Klaus Schwab & Thierry Malleret, Covid-19: The Great Reset (Forum Publishing, 2020);
Klaus Schwab & Thierry Malleret, The Great Narrative for a Better Future (Forum Publishing, 2022).
A Credit to Mark
For all the hype and confusion, “The Great Reset” is the actual title of Klaus Schwab’s take on global government responses to Covid-19, written in mid-2020. “The Great Narrative” is his follow-up, written in 2021 upon consultation with fifty notable thinkers and futurists.
For those keeping score at home, Schwab heads the World Economic Forum (WEF) and its famed Davos confabs. (His co-author, Thierry Malleret, is a long-time collaborator). As such, Schwab does indeed loom large in many conspiracy theories. He also has many adoring fans. These books allow us to see through those filters to the thoughts he most wants to share. They’re important books and relatively readable (as such things go). They’re also deeply disturbing books. They have the potential to do to the twenty-first century what The Communist Manifesto did to the twentieth.
Longtime readers know that I credit The Communist Manifesto with teaching me that the key to understanding radical literature is remembering that diagnosis and prescription are distinct skills. All good radicals have (at least) one thing in common: They’re unconstrained by mainstream thinking and conventional wisdom. Radicals challenge the very basic assumptions that trip up their mainstream contemporaries. That vantage point can let them see what others miss. As a result, the best radical observations and diagnoses of deep, broad societal problems are often far more insightful than anything that their more respectable peers can present.
At the same time, however, smart, untethered radicals tend to flatter themselves into thinking that because they alone can see through the fog of conventionality, they alone know how to solve the world’s problems. From there they tend to become dangerously utopian and authoritarian.
The challenge for readers is thus to appreciate the insightful descriptions and diagnoses at the heart of radical problem identification while rejecting the disastrous prescriptions that these same radicals are eager to sell.
No one exemplified this distinction better than Marx. His discussions of the shortcomings of nineteenth century capitalism are truly perceptive. In one of my favorite passages, he explains (without using the words) that capitalists are addicted to constant growth. For Marx, that addiction was a problem. Like the neurotic green folks constantly worried about resource depletion, Marx reasoned that there had to be “limits to growth.” Once the capitalist system hit those limits—that is, once it found itself unable to replace the pre-existing modes of production with a new and superior set—the entire system would implode.
I’m hardly alone in appreciating that passage. Joseph Schumpeter cited it as the basis of his famous theory of “creative destruction” that has come to underpin our understanding of the innovation economy. It’s insightful in ways that few other bits of nineteenth century economic writing can even approach. And though Marx was wrong in foreseeing those limits as imminent, his analysis provides a dire warning: Whenever a political movement downplays growth, it threatens to undermine the entire capitalist system.
Marx was absolutely right about our addiction. Those of us who have benefited from life under market capitalism—meaning nearly everyone alive today—are indeed junkies. We need our next growth fix. The moment the economy stops growing, we shed our generosity, become belligerent, and threaten to fight anyone who looks like they might take our stuff. When and where that situation persists (Venezuela?) freedom and prosperity crumble into dictatorship, economic planning, and misery.
A Manifesto for Our Times
With those thoughts in mind, I approached Schwab’s assessment of the world of 2020/21 and his prescriptions for the future. Schwab, as noted, is hardly some fringe radical. Far from bucking conventional wisdom, Schwab shapes it. Still, at any given point in time, the power broker shaping tomorrow’s conventional wisdom and the fringe player hoping to shape tomorrow’s conventional wisdoms are similarly unconstrained by the conventionality of the day. Both separate themselves from the dominant blather to identify the fundamental flaws of the day and strike out in new directions. Both hope that others will follow their leads. The only difference is their prospects for near-term success.
Schwab’s descriptions and diagnoses don’t disappoint. From the earliest days of the Covid crisis, Schwab was willing to state an obvious point that somehow remains deeply controversial even two years later: The government shutdown movement of March/April 2020 unraveled the entire socioeconomic fabric of the Western-led world. That unraveling defines Schwab’s “Great Reset,” and in that sense (at least) he is absolutely correct.
To appreciate that reset fully, it’s important to define some additional terms. Start with the “world order,” or the loose set of formal and informal rules, and the institutions (if any) to support them, that govern the relationships among the world’s major and minor powers. The world order extant at any moment dictates how powers coexist peacefully, respect each other’s rights vis-à-vis territory and citizens, conduct diplomacy, engage in commerce—and if necessary, wage war.
Correctly understood, there has always been a world order and there will always be a world order. The rules and institutions backing up any particular world order always reflect the beliefs, values, and preferences of the major powers that constructed it. From time to time, power, wealth, and influence shift. The power balance underpinning existing rules and institutions grow increasingly distant from the power balance of the moment. Rising powers begin to chafe at the constraints reflecting the ethos of waning powers. The existing world order collapses and a new one rises in its place. Voila! A “new world order.”
Historians dating back nearly 2500 years—to Thucidydes—have noted that the shift from one world order to its successor is rarely peaceful. The gyrations of a waning power desperate to preserve “the world as we know it” in the face of a rising power invariably lead to nasty wars. Schwab makes much of this history, referring repeatedly to this “Thucydides Trap.”
Those of us living in the twenty-first century are spoiled because the last major handoff from waning to rising power—the shift of global leadership from the British Empire to the United States—was history’s most peaceful. This nearly unprecedented transition between powers hailing from the same philosophical and cultural traditions helped feed the contemporary conceit that humanity had finally “solved” history’s gnarliest problems.
Like the “end of history” crowd so dominant after the fall of the Soviet Union, today’s conventional thinkers insist that there’s something magical, determinative, and post-historical about a world order resting upon the “liberal democratic” Anglo/American strain of European Enlightenment thinking. That view might have some salience were today’s rising power New Zealand. Given that the actual rising power is China—a society grounded in very different historical and philosophical traditions—it’s pure fantasy. Schwab brushes it aside dismissively as the nonsense it clearly is. He knows that change is afoot, and that the unraveling of the world’s socioeconomic fabric made that change inevitable. Schwab correctly identifies two irreversible transformative effects—one economic and the other social—of the Covid shutdowns.
The Resets are Real
From an economic perspective, the shutdowns undermined the entire basis of market capitalism. Overnight and without debate, governments shuttered legal businesses and imposed severe restrictions on property rights. To pretend that their economies were still functioning, they printed and circulated money, then allowed just enough commerce to deplete inventories. While this approach devastated poorer countries, it allowed much of the developed world to coast for months—until depleted inventories gave way to the easily predictable supply chain crisis that nevertheless caught everyone by surprise.
Though few have yet to internalize the true effect of these shutdowns, we are plummeting quickly into the trap that Marx foretold. We took a global economy deeply addicted to constant growth and crushed the growth supply. What happens when the entire world goes cold turkey? We’re about to find out. It won’t be pretty. The economic underpinnings of the past few centuries have been eliminated. We have shifted from a global marketplace dominated by competing businesses far too small to control anything other than very localized pricing and supply into an oligopolistic marketplace in which selected mammoth corporations wield greater power than most governments. We’re far closer to the mercantile system of royal charters and monopolies than to market capitalism. Granted, we may have already been heading in that direction, but the speed with which we completed the transition left us philosophically and institutionally unprepared. If you don’t yet see that the past two years represented a fundamental—and very great—economic reset, you’re not paying attention.
From a social perspective, the past two years undermined the entire Anglo/American strain of European Enlightenment thinking that has dominated the world throughout the entirety of British and American leadership. The basic distinguishing characteristic of that tradition, born in the fields of Runnymede in 1215, is that there are some innate rights that no legitimate government may infringe. That basic idea evolved slowly but surely over many centuries. By 2015, it had manifested as a list of fundamental freedoms that some form of natural law designated human rights. Though national laws enshrined these rights in different ways and in different measures, (and much of the world paid them only lip service while ignoring them in practice), the list was widely known: The rule of law; due process; the right to property; freedom of speech, the press, religion, association, assembly, petition, and privacy; security from warrantless searches; and the sanctity of bodily autonomy top the list.
Since early 2020, not a single government on the planet has respected those basics. The widespread infringements were particularly glaring among Anglosphere governments. The U.S., the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—the proudest, clearest, most native, and most direct proponents of this grand tradition—suspended every one of these rights, in different measures, for different durations, and at different times. The net result is that by 2022, concepts like natural law, basic freedoms, and human rights have evaporated. Every government on the planet agrees that in times of declared emergency, governments may legitimately infringe all of those erstwhile rights, then mete them out as government executives deem appropriate. That drastic philosophical shift does not mean that freedom is impossible in today’s world. It simply means that whatever freedoms we may enjoy today exist as government grants—grants that can, of course, be restricted or retracted any time the government believes that the common good warrants restriction or retraction. It’s a formulation far better aligned with Chinese philosophical traditions than with those of the Anglosphere.
To make matters worse, this abdication of the distinguishing characteristic of Anglo/American thinking arose during a period in which the Anglosphere’s leading intellectual, political, and media voices insisted that far from being “exceptional,” the U.S. was but one more exploitative power predicated upon supremacism and oppression. Anglo-led theories and actions thus combined to discredit the entire edifice underpinning the American-led postwar, post-Cold War order claiming to rest upon rules and rights. Rather than convincing societies hailing from other traditions to embrace the “advances” that arose first in the Anglosphere, the Anglosphere countries have joined the rest of the world in relegating rules and rights to window dressing—useful as PR but easily dismissed whenever they threated to get in the way of important governmental imperatives—and the common good.
Taken together, the philosophical, ethical, and economic underpinnings of the prevailing American-led order evaporated at precisely the moment that the global power balance shifted towards China. Conventional wisdom has yet to digest the significance of this global transition—hence the completely blinkered insistence that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to bring down the rule-based order, rather than recognizing that invasion as an indication that that world order has already ended.
Schwab thus deserves immense credit for his clear embrace of two blindingly obvious—though deeply controversial—observations: One, global government actions during the Spring of 2020 “reset” the socioeconomic fabric of the world. Two, the rising power of China will necessarily lead to a “new world order.”
Schwab also deserves immense credit for highlighting a set of issues that many other commentators ignore (or at the very least underplay): The devastation that global policies wrought on issues of concern to the traditional left.
If you look closely at my discussion above, you’ll note that most of the Covid-excused infringements I mention hit hard on concerns typically associated with the right side of the political spectrum: market economics, rule of law, and individual liberties. But what of the concerns of the left? Not the woke left mired in identity politics. Those folks not only enjoyed the shutdowns but took them as an excuse for moral preening. The traditional, class-oriented economic left. What of the factions that had spent a century prioritizing workers rights, economic distribution, human rights abroad, and the North/South divide?
Schwab notes that their priorities suffered at least as much as those championed on the right. Workers throughout the developed world lost their jobs thanks to shutdowns, the devastation of small business, and the imposition of unprecedented medical mandates. Workers in selected industries were overstressed then discarded. Money flowed upward, making most of most populations far poorer while enriching a thin stratum at the top. Closed schools, unemployment, anomie, drugs and alcohol, tight quarters, supply shortfalls, and inflation all hit hardest on those most in need. And that was only in the developed world! Every single one of those problems was magnified in the world’s poorest countries. Covid provided a glorious excuse for the suspension of human rights around the globe. After all, if Australia can create detention camps and Canada can freeze the finances of citizens supporting disfavored political causes, so can anyone else. Governments unburdened by the Anglosphere’s historic attachment to individual freedom had a field day. Human freedom collapsed around the world. Meanwhile, export limitations, halts to travel and tourism, supply chain problems, and government oppression all heightened the misery of the world’s poor. In one of history’s great ironies, the workers of the world finally united—and the neo-Marxists opposed them.
Schwab, like Marx, thus does a commendable job of observation and diagnosis. Also like Marx, however, his pivot to prescription is disastrous. Though his pivot points are so subtle that a casual reader might fail to notice them, his prescriptions all rest upon two strong-form assumptions: One, we are heading towards a potentially apocalyptic climate crisis. Two, the governmental actions taken to combat Covid exemplify laudatory collective action in the service of the common good. Schwab doesn’t spend much time dwelling on these pivot points because in his world, they’re self-evident truths that only fringe “deniers” would even bother to challenge.
Beware the Pivot
If you read a bit more carefully than Schwab might like, however, you’ll readily notice that his assertions are far from matters of consensus. To appreciate his sleight of hand, it’s important to differentiate the broad consensus on both climate change and Covid from the strong-form assumptions that Schwab’s prescriptions require. It’s almost certainly true that most people accept that the earth’s climate is in one of its periodic warming phases, and recognize that the global spread of Covid from Wuhan, China in early 2020 posed a genuine public health challenge. That level of consensus, however, is far from what Schwab requires. No, for Schwab’s narrative to work, it is critical that climate change be apocalyptic rather than merely concerning; the anti-Covid actions must be models of excellence rather than merely reasonable steps taken amidst conditions of uncertainty and anxiety.
In other words, Schwab’s fringe “deniers” are hardly fringe. They define almost the entire political right and a large part of the non-elite, non-woke left. Yet it’s only fidelity to the strongest form of Schwab’s two arguments that can possibly underpin his radical plan for the future. That plan in a nutshell? Draconian global enforcement, of the sort we experienced with Covid, to address the imminent, truly cataclysmic, climate meltdown. Miraculously, along the way, the wise men and women charged with implementing this global solution will also enhance welfare, promote income equality, and preserve important human freedoms. How or why any of these second-tier concerns should emerge enhanced is far from clear, but the combined wisdom and benevolence of the new leadership class will attend to them ably.
At the end of the day, Schwab comes off like any other utopian. If only the world would let him assemble a deft team of like-minded and well-trained leaders, focused on the common good, and handed near-absolute authority, we could all enjoy a very bright future! Otherwise, the future seems bleak indeed.
What makes Schwab truly dangerous is that he’s taken great strides towards assembling that team and placing his people in positions of power. Schwab is poised to be more than the next Marx; he may also become both the next Lenin and the next Mao. It’s one thing to promulgate ideas; it’s another to lead the revolution. The various folks—some accused of conspiracy theoretic-thinking—who’ve worried that the Covid “emergency” is but a dry run for the imminent climate “emergency” need look no further than Schwab. He connects all the dots, pitches his solution as the last, best hope for humanity, and brings an impressive rolodex of powerful colleagues and trainees to the party.
Fortunately for those of us who reject Schwab’s strong-form pivot points and prefer a very different future, his following beyond an oligarchic elite is not particularly large. If enough people outside the elite see through his smokescreen, his oligarchs will fail. After all, his designated problem-solvers will require considerable authority and flexible enforcement powers. The very importance of their task will forgive them any infringements of “rights” once considered inalienable. The masses will either fall in line or feel the wrath of those enforcers. At some point, those masses might start to object—a phenomenon we are finally starting to see in 2022 with the predicted U.S. electoral shift towards the Republicans.
Schwab’s great narrative—the justification for his radically totalitarian project—does not fit neatly into left/right polarization. It is—in classically Marxist terms—a class struggle. It carves out a class of educated, affluent professionals tied to a consensus worldview. It sets them apart from, and above, the rest of humanity—like divinely inspired priests or Platonic philosopher kings. It credits them with knowing the “common good” and with understanding how best to pursue it. Schwab’s message to the masses is simple: Comply and things will be good.
At some point, the left-leaning and right-leaning masses must awaken to the reality that compliance serves neither of their agendas. In today’s world, the causes of freedom and equality both point away from the emerging global elitist oligarchy. If these non-elites (or anti-elites) can unite to rework our leading institutions away from the control of these elitist oligarchs, they can then return to squabbling over policy. They may yet preserve a world order anchored in a recognition (if not a realization) of inalienable individual rights and in human dignity.
If not, Schwab and his friends will help ensure that the new world order mirrors the ethos of its most obvious rising power: China’s penchant for combining rising prosperity with tight political and social controls.
So that’s my review. I’d like to say that I read these books so you don’t have to, but you should—for the same reason you should read The Communist Manifesto. Schwab’s books, more than anything I have read, have the potential to wreak genuine havoc on the world of the next century. If you want to understand what your children will either overcome or endure, The Great Reset and The Great Narrative are great places to start.
For more information about Bruce D. Abramson & American Restorationism, visit: www.BruceDAbramson.com
To learn more about how America’s elites destroyed the republic, see: The New Civil War: Exposing Elites, Fighting Utopian Leftism, and Restoring America (RealClear Publishing, 2021).
To learn more about the ideology driving today’s anti-American leftism, see: American Restoration: Winning America’s Second Civil War (Kindle, 2019).