As the pandemic takes lives, culls jobs, pummels industries and flattens economies, the world’s rich — nations, companies and individuals — have been looking at ways to make things better. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has launched The Great Reset as an initiative to address the key problems that mankind is facing now.
The idea, seen primarily as the brainchild of WEF Chief Executive Officer Klaus Schwab, is, on the surface at least, all things doable and eminently noble. Why then are right wingers smelling conspiracies, and why are the left wingers pooh-poohing the Great Reset?
And what difference does the initiative make to India, if it makes any at all? We try to find some answers.
How and when did the Great Reset take off?
It was propounded by the WEF, which called its 50th annual meeting, held in June 2020, ‘The Great Reset’. The meeting was convened by the WEF and Charles, Prince of Wales. The idea was to bring together global business honchos, political leaders and experts from various fields to lead a social and economic revamp of the world.
What is its COVID connection?
The proponents argue that since the COVID pandemic has shaken the world, and overhauled how we live and work, we might as well use it to mend our ways.
“The COVID crisis, and the political, economic and social disruptions it has caused, is fundamentally changing the traditional context for decision-making,” says Schwab. Referring to the ‘unique window of opportunity’ presented by the turbulence, he says the initiative will ‘inform’ decision makers of the ‘priorities of societies’.
What are its building blocks?
The Great Reset has a plethora of ideas and proposals built around three core components:
- Developing an equitable ‘stakeholder economy’ wherein corporates aim for social welfare rather than profit maximisation; the WEF refers to it as ‘stakeholder capitalism’.
- Making operations more sustainable using ESG (environmental, social and governance) metrics incorporating green projects to combat climate change and ensure a healthier future.
- Measures to ‘harness the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ for the good of the larger public.
Here, the Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to the changes brought about by digitisation of processes and fusion of technologies, seen since the mid-1990s. The first, second and third revolutions are the ones introduced by mechanisation (steam engines), electrical power, and electronics, respectively.
The governments of almost all the developed countries, and a major chunk of developing ones, including India, have endorsed the initiative. The WEF’s Great Reset microsite lists its partners that runs like a who’s who of the corporate world —from Apple and Alibaba to hundreds of technology giants, consumer products makers, financial service corporations, chambers of commerce, and healthcare firms.
Homegrown corporate houses dot the list too, from Reliance to Adani to GMR to Godrej.
Who wants out? And why?
The Far Left and the Far Right uniformly agree that this is a bad idea. There have been loud protests with placards and slogans condemning the Great Reset. Social media and other digital forums are awash with posts criticising the plan.
The traditional media has also been running detailed articles on the proposal — there are supporters for the plan, but the critics far outnumber them.
The Great Reset talks of equitable growth. Why does the Left object?
The Left believes this is a typical case of the world’s rich joining hands to save fish from drowning. ‘Big sounding initiative for nothing’ is how it is often described in Left-leaning circles.
Their argument is that the bulk of what society suffers today is a result of the policies and actions of the capitalists. Shareholder wealth at the cost of employee well-being is the root of all evil, they believe. Hence, they say, it makes little sense for the ‘perpetrators’ to come up with solutions for trouble that they themselves caused.
The Right doesn’t actively dislike capitalism. What’s their objection?
The Great Reset is fertile ground for conspiracy theories. The idea of a brave new world built on a society charred by disease and destruction lends itself easily to fanciful stories.
There is a school of thought that the pandemic itself was ‘initiated’ by leaders of rich nations to take the world back to Ground Zero and start afresh to tailor it to their own aspirations. This is referred to as a ‘plandemic’.
Video clips of world leaders talking about the initiative add fuel to the fire. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had referred to the pandemic as an opportunity for a reset, for the world to ‘build back better’. He was accused of parroting American President Joe Biden’s line, and was therefore thought to be part of a bigger conspiracy. That French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have said very similar things appear to be ‘coordinated, not a coincidence’.
The capitalists must be truly happy…
Not really. Some in this section believe the WEF model is looking to bring back socialism. There are non-believers in the climate change theory who believe the Great Reset is just a platform to ‘squander’ corporate wealth on sustainability and other green goals.
In the US, in particular, the anti-Paris Climate Agreement lobby is quite sizeable, due in part to the stance of former President Donald Trump. This lobby believes the Great Reset is among the policies of incumbent Biden that are ineffective at best and anti-growth at worst.
What is India’s stance on the Great Reset?
India, a Davos favourite, has been an avid supporter of the WEF initiative. “The restart (post pandemic) will not be possible without a reset,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum a few months ago. “A reset of mindset, processes and practices. Post the World Wars, the entire world worked on a new world order, new protocols were developed and the world changed itself.”
Among the world’s worst hit nations by COVID, India does have the need for a multi-pronged programme to raise from the crisis. It needs to immediately step up its vaccination drive and build a more robust healthcare system. It has to ensure that the multitudes that have sunk into poverty get back on their feet. It has to rehabilitate the economy.
But whether the Great Reset will be the answer is highly debatable. Experts argue that what the country needs is an action plan entirely tailored to its own needs, followed by implementation at the grass-roots level. That for India to think of ‘equitable growth’ and ‘sustainable development’, it first has to ensure its billion-odd people are eating twice a day. That the economy has no time for the kind of platitudes and rhetoric that the Great Reset is seen to offer.
So, will a desi Great Reset work?
It should, say economists. The Centre has already hit that path, they point out, with its three-part Atmanirbhar Bharat stimulus package that seeks to give a definite boost to the domestic industry while ensuring sustainable income for the people.
The RBI has come out with packages to boost liquidity and support small industries whose operations have been thrown out of gear by the pandemic.
What then is suitable for India?
The government, at this stage, needs to work on the ground and ensure its people are headed to pre-COVID levels, even if it takes a while to get there. India right now lacks the resources to join a global rehaul that will shake the roots of its industry, say experts.
For instance, the Great Reset lays a lot of emphasis on automation. In population-heavy India, where labour-intensive industries have traditionally done well, a shift to automation is bound to lead to disruption that the economy can ill afford.
The farmers’ protests are an example. The government introduced three controversial farm laws last year with an agenda to ‘reform’ the nation’s agri sector. The arguments presented against the legislation by the farmer groups emphasise that changes that appear perfect on paper don’t always translate into beneficial action on the ground.