The World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” From Capitalism to…More Capitalism
The global elite are promoting "New Capitalism" to prop capitalism’s corpse up, not to solve its problems
Over the summer during its virtual meeting, the World Economic Forum used the unprecedented virus shut down of the economy to promote their big idea of a “great reset” of the global economy. They are presenting it like some radical, bold new thing, but it is actually something that the billionaire class has been pimping for a while. Last year, the billionaire CEO of Salesforce.com, Mark Benioff, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times calling for a “New Capitalism.” The “Great Reset” is just the New Capitalism of the Benioff billionaire class, especially the liberal-seeming Silicon Valley types—but it has a new urgency and weight now in the dramatic uncertainty of the global depression caused by coronavirus. The global elite like this idea because it’s like “smart capitalism” or something, like capitalism itself can be upgraded like an old piece of tech that is fundamentally good, but just needs to be updated a little bit to reflect current demands and challenges. They are admitting capitalism is problematic, but they aren’t admitting that it is fundamentally wrong and immoral. It’s not unlike how Trump today, at last, acknowledged that Joe Biden won, but he still won’t concede.
The Great Reset/New Capitalism is elite liberal capital’s concession that capitalism must be upgraded, because it is not producing sustainable outcomes—deaths of despair, Trumpism, and so on. The Benioff class wants to be able to continue extracting massive sums of money from the world while most people have little or nothing—they’re dumb enough to think that continuing to do that will be a good, or even possible, idea. But they’re smart enough to realize that if they want to continue being able to do that, they’ll have to tinker with the system just a bit, so that enough people can afford to live lives they will actually want to live long enough to be able to produce enough surplus value for the bourgeoisie to keep themselves rich. Deaths of despair are bad for business—too many despairing, hopeless, impoverished people won’t buy the goods and services that capitalists are selling, so they won’t get richer.
Since the World Economic Forum is an organization by, of and for the international bourgeoisie, their solution is not to dismantle the system of global capitalism that makes them and their friends obscenely rich—their solution is to substitute what they view as an outmoded, or perhaps they would concede to calling it dysfunctional, form of capitalism, with a new kind that will improve upon it. The Business Roundtable, an influential group of leading industrialists, came out in support of this idea of a new system where the purpose of a “corporation is to promote an economy that serves all Americans.”
They’re pimping New Capitalism, so that must mean that capitalism has two forms: a bad, old form, which they call “shareholder capitalism,” and a good, new form, which they call “stakeholder capitalism.” Shareholder capitalism is the 1.0 system that they want to reset, and stakeholder capitalism, the new kind, capitalism 2.0, is the kind we will have after this global reset. If this sounds weird, you’re right. There is only one kind of capitalism—this is a bogus distinction made to create an appearance of change, without the reality.
Shareholder Capitalism is just what it sounds like—a capitalism that focuses on meeting the needs of major shareholders above all else, making sure that the quarterly dividend checks for major shareholders get bigger and bigger every time. Nothing else matters in the system of capitalism. Social, environmental, cultural, economic, and political effects—who cares? Those are just externalities to be ignored in pursuit of the only thing that matters in the whole world—producing quarterly dividend checks for major shareholders that were bigger than the previous ones. This narrow focus has of course produced predictable results.
The Oxfam Foundation does a study every year showing conditions of global inequality, and every year it gets worse. In 2018, the 26 richest people in the world had a combined wealth of $1.4 trillion, which is more wealth than the poorest 3.8 billion people on the planet own. That’s 26 people having more wealth than half of the world’s population. The Mark Benioffs and Business Roundtables and World Economic Forums of the world want us to think this is some kind of mistake or problem that can be solved with Smarter Capitalism. In reality, of course, this is just capitalism, pure and simple and inevitable. In 2017, the richest 43 people had as much wealth as the world’s bottom half, and in just one year that number went down to 26—that is the kind of wealth consolidation that capitalism inevitably produces. New Capitalism might—might—slow this trend down, but it certainly won’t reverse it in any meaningful way.
Why would the class of people who gain so much from this system ever do anything that would substantially reverse it? They wouldn’t—it is pure utopianism to believe that they would. Utopianism is at the heart of neoliberal economics, so it’s no surprise that we see utopianism at work here with this idea of New Capitalism. The utopianism of neoliberalism lies in the belief that slashing taxes and regulations on corporations and the rich will magically benefit people in the middle and the bottom—that a rising tide of wealth for the very few at the top will lift all boats. We have decades of evidence showing that this rising tide of wealth does not lift all boats, but rather destroys the smaller boats.
The World Economic Forum class, which only elites can have any input on, are trying to acknowledge the severe social and political repercussions of the extreme inequality of global capitalism, which they have benefited from so hugely for so long—yet they have to act like it’s bad. Here we see some schizophrenia—they have to act like the evil system they love is somehow bad, because the profound damage it has done to the world is no longer ignorable. Change must happen, so they are creating the illusion of some kind of great reckoning and change or reset in the global economic order. The unprecedented, endless global crisis of coronavirus gives them a perfect moment for doing this. This is a time of change, as everyone knows—you can feel it in the air in a hundred different ways. They are throwing their fake change, from Old Capitalism to New Capitalism, into the ring, and hoping that it seems different enough for people to buy it.
But they are responding to this moment of change, to this revolt against the status quo all over the world, with a classic neoliberal move of changeless change. Changing from Old Capitalism to New Capitalism is not a real change. It’s cosmetic, aesthetic, and anesthetic. Real change does not come from the top down, but from the bottom up. This is why Trumpism was not real change, because Trump is from the top of society—he can speak in the language of the masses, so he is a perfect Trojan Horse for changeless change. Trump promised some kind of relief for the average working man, and yet all he did was make the average working man’s boss richer. More changeless change—Trumpism is the pinnacle of neoliberalism.
When they refer to this new capitalism as “stakeholder capitalism,” what does that mean? As Benioff puts it, the transition to New Capitalism “…requires that they [the employer class] focus not only on their shareholders, but also on all of their stakeholders — their employees, customers, communities and the planet.” If this was possible, it would have happened by now. In the belief that you can “do both,” focusing on maximizing shareholder value but also maximizing “stakeholder” value for all employees, customers, communities, and the planet itself, it is thoroughly utopian and neoliberal. The Board of Directors of major capitalist corporations might play along with talk about helping customers and communities and the planet at their board meetings, but they will only ever care about shareholder value, and about producing larger dividend checks for shareholders every quarter. Why? Because the shareholders are their bosses, and they have a fiduciary responsibility to increase their dividend checks. The externalities, like customers, communities, and the planet, will never matter remotely as much as making major shareholders happy.
The world is changing—this is undeniable. Covid World is a new world, a terrible new world, and it is here to stay. The international bourgeoisie want to give this pretense that they are changing the economy along with this changing world—but it’s a lie.