Instead, the focus should be on instituting far-reaching changes while there is still time, before too much social pressure is put on states to reverse their repressive policies. This is illustrated further by the Global CEO of Deloitte Punit Renjen, writing for the WEF: “This pandemic is a global tragedy - there is no way around that. But an even greater tragedy would be if the business community were to go back to business as usual knowing what we now know. There is a better way. The journey to a low-carbon future has begun. We just have to be bold enough to embrace the change. There really isn’t a choice.”

In an article entitled Rebooting the World: Six Months of COVID-19, it is claimed that “the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of healthcare systems, the inadequacy of social protections frameworks and the vulnerability of global supply chains.” Here, it is important to note that both most of the world’s healthcare systems and most of the world’s social protections frameworks are either partly or entirely centralized and monopolized by national governments. If the author’s claim is true, therefore, we should take a second look at state provision of these services - as they seem to be failing badly. Of course, the author is suggesting the opposite - that the monopolization of these industries should intensify instead. Finally, it is outrageous to suggest that global supply chains should be prepared and able to withstand a months-long forcible shutdown of entire industries and economies. The virus might have damaged global supply chains, but it was the lockdowns which delivered the decisive blow.

When another article claims, in the footsteps of the UN, that “we cannot solve existential crises like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic with the same kind of thinking that led us into these crises”, one cannot help but ask whether the policies being promoted through The Great Reset are not exactly that - a continuation and an intensification of the quasi-socialist, quasi-fascist mixed-economy systems which proliferate today’s world.

The UN has been at the forefront of advocacy for these societal changes. UNESCO sees the corona crisis as a “once in a generation opportunity to improve education, alongside economies, to fight the climate crisis.” This includes, for example, changing curricula in state-controlled schools to include politically-charged themes and doctrines, beyond their current scope.

Another writer suggests: “[Financial markets] move trillions of dollars, and if moved in the right ways they could be a powerful force for good” (emphasis added). In this context, ‘the right ways’ are to direct monetary flows towards solutions promoted by one side of the climate change debate. How the large-corporate sector can be involved in the progress imagined by The Great Reset is a recurring theme throughout the articles. “I believe we are living through a moment of great opportunity, a time when we can rebuild our world in a way that will have a lasting and positive impact. Why? Because the pandemic has demonstrated that businesses have a conscience and are willing and able to work for the greater good.” Equating political and social changes proposed under The Great Reset to ‘the greater good’ is a linguistic tool used to increase their popularity as well as to disarm potential opposition. Who would be against the common good?

The list of policy changes suggested is seemingly endless. However, although written by many authors for multiple platforms, they seem to be overwhelmingly coming from a narrow space on the political compass. In the WEF’s vision of ‘The Post-COVID-19 Financial System’, the idea of ‘the need for a global digital ID’ is promoted. Under The Great Reset, calls for increased minimum wages and other repressive labour policies are amplified, seemingly without regard for their real impact on the people they supposedly protect. Still under the Great Reset heading, the reader can find, for example, articles endorsing a proposed Argentinian one-off wealth tax. WEF’s ‘Markets of Tomorrow: Pathways to a New Economy’, then, presents many authoritarian and essentially technocratic goals as desirable, to be achieved through steering and ordering of the large-corporate sector of the economy by governments and international institutions.

Some authors seem sincerely concerned about resilience, or the preparedness of large companies for systemic shocks like the one that came with the coronavirus. Some genuinely care, for example, about industry sustainability and the issue and the need for re-skilling in the face of fast, large-scale automation. However, this language is, in turn, often taken over and used for different purposes by others who proclaim, for example, that “sustainability also means creating a fairer world for everyone, making our communities more equitable, accessible and inclusive.” While these are goals which may in some contexts sound desirable, they should not be taken at face value, as they are more often than not used essentially as dog-whistles to express a commitment to a strongly partisan political position.

It is also undoubtedly the case that many people participating in the initiative are sincerely interested in solving the corona crisis as quickly and effectively as possible, as well as in the general betterment of mankind. Others’ motives, though, are not as clear. It seems that at least two broad groups of people operate in this space - the concerned and the radical. If the ‘concerned’ part of the ‘Great Reset community’ wishes to be able to address the serious, principled criticisms raised against the initiative by many around the world, the first step should be to separate themselves from radicals whose main priorities are not addressing the present crisis, but advancing political changes and agendas they already promoted before it started. It is also possible, however, that such an approach is out of the question. The opposition to The Great Reset that Schwab himself seems to be predominantly concerned with in his book is not that which comes from principled disagreements or doubts about the motives and methods promoted. Rather, he only addresses those who are skeptical because the initiative seems too ambitious to be realistic. The conclusion of his book features the following battlecry:

“Will we learn from the mistakes we made in the past? Will the pandemic open the door to a better future? Will we get our global house in order? Simply put, will we put into motion the Great Reset? Resetting is an ambitious task, perhaps too ambitious, but we have no choice but to try our utmost to achieve it. It’s about making the world less divisive, less polluting, less destructive, more inclusive, more equitable and fairer than we left it in the pre-pandemic era. Doing nothing, or too little, is to sleepwalk towards ever-more social inequality, economic imbalances, injustice and environmental degradation. Failing to act would equate to letting our world become meaner, more divided, more dangerous, more selfish and simply unbearable for large segments of the globe’s population. To do nothing is not a viable option.”

I will let the reader decide which camp Schwab is more likely to be part of.

Check out our premium content.

Subscribe to Newsletter