Avid followers of the World Economic Forum will be familiar with the term “The Great Reset”, the idea that it is time to convince governments and private companies to make a radical change to how they behave. Since COVID-19 began to ravage the planet, causing entire economies to falter and fail, billionaires have accumulated more and more wealth – it’s easy to see why there are such strong beliefs that the current system just isn’t working.
According to the World Economic Forum, this accelerating inequality has created a more unstable and violent world. Arguably, those at the top have recognised that this system is becoming more and more unsustainable, and that they will soon start losing money and power if this instability continues.
The stated aim of the Great Reset is to implement “Stakeholder Capitalism”. Unlike normal capitalism, which could be said to value the maximisation of profits at all costs, Stakeholder Capitalism claims to seek long-term solutions which benefit companies in the long term, but also benefit society, not just the shareholders. Such a global change of direction would have been unimaginably unrealistic a few years ago, but as the authors of the Great Reset point out, the world has rapidly changed to fight against COVID-19, so changing society to institute a better and more sustainable system shouldn’t be so hard.
That is the official version of the Great Reset, but it is not the only definition that can be found online – when a powerful group suggests such radical change, and with so dramatic a name, it is perhaps inevitable that alarm bells ring for conspiracy theorists. Those alarm bells first began to ring in American conspiracist communities, who saw the Great Reset as something much more sinister than the official narrative suggested. For those communities, and the conspiracists they went on to influence, the Great Reset is actually a malevolent plan to institute a New World Order or global Technocracy, with the goal of suppressing all freedom and controlling the world. According to believers, the pandemic was deliberately engineered to make the population afraid, so that state control could be expanded as the first step toward this new reality. So their theory goes, if people obey when told to wear a mask, they will also obey orders to have their hands microchipped in order to control where they go, and they will submit to social scores which determine who is good and who is not.
The fear of the Great Reset seems completely at odds with what it involves in reality – when you read the details of the plan, it is ostensibly an attempt by Davos and the World Economic Forums to create a more stable world for people, and by extension for businesses; one that won’t be destroyed by climate change. It’s a pretty open document to read, and is accompanied by podcasts and interviews showing exactly what they want – and the word “want” is key here; none of this is state policy, it is just a suggestion for the world.
There is a tradition of conspiracist reaction to any proposed project of this scale. Alex Jones has spent almost 30 years scaremongering about Agenda 21, the set of suggestions and decisions for how to help the environment, which was laid out at Eco-92. Any type of large-scale international collaboration of this nature inevitably becomes the subject of conspiracy theories, and they always posit that these global co-ordinations plan to imminently remove all liberty and bring about a dystopian future. So how can we explain this constant fear?
In her book “Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11”, historian Kathryn Olmested argues that since the First World War, the constant growth of the state and it’s increasing intervention in American’s lives has made the population more and more scared of the government, in particular of its secrecy and its reach. This was further exacerbated by lies around the Gulf of Tonkin incident (which was one of the causes of the Vietnam War), Watergate and the Iran-Contra Scandal – all of which were real conspiracies by the US government that had a vast impact on the life of its citizens.
Given this fear and suspicion, it’s easy to see why a plan that argues for change to the entire country – or, indeed, the world – by a government which some would consider to be hostile and secret about it’s intentions would not sit well for some people. Even if the Great Reset really is just a suggestion, the sheer thought of state intervention by the US government is an instinctively bad thing for many people, because, as they might ask, “who knows their true intentions?” In this way, conspiracists capitalise on that fear by alleging that the positive view of the future proposed by projects like the Great Reset is just a Trojan Horse – while fighting climate change may be the stated aim, the real goal, believers argue, is to have you surrender your liberties… and so on.
The suspicion conspiracy theorists have toward the Great Reset could also be rooted in the historical discrediting of government and politics as a force for meaningful social change. Throughout the 1980s, political speeches from Ronald Reagan and his UK counterpart, Margaret Thatcher, laid out a philosophy in which the government is definitionally inefficient, wasteful and against the interests of its people, and that only private business can truly accomplish anything meaningful. As the decades advanced and governments focused more and more on privatization, those beliefs persisted – in the minds of believers, power may change hands between the parties, but the objectives remain the same, so why believe that governments can achieve anything positive? Anything they seek to achieve must therefore be, at best, bad.
For those people, a plan that combines the power of the state with the goals of big business in order to change the way you live in the future is perceived as nothing more than an outright attack. Any criticism could simply be deflected by alluding to the long history of government secrecy – both the real examples, and the countless conspiracy theories that supplement them.
From the outside, it is tempting to think that the fact that the Great Reset plans rely on an alliance between government and private business should in theory allay any fears of totalitarian government intervention. However, with globalisation conspiracy theories, the fear of the government is elevated to a fear of a global “Shadow State”, the organisation behind all of the individual governments – and behind the biggest corporations too. Thus, believers come to see the Great Reset as the creation of a technocracy, where global society will be ruled by big business, helped by companies already understanding the weakness of governments and the ascendancy of mega companies.
There are doubtlessly other factors that play into the growth of the Great Reset conspiracy theory, but it is important to understand that conspiracy theories often exist for a reason, and sometimes that reason is fear. The conspiracy theorists offer many different solutions to stopping the Great Reset, including returning to a white Christian society, ending the state completely, and going back to the supposed “good old times”. For believers, they recognise that something is wrong with the way the world is structured, but any response to those problems that doesn’t align with their specific solution is perceived as an attack on all of humanity. The world can only change the way they want it to.