As the World Economic Forum (WEF) hosts [hosted] its annual conference of political officials, corporate bigwigs, and leaders of the professional Left-dominated nongovernmental organization world, the organization has come into focus. We brought some of the scrutiny, examining recent writings of WEF leader Klaus Schwab and critics of his “Great Reset.”
But when scrutinizing Schwab and the Forum it is important to separate the true from the false and observe distinctions, not only to not “look crazy” to normal people but also to better understand the professional-managerial class adversaries of individual, limited government. It is important to keep in mind that the WEF, Schwab, and its associates sincerely believe their efforts and managerial ideology will lead the world to a better place. Far from comic-book-movie villains, they would be the “omnipotent moral busybodies” about which C.S. Lewis warned.
So is the WEF a secret conspiracy to replace private ownership with utopian Marxism? No, though there’s less distance between a Danish MP’s infamous op-ed that the WEF published and the vision laid out by Schwab in The Great Narrative than critics will find comforting. WEF is hardly secret, given that it publishes its advocacy in book form and is best known for a highly public conference. But it is at least somewhat misleading for the WEF to defend itself, as WEF executive committee member Paul Smyke did, as just a place of discussion among ideologically diverse stakeholders.
Will We Own Nothing?
Much of the criticism of the Forum falls on its vision of a world in which “you’ll own nothing, and you’ll be happy,” possibly because the citizenry will eat bugs instead of meat. Here the Forum’s defenders have ground to stand on; the Forum does not explicitly advocate these things. It has, however, offered prominent public figures space to opine about the future. In the notable case of an op-ed written in 2016 about a possible future set in 2030, the writer was Ida Auken, a former Danish environment minister and sitting member of parliament.
And when people write about the future, it is reasonable to think that they are, at least to some degree, writing about a future that they hope and expect to make and see. That is, after all, what Klaus Schwab did at book length in The Great Narrative. So it is worth looking at what that former minister thought the world of eight years from now might look like six years ago, in a piece the WEF thought worthy of publication.
The headline is stark: “Welcome to 2030: I Own Nothing, Have No Privacy and Life Has Never Been Better.” The piece suggests that a mere decade and a half from its writing, a Star Trek–style non-economy economy will be in full swing, with free communication, free transportation, free housing, and free food—all underwritten by free clean energy.
Now, from the vantage point of slightly less than halfway to this vision, one question arises: “How?” How did humanity develop free energy from almost nothing in only a decade and a half? And if it would have been so easy, how did the entire world—not just recalcitrant Americans, who occasionally elect Florida men to high public office, but even good Europeans, even Danes!—miss this boat to utopia?
Well, like Schwab’s own predictions about inflation and unemployment in the wake of COVID-19, it was just a bad prediction. But it was a predictably bad prediction: There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there has never been one since humanity entered this vale of tears. Why would one appear ex nihilo in less than half a generation? But if it reflects what the social-democratic green movement (often called “watermelons” by critics) sincerely believe is on the horizon, heaven help us.
That assumes the piece is in fact a prediction; the op-ed reads like a dorm-room bull session product. (The author’s apparent channeling of Karl Marx’s The German Ideology in her musing “When AI and robots took over so much of our work, we suddenly had time to eat well, sleep well, and spend time with other people” also seems worthy of the dormitory.) The concerning thing about this is that the writer is not a sophomore undergraduate writing for a campus literary magazine, but a former cabinet minister published under the auspices of a multi-million-dollar nonprofit.
Auken concedes her utopia is not perfect. “Nowhere can I go and not be registered,” asserts the citizen of 2030’s “our city,” which goes unnamed and un-located; one assumes it is not Copenhagen, since “in the past we filled all free spots in the city with concrete.” Or New York. Or Washington. Or Boston. Or Paris, or London, or Berlin. Or Mexico City, or Cape Town, or Kyoto. Come to think of it, where is this formerly all-concrete “our city” anyway?
But the surveillance dystopia is not the darkest part of the vision. That honor lies with “all the people who do not live in our city”—the narrator’s “greatest concern.” All who “felt obsolete and useless when robots and AI took big parts of our jobs” or who “got upset with the political system and turned against it” live beyond a sort of invisible city wall, in “little self-supplying communities” or in “empty and abandoned houses in small 19th century villages.”
At least it isn’t the gulag. Or rather, it isn’t the gulag yet—our citizen whose dreams are recorded betrays fear that “I just hope nobody will use it against me” even as our citizen asserts “all in all, it is a good life. Much better than the path we were on.”
One can award the same partial credit to Auken that one might give to Schwab for acknowledging that surveillance might very well lead to dystopia, while wondering why they suggest the world will and perhaps ought to employ this “one ring” anyway. Perhaps, like Tolkien’s hobbits, the “little self-supplying communities” have the better of the world of 2030 than the citizens of the dehumanizing, dystopian “our city.” The best that can be said is that at least the WEF isn’t trying to build it.
Yes, The WEF Has an Agenda
So, if the World Economic Forum isn’t about surveilling our dreams and using our living rooms for other people’s business meetings, what is its agenda? If you, like the Washington Examiner did, ask WEF executive committee member Paul Smyke, the answer is that the Forum doesn’t have one. This is an odd position to take for a man whose other title is WEF head of the regional agenda, North America.
To the extent what Smyke told the Examiner is true, it is true only in an incredibly misleading rules-lawyered literal sense in that the WEF does not have a formal policy program that all attendees endorse. It does have an ideology, and creditably, Klaus Schwab has been open about that ideology for 50 years, since he published the first Davos Manifesto on stakeholder capitalism, a forerunner to today’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) movement.
As is made clear in COVID-19: The Great Reset and The Great Narrative for a Better Future, the Forum’s leader is a stakeholder capitalist who hopes to advance ESG, to see greater power lie with organized labor and the (overwhelmingly professional managerial class-oriented and politically liberal-to-socialist) nonprofit sector, and to harness the technologies of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which he believes is now upon the world, to advance his ski-chalet environmentalist and chardonnay socialist policy goals.
It is true that the annual Forum meeting at Davos meeting is a place for policymakers and businesspersons of various ideologies to gather and discuss. But the people with whom one discusses determines the outcome of those discussions. If, as Schwab and co-author Thierry Malleret did in The Great Narrative, one discusses the path to a better future with left-of-center academics, former officials involved in the Chinese Communist Party–aligned Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, and environmentalist campaigners, one will find one answer. If one consulted with Republican governors; Hungarian, Polish, and Italian government ministers; industrialists (even soft-environmentalist ones like Elon Musk); or Abrahamic religious leaders, one would receive a quite different answer. When one discusses the world with left-wing, utilitarian, environmentalist, and animal liberationist philosopher Peter Singer, one knows (or should know) to expect different answers than if that discussion is with Catholic conservative philosopher Robert George. To choose a discussant is to decide the discussion.
The World Economic Forum’s position and aspirations—think “Great Reset”—invite justified scrutiny. Schwab may be one of the most influential nongovernmental figures in the world, simply because events like the Davos meeting put him and his organization adjacent to the “room where it happens” in dozens of countries and corporate boardrooms.
To the Forum’s credit, its ideology and events are largely public and subject to public criticism. To the Forum’s discredit, when that scrutiny is hostile, the Forum has hidden behind its most “out-there” critics to invalidate by association more level-headed disputation. But while it is not the secret governance of the whole world some claim, it is more than just a discussion forum for the world’s high and mighty.
“Davos man,” a reference to the annual WEF Davos meeting, has become a common metonym for a certain bien-pensant, liberal, trendy environmentalist, and redistributionist ideology because that is the technocratic ideology that underpins the World Economic Forum, even if not all Davos attendees subscribe to it. (During his presidency, Donald Trump, who does not hold that ideology, attended Davos twice, in 2018 and 2020.) One can discern the ideology that underpins Davos because one can read Schwab’s books, look at the WEF’s marketing materials that promote possible breakthroughs toward an environmentalist future, and read op-eds the Forum saw fit to publish. That that ideology might lead to places the public does not want to go—something Schwab admitted in The Great Reset about digital COVID contact-tracing surveillance regimes and something Auken’s narrator concedes about “our city”—does not make it a conspiracy.