In this year of anniversaries, which will eventually prove to be more significant?
The World Economic Forum (WEF) started modestly 50 years ago (the same year as the momentous event in the Bengali delta). Founder Klaus Schwab might have felt quite lonely. The early 1970s were the era of “peak” left. Trade unions effectively brought down a right wing British government. Runaway inflation ripped into Western economies. Shanghai was closed to business. Capitalism was in global retreat.
50 years later
Not anymore. We live in “peak capitalism” these days. WEF gatherings are the Oscars/Grammy Awards of the politico-economic world. 1,000 of the planet’s largest companies fund the organization. The next (virtual) meeting kicks off within a fortnight, promising a “Great Reset.”
As Naomi Klein, the Canadian writer/activist best known for her book No Logo, explained: This time, both far right and the far left have equally engaged in conspiracy theories seeing the reset as a roadmap to dystopia in 2030.
Every year, the WEF frames its gathering around a theme. According to Schwab, the pandemic means things are never going to be the same. With a reset, this new world will see widespread remote working, green new deals, and “a kinder capitalism.”
Let’s have a look back at previous WEF pitches.
The WEF theme for 2009 was: Shaping the post-crisis world. In practice, the Obama-Biden presidency oversaw massive money printing programs to save Wall Street, not Main Street. Inequality soared. The rich got richer.
In 2010, the WEF implored us to “rethink, redesign, rebuild.” In the real world, the Occupy movement sparked global protests against the unfair status quo. In Europe, Christine Lagarde, then head of the IMF, (now a WEF Trustee), oversaw the economic destruction of Southern Europe in tandem with the EU and European Central Bank.
Severe imposed austerity led to economic collapse and depression-level unemployment in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece.
In 2012, the theme was the “Great Transformation.” Four years later, we got Brexit and Donald Trump. Far right “populism” ravaged Europe and America.
Naturally, it is not the WEF, but individual governments which implement policies. But we are not talking about a tiny think-tank here tossing out reports. The Masters of the Universe who bestride the slopes of Davos in Switzerland and pliant Western politicos are joined umbilically. It was a great 2020, for some.
The top 1% made a cool $1 trillion in 2020 while small businesses closed down and poverty soared.
There is another anniversary this year. The Communist Party was formed in July 1921. It began its journey as a “study society” in the French quarter of Shanghai. No one banked on it winning power 28 years later. Today, the party has a membership as large as the population of Germany.
China’s leaders have set milestones which the country must meet. 2021 is an emotive year, a reference point, because it emphasizes survival and national unity in turbulent times. In 2049, on the 100th anniversary of the communist victory of 1949, China aims to have become a fully developed economy, with a GDP dwarfing that of the US. It will likely be the world’s only superpower.
Ambani and Ma
Unsurprisingly, China and India have been patronized by the WEF. In 2017, China’s leader made a visit to the WEF and praised the benefits of globalization and export industrialization. This was juxtaposed with an American president putting up barriers to trade. Modi made the plenary speech in 2018.
Billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Jack Ma are both trustees of the WEF. As regards to Jack Ma, the Chinese state is now reining in the systemic risks posed by “Big Tech” to China’s financial stability. Too many loans for zero collateral, relying on algorithms. This not only affects Ant Financial but also JD.com and Tencent. Jack Ma’s Ant Group is very close to Wall Street and WEF heavyweights; hence the corporate media interest in events.
A bifurcated world?
The reset is predicated upon the disastrous mismanagement of the pandemic in the West. However, East Asia functioned relatively normally within weeks of being struck by Covid-19. The region has accelerated its rise, shifting the global economic centre of gravity towards Shanghai. The East may decide to push for acceleration, rather than “reset.”
South Asia may dabble, but what will it mean to India’s 900 million villagers? Critics claim Ambani will see riches both in any global reset and Modi’s new farming laws. As a protestor in Delhi put it: “Ambani and Adani will eat up the farmers.” Reliance denies this. It believes in a “kinder capitalism.”
2030 is a long, long way away. If the Big Agenda is increasingly likely to be set in the East, even if there were a reset, are we sure it will be the way Schwab and Western multinationals planned it?
Farid Erkizia Bakht is a political analyst. @liquid_borders.