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Great leap nowhere

25 Nov 2020 | OP ED Watch

Nowadays the “Great Reset”, as Eric Worrall notes, is the big thing for those who think we can finally make capitalism work after two centuries of dismal failure disguised as brilliant success. But what if the whole thing leads nowhere at all? As the experts just let slip, Joe Biden’s hugely ambitious climate agenda “could help reduce global heating by about 0.1C if plans fulfilled”. Yay. We’re going to destroy the economy for an amount of cooling smaller than monthly measurement error eight decades away? It hardly seems worth it.

The Guardian of course worries that Republicans might foil Biden’s plans. And they might; in an unusually sober piece of post-election analysis NBC just described the American election as a disaster for the Democrats because in addition to seeing their crucial and taken-for-granted minority support starting to erode, or perhaps as a result of it, they had a horrible day down-ballot especially including in state races.

We cannot resist quoting the opening of the piece because it is splendid writing, highly colourful prose that illuminates rather than distorting the subject: “Heading into the election, Democrats dreamed it would go something like Star Wars, with rebel forces blowing up the Death Star and celebrating in the streets as a blue wave swept them into power in Washington and state capitals across the country. But President-Elect Joe Biden's victory ended up looking more like the horror movie Alien, with the last bedraggled survivor kicking the monster out the airlock and then drifting off to an uncertain fate in deep dark space. And wherever they ended up, there would probably be another alien.”

Especially in the statehouses and state legislatures. And the United States being a federation, a lot of policy gets made below the national level. So it might seem to be carping to observe that what the Guardian somehow mistook for optimism actually also depended on China keeping emissions promises that many observers consider to be not just unrealistic but also dishonest. Indeed, according to that story with Japan and South Korea pledging net zero, and the EU launching its own massive climate scheme, “This adds up to the potential for a ‘historic tipping point’ on the climate, according to Climate Action Tracker. The US and China’s pledges would be enough to reduce global heating to about 2.3C or 2.4C by the end of the century. That is about 25-40% of the effort needed to limit heating to 1.5C, the aspirational goal of the Paris agreement.” In short, bupkis… unless of course you’re admitting that all those terrible things you said were coming if we went past 1.5 were just an attempt to panic us, on general principles or to achieve other goals.

Some people of course think the Great Reset is indeed about other goals, sinister ones being advanced by a global cabal including Bill Gates, Klaus Schwab and for all we know the Rosacrucians and perhaps Elders of Zion as well. And if you were inclined toward paranoia, it must be conceded that many of the great and good seem determined to give you enough rope to hang your common sense. As Parnell Palme McGuinness put it in the Sydney Morning Herald, “even the kookiest conspiracy theory is based on an anxiety that may be founded in truth. The Great Reset conspiracy theory is undeniably founded in truth. The plan to reform the way we do things is real, it’s true that leaders around the world are enthusiastically repeating the notion, and it’s true that such reforms would constitute a significant intervention in the lives of citizens to realise the vision of a group that can, without hyperbole, best be termed as the global elite. The Great Reset imagines a radically different economic system.”

It doesn’t mean it’s a conspiracy. For one thing, it’s not hidden. It’s in plain sight, including in the words of Schwab himself, who recently wrote that “In short, we need a “Great Reset” of capitalism. There are many reasons to pursue a Great Reset, but the most urgent is COVID-19.” But if the goal is overt, there is certainly something suspicious about the reasoning.

COVID just came along this spring. And nobody who knows anything about anything could be persuaded that Schwab or the Davos set or Prince Charles or any of those people thought capitalism was the bee’s knees until March 2020 when they suddenly went oh wait it causes COVID. Which it doesn’t; that curse originated in the world’s most powerful and belligerent communist country (which is also, we cannot help repeating, the world’s biggest emitter of GHGs). And of course Schwab’s own article pretty quickly dispels that pretense.

After listing problems due to the pandemic like “global government debt” and “unemployment,” he opens the bag and releases the cat. “All of this will exacerbate the climate and social crises that were already underway. Some countries have already used the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to weaken environmental protections and enforcement. And frustrations over social ills like rising inequality – US billionaires’ combined wealth has increased during the crisis – are intensifying. Left unaddressed, these crises, together with COVID-19, will deepen and leave the world even less sustainable, less equal, and more fragile. Incremental measures and ad hoc fixes will not suffice to prevent this scenario. We must build entirely new foundations for our economic and social systems.”

Oh. Just that? In the face of unprecedented public indebtedness and private recession, we simply knock everything down, start over, and after lunch world peace? It almost sounds like satire. But the Great Reset people are of that disposition that believes that all good things come bundled together, as do all bad things, and that therefore there are no tradeoffs in public policy, just a choice between heaven and hell.

Hence, Schwab insists, “it is not some impossible dream. In fact, one silver lining of the pandemic is that it has shown how quickly we can make radical changes to our lifestyles. Almost instantly, the crisis forced businesses and individuals to abandon practices long claimed to be essential, from frequent air travel to working in an office. Likewise, populations have overwhelmingly shown a willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of health-care and other essential workers and vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. And many companies have stepped up to support their workers, customers, and local communities, in a shift toward the kind of stakeholder capitalism to which they had previously paid lip service. Clearly, the will to build a better society does exist. We must use it to secure the Great Reset that we so badly need. That will require stronger and more effective governments, though this does not imply an ideological push for bigger ones.”

Oh good heavens no. It just happens to be the solution we have advocated for every imaginable problem, real or imaginary, since we were teenagers. And by golly, along comes COVID and we were right all along. Unlike those ideologues who oppose us.

It is be worth noting that Schwab was writing in June 2020; it only took three months of the pandemic to convince him that (a) he was right and (b) here was a great lever with which to move the world. But one also needs a suitable fulcrum. And it is the fulcrum that he and his fellow Great Reset ideologues lack. Put that stick on the ground and add your considerable weight to the other end and one of two things will happen.

First, the fulcrum will crumble. Modern governments, drowning in debt and swimming in incompetent circles, cannot possibly do all the things the Great Reset requires, like “improve coordination (for example, in tax, regulatory, and fiscal policy), upgrade trade arrangements, and create the conditions for a ‘stakeholder economy.’” They can barely comply with Access to Information requests or figure out why money they authorized hasn’t been spent yet. And those that answer to voters, including say Boris Johnson’s in Britain, will find that as the private part of the fulcrum crumbles under the weight voters will balk. (In tyrannies like China, that consideration is far less urgent, but the blindness that affects governments that cannot get credible information from their own cowed citizens and officials does not make their policy initiatives more effective.)

The other possibility is that the stick itself will snap. That the combination of lack of practical plans, failure to understand tradeoffs, and inability to understand or have intelligent debates with those who do not share their non-ideological dreams will mean that when the initiatives turn out to cost far more than we were promised, and to achieve far less, the apparent consensus that we just need to completely change everything and it will be fine, throw away all those institutions and habits that have made the West safe and prosperous for centuries and start again at Year Zero (as McGuinness also notes a “frequently cited phrase from a WEF 2030 prediction” was “that ‘you’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy’”), will shatter and we’ll go back to muddling through.

For instance, suppose Joe Biden implements his climate plan, and Xi Jinping stops trying to take over the world long enough to get to net zero, and it changes global temperature by a measly 0.1° C. People are going to want their money back, and if you don’t have it, if it turns out wrecking the economy wasn’t the path to peace and prosperity any more than to global unwarming, they will be very annoyed indeed.

2 comments on “Great leap nowhere”

  1. "[T]he Great Reset ... will require stronger and more effective governments, though this does not imply an ideological push for bigger ones." Ri-ight.
    I can think of no historical instance where 'stronger and more effective government' has not resulted in bigger government (please see 'Parkinson's Law' by C. Northcote Parkinson). The problem with bigger government is that government does not of itself create wealth, it merely consumes wealth in the form of salaries and benefits for its employees, which are funded ultimately by the taxes paid by the private sector. When government becomes too large to be supported by the private sector, the result will be increasing debt leading ultimately to economic collapse. Many Western nations are already flirting with this, with massive public debt, quite apart from any debt taken on to fund Covid-19 expenses. Various South American nations such as Argentina and Venezuela have shown what happens when this occurs. Are we next?
    To quote Ronald Reagan, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.

  2. If my car worked at the efficiency of modern governments, I would toss it into a volcano and go and burn down the factory that made it. "Stronger government" is just replacing the 0.01% efficiency "car" with a 0.00001% efficiency prime mover hauling 3 trailers full of taxpayer-funded bribes, There is probably not a volcano big enough into which we can toss existing governments although I think we should try... starting with the butt-kissers at Davos.

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