What is ‘the Great Reset’ and why does it scare some conservatives?

An initiative of the World Economic Forum has set off conspiracy theories, as well as serious pushback to what’s seen as a socialist agenda

In June, a German economist and engineer drafted a vision for what the world might look like after the coronavirus pandemic is over. He described how countries could come together to facilitate “the Great Reset,” a reordering of social and economic priorities.

Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, believes there will be no “getting back to normal” after COVID-19 subsides, saying the pandemic represents a global inflection point.

“Some analysts call it a major bifurcation, others refer to a deep crisis of ‘biblical’ proportions but the essence remains the same: the world as we knew it in the early months of 2020 is no more, dissolved in the context of the pandemic,” Schwab wrote with Thierry Malleret in “COVID-19: The Great Reset,” published in July.

Schwab envisions the Great Reset as an opportunity to make the world better and more resilient, to capitalize on accelerating change. But many people, including conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck, see something much more sinister in this vision.

Internet ads cite the Great Reset and encourage people to buy products in preparation for a “permanent lockdown.” On Twitter and Parler, people warn of “boiling frog” social change, the type that occurs slowly, without realization. And conspiracy theories have emerged, fueled by things people see as troubling coincidences, such as President-elect Joe Biden using “Build Back Better” as a campaign slogan; it’s also the slogan of Schwab’s initiative.

So how did what’s essentially a policy paper by a German economist become so worrisome in some quarters of America? Here are three reasons for the concern.

U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by World Economic Forum Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab, left, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 21, 2020. | Markus Schreiber, Associated Press

The global agenda

What’s now known as the World Economic Forum began in 1971 as a European nonprofit that invited business leaders to an annual conference every January. Then called the European Management Forum, early meetings focused on how European leaders could emulate business practices in the U.S., according to its website.

The group later expanded to include business and political leaders around the world and changed its name to the World Economic Forum in 1987. Its annual meeting, held in Davos, Switzerland, is colloquially known simply as “Davos.”

While people from around the world are involved, the World Economic Forum remains heavily influenced by Schwab and his beliefs, articulated in a manifesto published in 1973. That paper said companies should value “stakeholders” and not just shareholders, and for management to serve clients, employees, investors and society, while making a profit sufficient to ensure the company’s existence.

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive director of the World Economic Forum, delivers a welcome message on the eve of the annual meeting of the World Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. | Markus Schreiber, Associated Press

These philosophies were updated earlier this year in “the Davos Manifesto 2020” which called for a “better kind of capitalism.”

“A company is more than an economic unit generating wealth. It fulfills human and societal aspirations as part of the broader social system. Performance must be measured not only on the return to shareholders, but also on how it achieves its environmental, social and good governance objectives,” the 2020 manifesto said.

The U.S. has a significant presence at Davos; in 2020, 674 Americans, including President Donald Trump, were among the nearly 3,000 people from 117 countries who attended. And the World Economic Forum website promotes the thinking of Americans such as the late economist Milton Friedman and Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.

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But the group’s emphasis on global cooperation and reshaping capitalism worry conservatives who promote “America First” and distrust Schwab’s calls for globally shared goals for private enterprise. And proponents of small government and lower taxes recoil at his conclusion in “COVID-19: The Great Reset” that “Irrespective of the details, the role of the state will increase, and in doing so, will materially affect the way business in conducted.” Taxes will necessarily increase, “particularly for the most privileged,” Schwab wrote.

He also rues the lack of a system of global governance to address global problems, such as a pandemic, and pointed to Trump’s decision to withdraw funding from the World Health Organization in May.

Lines of cars wait at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on July 5, 2020. | Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

Fear of more government

In his new book, Schwab said that it’s not COVID-19 that will directly cause permanent changes to society, but rather the pandemic will accelerate changes that were already under way. Much talk about the Great Reset has to do with dealing with income and wealth inequality, which has been exposed to a greater degree during the pandemic.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about this in a speech he gave to the United Nations in September.

“This is a chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts, to reimagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality and climate change,” Trudeau said.

Talk about providing greater government assistance to people in poverty often is divisive along partisan lines, as recent debate over $2,000 stimulus checks in the U.S. illustrates. But conservatives resist greater governmental involvement on all fronts, including widespread lockdowns, which are decried as infringement on personal freedom.

Many people also worry that the post-COVID-19 world will include new restrictions on mobility, such as requirements to present a vaccine or immunity card before boarding a plane or attending a concert. The federal Economic Employment Opportunity Commission recently said employers can require vaccination and bar workers from their buildings if they don’t have it. And a “CommonPass” has been proposed that would serve as a form of health ID around the world.

While mandated vaccines and ID cards aren’t part of the World Economic Forum’s vision, the term “Great Reset” has expanded on the internet to include any types of ominous lasting change.

One person on Twitter described the components of the Great Reset as control of movement, suppression of dissent, transfer of wealth and creation of dependency on government, and the introduction of digital IDs, electronic money and universal basic income. Others say that reports of mutations in the viruses are cover stories to enforce new lockdowns.

It’s not just people in the U.S. who are worried. Writing for Breitbart News, British podcaster James Delingpole called the Great Reset one of several code words for “the complete transformation of the global economy in order to create a New World Order.”

“Sure, it sounds like a conspiracy theory,” Delingpole wrote. “But as someone wise once said, it’s not a conspiracy theory when they tell you exactly what they’re doing.”

The most virulent conspiracy theorists, however, take it farther: claiming that the entire pandemic was faked in order to engineer a Great Reset.

Mutual urgency

Schwab did not invent the term the “Great Reset”; its provenance is unknown but it’s been around for years. University of Toronto professor Richard Florida published a book with that title in 2011, and economist John Mauldin wrote in Forbes that he’s been using the term for years to describe climactic events with economic consequences.

Mauldin doesn’t think much of the World Economic Forum’s take on the term. “More likely, this is another example of wealthy, powerful elites salving their consciences with faux efforts to help the masses, and in the process, make themselves even wealthier and more powerful,” he wrote.

Schwab and the World Economic Forum have vastly different takes on what a Great Reset represents; and in that, they share one thing with the Great Reset Cassandras: a sense of urgency and purpose.

A new and improved world can emerge from the pandemic if nations act jointly and quickly, Schwab says. “In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold,’ an entire village foresees a looming catastrophe, and yet none of the villagers seem able or willing to act to prevent it, until it’s too late. ... To avoid such a fate, without delay we need to set in motion the Great Reset. This is not a ‘nice-to-have’ but an absolute necessity,” Schwab wrote.

Beck, meanwhile, is warning his listeners and viewers on BlazeTV of coming “fundamental changes to society and capitalism” if Schwab’s vision is implemented. And writing for The Hill, Justin Haskins of the Heartland Institute, said, “For those of us who support free markets, the Great Reset is nothing short of terrifying.”

“America is the world’s most powerful, prosperous nation precisely because of the very market principles the Great Reset supporters loathe, not in spite of them,” he wrote.

If Schwab and supporters of his vision succeed, Haskins added, “radical — and catastrophic — change is exactly what we’re going to get.”

As for the specifics of what the WEF’s Great Reset actually entails, more details are promised at the forum’s 2021 meeting — postponed because of COVID-19.