Awaiting the Future, Erasing the Past

He determined that the world would do better if he involved himself less. So wrote Amity Shlaes of President Coolidge in her history of the Great Depression. Here was a leader broadly content with the prevailing lot of his nation and I suggest, at the time, in sync with the feelings of most Americans. We now live in more disgruntled times. Still, sane nations and sane people are not systematically malcontent.

This brings me to those leaders and powerbrokers who almost entirely live for the future. They tend to despise the present and perforce the past. The future is all. Unlike the present and past it can be moulded; and, potentially, into a shape they desire. Malcontentedly, they lust after their own version of a better future. Take a couple of well-known dictators.

Hitler aspired to a Third Reich reaching across vast swathes of Eastern Europe. Xi Jinping aspires to ever-expanding Chinese hegemony. Dictators like these operate in plain sight. There is no mystery. But we have now in our midst another ilk of autocrats. Less obvious; just as real. Not dictators but, all the same, like dictators, they want power to mould the future. Their ambitions don’t go to territory or to national power. They want to change the way people think, work and live; they want to reset the agenda.

The coming Fourth Reich?

Pretexts presage power grabs. One or more are required. Climate change, the so-called third or fourth (depending on who’s counting) industrial revolution and, most recently, the response of governments to Covid have come together to provide a once-in-a-life-time confluence of pretexts.

The prime movers? Prominent is the World Economic Forum, whose executive chairman Klaus Schwab is a proponent of ‘The Great Reset’ and ‘stakeholder capitalism’. The Council for Inclusive Capitalism is a fellow traveller. Among many of the great and good, Bill Gates, George Soros with his misnamed Open Society Foundations, and Pope Francis are clearly engaged. Again, as with autocrats generally, they are deluded. But that doesn’t make them less dangerous to our prosperity and freedom.

It’s important to understand (though they might not) that they have not invented a third way. There is capitalism and individual freedom on the one hand and socialism and collectivism on the other. They are plumping for the latter whether they admit it, or see it, or not. They will likely, hopefully, fail in undoing our way of life; though, as I will suggest, the response of governments to Covid-19 is most worrying.

I will take each of the trio of pretexts in turn.

Tackling climate change offers the alluring prospect of undermining national governance in favour of global governance, run by elites, like them. This is very far from benign but, lucky for us, they have hitched their wagon to a crock. Renewable energy in the form of wind and solar is hopeless. You can only get away with it when you have dispatchable power at the ready.

Wind and solar now account for about 3 percent of the world’s energy generation. Already blackouts have occurred from Europe to South Australia to California. Exactly what will happen if that 3 percent becomes just 10 percent? Those hot or cold still nights will cause havoc. Quite simply it’s unworkable and will collide with real life. Its supporters would know that if they were not delusional.

Second to today’s industrial revolution. Schwab identified this revolution as the fourth in an article some years ago in the magazine Foreign Affairs. According to Schwab, it is characterised by “artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.” He, along with others, sees this revolution bringing profound and pacy breakthroughs; giving rise to production outstripping needs; to dislocation and unemployment. Dependency on government will soar. Just what is wanted to reset the agenda.

Good-bye to all that, right?

Troubling for them -- and fortunately for us -- it won’t unfold as they think. After three industrial revolutions have already played out, the labour force participation rate in the United States, in the U.K. and in Australia is higher now than in the buoyant 1950s. And there is no reason to believe things will be different this time. Those machine breakers of yore got it wrong as have current pundits. Market forces and human nature tell the story.

Businesses can’t produce products (including by using robots) and sell them at profit without customers who are inclined to own them and have sufficient wherewithal to buy them. A rising stream of production and falling employment do not gel.

As for human nature, ascetics and billionaires aside, men and women always want more goods and services than they are able to afford. Classical economists such as John Stuart Mill understood this. If Keynes had understood it, he would not have based his economics around scarcity of demand. If Schwab and company understood it, they would not pin their hopes on the fourth industrial revolution creating a superabundance of products and a needy mass of the unemployed.

Third to Covid, and arguably, the most threatening of the pretexts underpinning the Great Reset agenda. The response to Covid has been unparalleled in the history of plagues. A mild disease in terms of its lethality has led nearly all governments into upturning economic and social life. Even with vaccines normal life seems a distance away. As sapping as it has already been, it would be disastrous if it were a preview of the future.

New strains, ‘double mutants’ and novel viruses will regularly arise. In recent times we’ve had Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, Ebola, HIV, SARS, MERS, Swine Flu. And governments and their media cheerleaders are now practised in their hypersensitive response to germs. They seem to believe they’ve absolutely done the right thing by humankind. Even Donald Trump claimed he’d saved millions of American lives. Capitalism is adaptable and fleet of foot but continual lockdowns to fight viruses are not sustainable. The uncertainty created would cripple businesses, small businesses particularly, and inexorably increase dependency on government.

Leave aside the fluff about the industrial revolution, which will unravel of its own accord. Combatting climate alarmism and the attendant ineffective and costly counter measures remains core business. However, what needs to be combatted most right now is the overwrought response to Covid setting a debilitating template for the future.

What is 'Stakeholder Capitalism'? Part Two

As we saw in Part One, Klaus Schwab, the principal architect of the "Great Reset," contends that international organizations have been “too remote and impersonal for most people,” too opaque for “individual stakeholders to relate to.” The response, therefore, “must be to implement decision-making processes to include all of their stakeholders.” How is this to be done?

Somehow or other, all stakeholders will be included in a “consultative stage,” which seems more than a little farfetched. The “paperwork” would be endless and consensus difficult to achieve. And even if agreement were possible, it could easily be ignored by a supervisory committee. Yet, “stakeholder engagement in government” and “coordination on a global level” are presented as eminently feasible propositions, though their utopian shadow is scarcely to be disguised or dismissed.

Of course, it all sounds benevolent, commiserative and enlightened; we are assured that “companies, governments, international organizations and civil society can reinvent themselves” to the advantage of all. What could go wrong? 

I've got yours, Jack.

In some respects, the stakeholder blueprint reads like an update of Tommaso Campanella’s 17th century visionary treatise City of the Sun (predicated on Thomas More’s Utopia) in which private property and wealth disparities are expunged, citizens have no possessions, advanced technology is on display, and a cenacle of officials presides over just distribution of goods and chattels.

Ernest Callenbach’s Green pastoral Ecotopia lurks behind Schwab’s bucolic program as well. There is also more than a whiff of Plato’s ideal city-state as developed in The Republic, with its three social classes comprising the Commons (craftsmen, merchants, etc.), the Auxiliaries (police), and the Guardians (rulers, from which the Philosopher-King is selected). One remembers that these are all fictions with almost no purchase on reality. 

Indeed, to my mind, the project resembles an elevated, mandarin version of Portland’s CHAZ—Capital Hill Administration Zone—ruled not by gun-toting thugs but by a platoon of sophisticated oligarchs who think—or pretend—they can fence out the world of practical politics, high finance, competitive passion, the profit motive and, in brief, unreconstructed human nature. The fallen world will be replaced by an Arcadian substitute governed by a council of prebendary sages. Once the fictive paradigm is transferred to the world of practical affairs, we have a recipe for unintended consequences of the worst sort. 

For the system Schwab is proposing, as should be obvious, can neither be created nor maintained in the absence of rigid and authoritarian control by the helmers of a global fiefdom, as Joel Kotkin warns in The Coming of Neo-Feudalism. One recalls the Juvenalian maxim: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? As for the “stakeholders” among the common people, they will irrevocably find themselves occupying serf-like status, dependent on Big Government, subject to constant surveillance, rendered largely sedentary, and generally deprived of agency.

"Stakeholder Capitalism" ultimately favors neither labor, small business, the middle class nor an open, free market economy. Politically, it is Karl Marx redivivus, whose “dictatorship of the proletariat,” elaborated in his seminal The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, leads inevitably to the dictatorship of a privileged elite, as history has decisively shown. Milovan Djilas’ The New Class and Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies are essential reading here. Culturally, it is Antonio Gramsci released from his cell to sherpa the long march through the institutions. Herbert Marcuse’s “repressive tolerance” is the name of the game. Clearly, the only stakeholder who will benefit from the Reset is the manorial elect of politicians, technocrats and the super-wealthy.

We're ba-ack!

To give Schwab his due, he writes well. The prose is clean, his facts, though selective, are cleverly arrayed, and his claims, though outrageous, appear to attest to a modest and empathetic sensibility. He is a formidable adversary.

The reader must remain alert to Schwab’s sources and the historical context from which his argument arises: the mix of Fascist practice, that is, the intimate alliance between business and government, or syndical corporatism—as Cardiff University historian Kevin Passmore points out, the word “totalitarianism” was invented by Italian fascists—and Communist theory, the putative erasure of class distinctions and the emergence of an egalitarian society in which the state controls all property, resources and wealth.

Democratic capitalism is a deeply flawed system which nevertheless yields better social and economic results than any other. Moreover, it is always subject to improvement over the historical continuum. What Churchill said of democracy applies to its economic offspring, free-market capitalism. In a speech on Nov. 11, 1947, he reminded the U.K.’s House of Commons that “many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” This is vintage Churchillian wisdom, which is sorely lacking in all world-utopian schemes like Schwab’s. 

Those who suspect that “stakeholder capitalism” is a euphemism for a nefarious plot using climate change and COVID as pretexts to capture the levers of power, shut down the functional energy sector and replace it with a futuristic iteration of techno-primitivism, kill small business, reduce the population to a condition of civil subservience, eliminate the free market, crash the economy and Reset to Zero may not be wide of the mark. Caveat emptor.

What Is 'Stakeholder Capitalism'? Part One

The concept of “stakeholder capitalism,” proposed by Klaus Schwab in his various books on the subject—in particular COVID 19: The Great Reset, co-authored with Thierry Malleret, and his latest foray in the field Stakeholder Capitalism, which faithfully reprises the points and principles of the earlier volume—is far more insidious than it sounds. From the perspective of the Left, the progressivist, the woke, “Capitalism” is, of course, a loaded word, but it remains the engine of the world’s most advanced economies, and its kinetics cannot be dispensed with. Market-dominated societies are perforce competitive and revenue-driven.

“Stakeholder,” however, is a detergent term, bleaching the semantic grime from its verbal companion, which is why it functions as a remedial descriptor. It comes across as friendly, compassionate and inviting. In its current usage, the word derives from the education industry, where it has become ubiquitous, highlighting the educators’ presumably favonian sympathies toward their students, fawningly regarded as “stakeholders.”

Originating in John Dewey’s child-centered, student-oriented educational theory, which he called “progressivist,” the idea has proliferated to the present day when students are empowered to issue demands, decide whom they want to be taught by and whom they want to be fired. It explains why we should be wary when it is used to qualify a social and economic program as vast and disruptive as the Great Reset.

Trust me, I'm German.

Placed under the loupe, stakeholder capitalism reveals itself as a sobriquet for international socialism. The corporate impetus is no longer exclusively directed toward profits but will be supervised, guided and restrained by government intervention. Or so we are led to believe.

In the wake of the pandemic, Schwab writes in The Great Reset, “Societies could be poised to become either more egalitarian or more authoritarian…[ E]conomies, when they recover, could take the path of more inclusivity and more attuned to the needs of our global commons.” Ironically, as history has proven time and again, in order to become more egalitarian, society will of necessity become more authoritarian. It’s a dynamic that approximates to a historical law. 

Schwab assesses the social and political impact of the pandemic in the five domains of Society, Economy, Environment, Technology and Geopolitics. This is what he calls the Macro Reset (of which the Micro Reset—industry and business—and the Individual Reset are specifications), a transformation which involves a “redefinition of the social contract” in the direction of “stakeholder capitalism and environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations.”

The result will be a “better world,” portrayed as “more inclusive, more equitable, and more respectful of Mother Nature.” He envisions a tectonic shift from capital to labor, of wealth distribution from the affluent to the needy, and of greater government interventions in the functioning of the economic system, customary arrangements, social architectures and cultural dynamics in order to ensure “global sustainability.”

It's easy, too!

A proper management of the economy and social life will entail a number of salient factors. Companies, for example, will have to reconceive their “fundamental purpose” from unbridled financial profit to that of “serving all their stakeholders, not only those who hold shares.” Wages will be raised and substantial health benefits guaranteed, regardless of the bottom line. The massive expansion of stimulus funding will create “37 million nature-positive jobs” and a Green economy will be resolutely promoted to fight climate change, generating employment and profits along the way. There exists, plainly, not a shred of empirical evidence to justify Schwab’s prognostics.

It is hard to say whether Schwab’s arguments—or some of them—are cleverly devious or childishly naïve. For example, he urges us not to fear the dystopian fatality of entrenched tech-and-government surveillance following recovery, since it is “for those who govern and each of us personally to control and harness the benefits of technology without sacrificing our individual and collective values and freedom.” This analysis seems a colossal oxymoron. Surveillance will be pervasive but our values and freedoms can somehow be preserved.

When he argues that governments must do “whatever it takes and whatever it costs” to ensure our wellbeing, otherwise people afraid of the virus will not shop, travel or dine out, thus hindering economic recovery, he appears oblivious to the fact that it was intense government panic-mongering that led precisely to the adverse consequences he wishes to avoid—probably the greatest political error of a generation. Is Schwab deceiving us or deceiving himself? Such instances of double-think can be multiplied throughout his text.

As to be expected, Schwab has bought wholesale into many contemporary shibboleths and intellectual sedatives. He enthusiastically accepts the dodgy hypothesis of "global warming" and is indifferent to both the uselessness and devastation wrought by the costly scam of Green energy as a replacement for reliable fossil fuels. “The climate risk is unfolding more slowly than the pandemic did, but it will have even more severe consequences”—a premise that has been robustly challenged by some of the most reputable and knowledgeable researchers in the field.

Money for nothing, and stuff for free.

In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab supports the accelerating “innovation in genetics, with synthetic biology now on the horizon,” involving “biotechnology techniques using RNA and DNA platforms… to develop vaccines faster than ever”—except that these substances are not vaccines but computer-like “operating systems” that alter “the unique mRNA sequence that codes for a protein,” and rely on pathogenic priming that can make people sicker than the disease would have.

In Stakeholder Capitalism, we learn that Schwab is all for “contact tracing” which “has an unequalled capacity and a quasi-essential place in the armoury needed to combat COVID-19”—the “quasi” is a bet hedger, just in case things go sideways. He is an avid supporter of Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook is a censuring giant, and regurgitates Zuckerberg’s deceptive and self-serving pitch that greater regulation is needed to hold companies accountable.

Schwab regards COVID-panic-stricken, shut-down countries like New Zealand as “trailblazers.” He is a Net-Zero Telamon for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030 with their animus against individual property rights. He has proposed a scheme of “non-financial metrics” to chart a company’s progress toward virtue, and affirms that “such virtuous instincts can become a feature of our economic systems,” assuring us they will continue “creating prosperity for all their citizens and businesses.” John O’Sullivan correctly notes that “the hairshirt economic policy of Net Zero [is] a dystopian delusion.”

[Part two tomorrow]