‘Welcome to 2030. You’ll own nothing. And you’ll be happy.” This is not a quotation from George Orwell or Aldous Huxley. It is not even supposed to be dystopian. If it is fiction, it is not because it is implausible, but because it has yet to be accomplished as fact.
These are the opening lines from a social media video issued by the World Economic Forum in 2016, and generated from “the input of members of the WEF’s Global Future Councils.” These visionaries have further delights in store for us: “Whatever you want, you’ll rent… The US won’t be the world’s leading superpower… You’ll eat much less meat… A billion people will be displaced by climate change. We’ll have to do a better job at welcoming and integrating refugees. Polluters will have to pay to emit carbon dioxide.”
The 2016 clip was catnip for conspiracists. Millions of people had already convinced themselves that the globalization of the world economy since 1990 is a dastardly plot against democracy, cholesterol and the nation state. For years, the tinfoil-hatters had been fantasizing about secret conclaves at Davos, the Bilderberg Group and the Rothschilds. Now these unaccountable “elites” seemed so powerful, and so close to their goals, that they could state their plans openly, as facts in the making.
The WEF backpedaled. Reuters fact-checked the clip and pronounced it harmless blue-sky thinking. Facebook tagged the notion that our betters are planning a privacy-free future of meatless, refugee-enhanced, carbon-counting technocratic tyranny as “misinformation.” Its author, the Danish socialist and environmentalist Ida Auken, explained that it wasn’t “a dream of the future,” but “a scenario showing where we could be heading.”
Head forward four years into Covid-19. “Sooner or later, our scientists and researchers will develop a vaccine against coronavirus,” Ursula von der Leyen, the unelected leader of the European Union, said in May 2020. “For climate change, however, there is no vaccine. This is why Europe must now invest in a clean future.” Our crisis is their opportunity.
In the same month, the WEF announced the Great Reset, its proposals for the post-Covid global system. “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine and reset our world,” said Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder, executive chairman and co-author of an accompanying book. In The Great Reset, Schwab calls for greater coordination between government and private capital: technocracy, not democracy. The perpetual Covid emergency confirms the perpetual climate emergency — and justifies the forced transformation of our societies.
The Great Reset has four “building blocks.” We must “change our mindset.” Our worldview was “made up by a depressingly small number of individuals — from Machiavelli to Adam Smith, to Milton Friedman and William Golding,” and we must reject the “myth” that “humans are intrinsically selfish, uncooperative and aggressive.” No more free markets. No more Lord of the Flies, either, in case it gives you ideas.
The ideas we must embrace are to “create new metrics” so that “government, business and citizens” can make informed decisions on the “brave and challenging steps required to move to a more people- and planet-cen- tered way of living.” We must “design new incentives” for the economy beyond shareholder value — planetary wellbeing, for example, or our carbon footprints. And we must allow technology into every corner of our lives: “Build genuine connection — distance is the danger.”
Distance is, in fact, the guarantor of privacy and property, and the liberal democratic polities that are built on them. Intrusive surveillance, the erosion of distance between government and people, and incentives for playing the game (“social credit” scores) are totalitarian. Yet behind the talk of emergencies is an emerging fact. The roots of so many present discontents lie closer to home, in the failure to fully recover from the crash of 2008 by reviving an economic vitality that goes beyond Wall Street and a handful of favored, green-tinged industries. Home ownership and the supply of good jobs are in decline. Renting and the gig economy are the new normal. Your children may not get to choose whether they own nothing, or whether they can afford privacy.
Another emerging fact: the nostrums that were dismissed in 2016 as conspiracy theories are becoming the stuff of bien-pensant convention and even government policy. In October, when the leaders of the West convened in Glasgow for the UN’s COP26 climate summit, documents leaked by Greenpeace to the BBC showed that “plant-based diets” were suggested as a weapon against climate change and beef stigmatized as a “high-carbon” food. In November, Bloomberg Opinion responded to the supply-chain crisis by telling Americans to “buy less stuff” and “be more European,” or face the “accelerating degradation of our environment and the risk that in the near future there will be no stuff at all, because it’s underwater and/or on fire.”
This is coercion by apocalypse. True, the Western democracies are run by nineteenth-century bureaucracies that are increasingly incapable of achieving the desired effects of policy or managing their unforeseen social fallout. But we are being pressed to assent to a false binary: either death by climate change, or eat the soy patty, don’t get on a plane and don’t have children. The transformation of free societies by bureaucratic stealth, corporatization and end-of-the-world doom-mongering pose greater dangers to American democracy than China or climate change do. Imagine, as John Lennon didn’t say in his millionaire’s paean to a property-free society, if we got to vote on what happens next.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s January 2022 World edition.