By Lambert Strether of Corrente
“This place is getting to me. I think I’m getting The Fear.” –Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I’m at a bit of a disadvantage writing about the World Economic Forum (WEF), because I’m not up on the details for the Bilderbergers, the Bohemian Club, the visitors to Little Saint James, Opus Dei, the Triads, the Masons, the Knights of Malta, or any of the other institutions that promote class solidarity among elites, especially global elites. I’m inclined to leave it with George Carlin: “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.” That said, the World Economic Forum seems especially worthy of attention, both as a newsworthy event, and as the home ground of “Davos Man,” a phrase coined by Samuel P. Hunting (of all people) in “Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite” (2004):
The rewards of an increasingly integrated global economy have brought forth a new global elite. Labeled ‘Davos Men’, ‘gold-collar workers’ or . . . ‘cosmocrats’, this emerging class is . Estimated to number about 20 million in 2000, of whom 40 percent were American, this elite is expected to double in size by 2010. , these transnationalists have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations. In the coming years, one corporation executive confidently predicted, “the only people who will care about national boundaries are politicians.” . Someone whose loyalties, identities and involvements are purely national is less likely to rise to the top in business, academia, the media and the professions than someone who transcends these limits. Outside politics, those who stay home stay behind. Those who move ahead think and act internationally. As sociologist Manuel Castells has said, “Elites are cosmopolitan, people are local.”
“Why don’t they just move?” being the quintessential question of Davos Man, aspirational or no, or has been until recently. Perhaps now Davos Man (or, today, Person) is hearing the faint, far-off sound of blades being sharpened, and is about to display adaptability. Or will, if the WEF has anything to do with it. If so, that’s interesting and something to think about. (FOX is already excited; they seem to think that the WEF is going to bring about socialism. Pas si bête.)
In this post I’m going to take a brief look at the WEF’s upcoming 2021 potlatch, dubbed “The Great Reset,” first at its ideological, and then at its institutional characteristics. As I said, this post will be quite superficial, since I’m not a global elites maven. Indeed, reading the WEF site made me feel like I was trapped in a large and luxurious conference hotel where all the signage was in a language that looked like English, but wasn’t. So I hope readers will chime in. No yarn diagrams, please!
The Great Reset: Ideology
Here is what the WEF says “the Great Reset” is all about. (This press release has been republished in various places like the Jakarta Post, the Evening Standard, and so forth.) From the About page for “The Great Reset”, which runs on so much it’s almost impossible to extract from:
- “The Great Reset” will be the theme of a unique twin summit in January 2021, convened by the World Economic Forum.
- “The Great Reset” is a commitment to jointly and urgently build the foundations of our economic and social system for a fair, sustainable and resilient future.
- It requires a new social contract human dignity, social justice and where societal progress does not fall behind economic development.
- The global health crisis has laid bare longstanding ruptures in our economies and societies, and created a social crisis that urgently requires jobs.
- The twin summit will be both in-person and virtual, connecting key global governmental and business leaders in Davos with a global multistakeholder network in 400 cities around the world for a forward-oriented dialogue driven by the younger generation.
(The hollowness of the WEF language strikes a different note from the language at the Clinton Foundation’s “No Ceilings Initiative,” described by Thomas Frank in “Nor a Lender Be,” but hollow it is.) The list is followed by supportive quotes from Prince Charles, Klaus Schwab (WEF head), and António Guterres (Secretary-General of the United Nations), and we are assured that the Great Reset is “supported by voices from all stakeholder groups of global society.” All?
Anyhow, I couldn’t make any sense of that list at all. (We’ll get to the “unique” “in-person and virtual” twin summit” when we talk about the Great Reset as an institution.) So I carefully waded one level more deeply into the morass that is the WEF web site, and came upon an interactive diagrammatic representation of all the topical areas to be covered by The Great Reset. Here is the top level of “The Great Reset Transformation Map”:
In the center of the diagram is the title, here “The Great Reset”. Seven topical groups surround the title (for example, “Shaping the Economic Recovery). Each group holds a number of topics (for example, “Taxation,” “Gender Parity”). The topics are not in any particular order, and are at different levels of abstraction (“Forests,” “3D Printing,” “LGBTI Inclusion”).
Hoping for some sort of detectable order, we click on one of the seven Groups, “Shaping the Economic Recovery.” Here it is:
When clicked, “Shaping the Economic Recovery” turns blue, as do the topics (one presumes) related to it. The topics not related shaping the economic recovery — that is, not highlighted blue — include “Banking and Capital Markets” (top right) and “Systemic Racism” (top left). How can that be? Losing hope, we try “Redesigning Social Contracts, Skills and Jobs”:
Noting the missing Oxford Comma, and passing over “Social Contracts,” plural (why?), we note that “Future of Health and Healthcare” is not highlighted. Surely the WEF is not unaware of the debacle of employer-provided health insurance in the United States? Weirdly, “LGBTI Inclusion” (left) is highlighted, but “Gender Parity” is not. Why?
I conclude that whatever the WEF is selling in “The Great Reset” is not discernible from its public-facing documentation, and that’s likely to be bad. I mean, I’m sure that the WEF is pushing globalist, elite-level changes on Davos Man, even massive ones, but I can’t decode what they are. I also can’t tell whether they’ll be in my interest, or in the interest of anyone I know. (I know that past performance is no guarantee of future results, but if it were, the answers would be “no,” and “hell, no.”) From here, let us pass on to the institutional nature of “The Great Reset.”
The Great Reset: Institutions
If you are Davos man, here’s an explanation of the Davos experience, from Anya Schiffrin, “Jealous Davos Mistresses“:
The point about Davos is that it makes everyone feel wildly insecure. Billionaires and heads of state alike are all convinced that they have been given the worst hotel rooms, put on the least interesting panels and excluded from the most important events/most interesting private dinners. The genius of World Economic Founder Klaus Schwab is that he has been able to persuade hundreds of accomplished businessmen to pay thousands of dollars to attend an event which is largely based on mass humiliation and paranoia.
People lose their heads in this hothouse atmosphere and behave in ways that they probably would never even consider in another setting. My own introduction to Davos’ competitiveness was years ago. The husband and I had just arrived from a night flight and a limo ride to our spartan but centrally-located hotel room. We dropped off our bags and staggered over to the Congress Centre to pick up our name tags. Winding through the little corridor on the way to the registration we ran into an old colleague of my husband. We stopped to say hello and were greeted with a gloating reply: “I see my book got a better review than yours did in the New York Review of Books this year.” (!).
However, due, I think to fear — both of COVID-19 and the sound of sharpening blades — WEF, as we saw, is dividing 2021’s “Great Reset” “twin summit” into two parts: Physical and virtual. Once again from the About page:
This innovative summit will be a very different Annual Meeting, reflecting the spirit of the Great Reset. It will provide a unique opportunity at the beginning of 2021 to bring together the key global government and business leaders in Davos, yet framed within a global multistakeholder summit driven by the younger generation to ensure that the Great Reset dialogue pushes beyond the boundaries of traditional thinking and is truly forward-oriented.
To do so, the World Economic Forum will draw on thousands of young people in more than 400 cities around the world (the Global Shapers Community) who will be interconnected with a powerful virtual hub network to interact with the leaders in Davos. Each of those hubs will have an open house policy to integrate all interested citizens into this dialogue, making the Annual Meeting open to everyone. In addition, global media and social media networks will mobilize millions of people, enabling them to share their input while also providing them with access to the Annual Meeting discussions in Davos.
(“Innovative.”) Which all sounds great, but I have questions:
First, “driven by the younger generation” sounds very much to me like an invitation for ruthless, credentialed competition for virtual space by those aspirational identitarians who Adolph Reed calls “voices” (“The Trouble with Uplift“). Not that there’s anything wrong with that (ka-ching).
Second, it’s not clear to me how hierarchies in the “twin summit” will be signalled virtually, except perhaps through identity markers. What is the online equivalent of name tags and how does it appear in Zoom? Chyrons?
Third, it’s not clear to me how the requisite “mass humiliation and paranoia” of the Davos experience will be implemented virtually or in the hubs. Although, no doubt, there are many very online personas working that out, even as we speak.
Fourth, if WEF takes its “open house policy” seriously, they could end up with today’s equivalent of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, both physically (in the “hubs” themselves) and virtually (through the video feeds). Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
It’s clear from Wilkerson and Jay’s conversation, among other straws in the wind, that lots of planning that in a sane or at least democratic society would be considered newsworthy is being carried on by elites. No doubt “The Great Reset” is part of that. However, the public facing aspect of “The Great Reset” is not coherent, and the institutional aspect asks for trouble in a number of ways. I’m not sure that Davos man can find the button, let alone push it.
 Here are the topics in “The Great Reset” diagram:
- Digital Economy and New Value Creation
- Internet Governance
- Digital Identity
- Future of Media, Entertainment and Culture
- Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
- Fourth Industrial Revolution
- The Ocean
- Future of Computing
- Strengthening Regional Development
- Banking and Capital Markets
- Future of Health and Healthcare
- Global Governance
- Development Finance
- Financial and Monetary Systems
- Aviation, Travel and Tourism
- Sustainable Development
- International Trade and Investment
- Climate Change
- Cities and Urbanization
- Revitalizing Global Cooperation
- Workforce and Employment
- Global Health
- Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
- Global Risks
- International Security
- Future of Economic Progress
- Agile Governance
- Developing Sustainable Business Models
- Environment and Natural Resource Security
- Agriculture, Food and Beverage
- Air Pollution
- Advanced Manufacturing and Production
- Circular Economy
- 3D Printing
- Corporate Governance
- Plastics and the Environment
- Future of Food
- Restoring the Health of the Environment
- Future of Mobility
- Public Finance and Social Protection
- Future of Energy
- Redesigning Social Contracts, Skills and Jobs
- LGBTI Inclusion
- Systemic Racism
- Civic Participation
- Human Rights
- Justice and Law
- Shaping the Economic Recovery
- Gender Parity
- Inclusive Design
 “I know you put a lot of work into that diagram….”
 The title refers to the color-coded system of Davos name tags which are, well, intersectional, being based on status, occupation, and affiliation. Wives, being wives, have no status, no occupation, and no affiliation, so their name tags are white. See also this hilarious video by Felix Salmon and Chris Hayes, where I picked up the reference. (I have a soft spot for Felix Salmon because he took the correct view of the Cooper Union debacle.)
 Which I “misread’ as “mistakeholder.”
Herewith the WEF’s front page on Pride:
And Racial Injustice:
Needless to say, I’m not opposed to either gay rights or racial justice. But if these causes are featured prominently on the WEF’s front page, they are highly unlikely to be revolutionary, unless today’s global elites are even stupider and more self-destructive than the Bourbons and the Romanovs.