The World Economic Forum (WEF) and its long-serving founder and Executive Chairman, Professor Klaus Schwab, are the subjects of many insane conspiracy theories. This NGO, which again this January will bring together politicians, business leaders, journalists, academics, and assorted celebrities in Davos, has been accused, among other things, of being a secret cabal of paedophiles who used the Covid-19 pandemic to harvest children’s blood so as to hasten in a Satanic New World Order.
It isn’t mad, however, to regard the WEF as a dangerous force in global politics. The WEF is a dangerous force in global politics. To adapt Joseph Heller, just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean the WEF isn’t after you. A shared distrust of the WEF brings together anti-capitalists on the left and culture-warriors on the right. But that distrust is based on a misunderstanding of what the WEF is these days really all about.
For many WEF critics, the vileness of the organisation can be encapsulated in one word: ‘neoliberalism.’ It’s a term that conjures up images of plutocrats and untrammelled markets ravaging the planet and exploiting blue-collar folk in the name of profit. Funnily enough, Chairman Schwab agrees with that assessment of the world’s ills. Once upon a time, the WEF prioritised the necessity and benefits of economic globalisation. That has not been the case for many years, however. In October 2020, Schwab stated that:
[S]hibboleths of our global economic system will need to be re-evaluated with an open mind. Chief among these is the neoliberal ideology. Free-market fundamentalism has eroded worker rights and economic security, triggered a deregulatory race to the bottom and ruinous tax competition.
Precisely how and where ‘free-market fundamentalism’ has run amuck remains a mystery. After all, we live in a world in which most governments in developed nations routinely control 40 per cent or more of their nation’s GDP.
Nor does the regulatory and welfare state’s relentless growth in, say, the European Union, Britain and America suggest that free market radicals have been in charge in Brussels, London or Washington for decades. As for China, since 2008, its Communist party leadership has been steadily reasserting state control over an economy that was only ever very partially liberalised.
Ignoring these inconvenient facts, Schwab believes that the world needs a ‘Great Reset.’ Covid, according to the WEF’s website explaining the global reboot awaiting the world, revealed all the ‘inconsistencies, inadequacies and contradictions of multiple systems – from health and financial to energy and education.’ The entire planet needs a new ‘social contract’ to reshape ‘the future state of global relations, the direction of national economies, the priorities of societies, the nature of business models, and the management of a global commons.’
That’s quite a list. But what adjectives, I ask, should be used to describe an outfit that proposes to coordinate the reorganisation of 8 billion souls, 195 countries, international relations, social policy writ-large, and a $104 trillion global economy? Words like ‘delusional’ and ‘megalomaniacal’ come to mind.
A key concept for Schwab’s vision of a reset world is ‘stakeholder capitalism.’ In his 2021 book Stakeholder Capitalism: A Global Economy that Works for Progress, People and Planet, Schwab defines it as ‘a form of capitalism in which companies do not only optimise short-term profits for shareholders, but seek long-term value creation, by taking into account the needs of all their stakeholders, and society at large.’
By value-creation, Schwab partly has in mind economic prosperity. But he also calls for the promotion of three other values: ‘People,’ ‘Planet,’ and ‘Peace.’ These rather broad concepts illustrate just how all-embracing Schwab’s stakeholder capitalism seeks to be.
So who are the stakeholders who will collaborate to usher in the four Ps? For Schwab, they are ‘governments,’ ‘companies,’ and ‘civil society’ (NGOs, unions, etc.). At this point we arrive at the essence of Schwab’s grand redesign. For all his invocation of the predictable woke pieties, Schwab’s core commitment is to political and economic arrangements which used to be known as corporatism.
Schwab is quite explicit about this. In one article describing the origins of his present outlook, he writes:
This approach was common in the postwar decades in the West, when it became clear that one person or entity could only do well if the whole community and economy functioned. There was a strong linkage between companies and their community. In Germany, for example, where I was born, it led to the representation of employees on the board, a tradition that continues today.
Corporatism is a broad concept. It can run the gamut from the hyper-authoritarian version embraced by Mussolini’s Italy to worker-boss structures of the type described by Schwab in postwar western Europe. All forms of corporatism, however, share some common themes.