During the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum (WEF) launched a plan, The Great Reset. It aims to rebuild the world economy more intelligently, fairer and sustainably while adhering to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These SDGs include ending poverty, improving health and well-being, better education, equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, jobs and economic growth. That sounds great, but is it a reset? It would be up to so-called responsible corporations and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to implement the agenda before 2030. Not everyone thinks that is a great idea.
The change is supposed to be powered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a fusion of technologies in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing. I get an uneasy feeling when I read that. It looks like an excuse for technology addicts to play with our future. Is it because I am against progress, or is it because of a rational fear that something is about to go seriously wrong even though I don’t know exactly what?
Under the umbrella of the Great Reset, so-called young global leaders of the WEF came up with new ideas. For instance, new technologies can make products like cars and houses cheaply available as a service, ending the need to own these items. A young global leader wrote an article titled, ‘Welcome to 2030. I own nothing, have no privacy, and life has never been better.’1 She hoped to start a discussion, and the article produced a slogan that also became an Internet meme, ‘You’ll own nothing, and you’ll be happy.’ There certainly is an economic rationale for sharing items like cars, most notably if they become more expensive to keep because of technological innovation.
Property, for instance, a home, can give you economic freedom. If you own a home, you don’t have to pay rent. And you own some capital when you retire. Some people think the WEF is a sinister elite club scheming to achieve a secret agenda where the elites own everything, and the rest of us ends up with nothing. And that might happen anyway if current trends continue because that is how capitalism works. Capital accumulates and ends up in the hands of a few because of interest. It is not a secret since Karl Marx figured that out. And it leads to a crisis when the impoverished masses can’t buy the things that capital produces. With negative interest rates, there is no need for that.
Property rights have become a semi-religious value in Western culture. That prevents us from taking the property of the elites and ending their stranglehold on our political economy. Marx advised that workers or the state would take over corporations. That might not be a good idea because workers and governments often do poorly at running corporations. Markets and private enterprises can efficiently provide goods and services, but it comes with wealth inequality and happens at the expense of future generations. Our societies must find the right balance. At some point, the disadvantages of the current political economy start to outweigh the advantages.
We use far more resources than the planet can provide, and wealth inequality is now so extreme that we might need a genuine Great Reset. Taking the wealth from the elites and discontinuing enterprises that don’t provide for our essentials is not communism, as long as there are markets and private property. People should prosper if their work benefits society and enterprises often do better at providing for our needs. But we don’t benefit from the corrupting influence of oligarchs. Their wealth comes from inheritance, criminal and shady activities, and, most notably, accumulated interest on their capital. That arrangement may have suited us in the past, but not now.
Economists believe property rights are essential for economic growth, and that business owners should be able to do as they please. For instance, Elon Musk has the right to ruin Twitter because he owns the company. Should employees and others suffer from the irrational behaviour of their owners? In the Netherlands, a series of interesting trials took place, where corporations tried to escape the influence of their majority shareholder Gerard Sanderink, who allegedly didn’t act rationally in the interest of these companies.2 Limited property rights and a collectivist attitude have not prevented China from becoming a large and advanced economy surpassing the United States and may have contributed to China’s success.
The degree of individualism currently existing in the West may do more harm than good. They promote political fights and litigation and prevent us from doing what we should do. And perhaps, less privacy can go a long way in reducing crime. Property rights and individualism were crucial to start capitalism and made the West dominate the world for centuries. And so, we have learned to see them as necessary, inevitable or even desirable. But once the European imperialist capitalist engine ran, these features became less important than economic stability. If you start a business, you must be able to estimate your returns, but you can lease everything and own nothing.
Individualism and property rights also play a positive role in society. The cultural heritage of the West is extensive compared to other cultures, for instance, if you express it in the number of books written or discoveries made. Self-interest and personal responsibility can inspire us to work harder and do a better job. The Soviet Union failed to produce enough food for its citizens while there was enough arable land. In the Soviet Union, farmers had to work on collective enterprises where they could not do as they saw fit and didn’t share in the profits. The tragedy of the commons is that we don’t care for public spaces as much as our possessions. Homeowners usually take better care of their houses than tenants. The same is true for car owners.
As they are now, property rights protect the elites. And the WEF plan is just a fart in the wind, not a Great Reset. We face unprecedented worldwide challenges while wealth inequality is at extreme levels, so individualism and property rights need limits. And we need a proper Great Reset, or a switch from economic to political control of the world’s resources if we intend to live in a humane world society that respects our planet. It is what a corporation named Patagonia did in 2022.3 We can do that on a global scale.
It begins with seizing the wealth of oligarchs and criminals and all hidden wealth in offshore tax havens, including their so-called charities, placing them in sovereign wealth funds, and setting a limit on what individuals can own or earn. And perhaps, we need to build our future on values rather than balance sheets. And everyone should contribute. Capital accumulates by interest, and people who live off interest don’t work for a living. That might be as bad as being on the dole while you can work. And peddling unnecessary products that harm life on Earth could be as bad as being a criminal.
Laws should prevent people and corporations from doing wrong, but they often fail to do that. Corporations pollute the environment or exploit employees to make a profit. But consumers desire excellence for rock-bottom prices. It is profitable to break the law if you can get away with it or when the gain is higher than the fine. And if there are loopholes, they become exploited. The anonymity provided by money, large corporations and markets turn us into uncaring calculating creatures. That is why big pharma, the military-industrial complex, the financial industry, and the Internet giants threaten us. If corporations do right out of their own, many laws and regulations become redundant. If moral values can replace the law, it could be better.
Less efficiency, poorer service and a smaller choice of products can be preferable if that doesn’t lead to deprivation and starvation. For instance, why must you get your meal from a takeaway restaurant instead of preparing it yourself? Or why do you need to dress up in the latest fashion if you have ample wearable clothing? And you must work to pay for these things, so if you don’t buy them, you have time to prepare your meal or mend your clothes. We don’t want to give up these things, so in a democracy, we can’t fix this problem. Perhaps we might accept the change if God sends a Messiah who tells us this is for the best.
That might be wishful thinking, but what else can make it happen if it is not religion? Do you believe we will come to our senses, become one humanity, and do right on our own? That is wishful thinking. God is our only hope. As we are heading for the Great Collapse in one way or another, the End Times could be now. We might live inside a simulation run by an advanced humanoid civilisation.4 Hence, God might own this world, and you might soon discover that you own nothing and be happy. God’s kingdom might be a utopian society as early Christians lived like communists (Acts 4:32-35).
So what can we achieve by taking political control of the world’s resources and means of production by seizing the elite’s wealth and placing it in sovereign wealth funds? You can think of the following:
- We can direct our means to the goals of a humane society, be respectful of this planet, and plan long-term.
- We can dismantle harmful corporations or give them a new purpose without starting an economic crisis with mass unemployment.
- We can make corporations employ people in developing countries and give them an education and decent salaries.
- We can fund essential government services in developing countries and eliminate corruption insofar as it is due to insufficient pay of government employees.
- We can make corporations produce sustainably and pass on the cost to consumers.
- We can determine the pay of executives.
- We can halt developments like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and nuclear energy if we believe they are undesirable.
- We can end the incentive to produce and consume more and stop the advertising industry from tracking us.
- We can end stress in the workplace if we axe bullshit jobs and redirect workers to the needs of society. A twenty-hour working week might be enough.
Interest stands in the way of a better future. The economy ‘must’ grow to pay for the interest. We ‘must’ work harder in bullshit jobs to pay for the interest. Corporations ‘must’ sell harmful products to pay for the interest. Corporations ‘must’ pay low wages or move production to low-wage countries to pay for the interest. And because of interest, money disappears from where it is needed most and piles up where it is needed least. Interest is our tribute to the wealthy. If we hope to live in a humane world society that respects creation, ending interest might be imperative. That is where Natural Money comes in.
Latest revision: 28 April 2023
Featured image: You’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy. WEF.
1. Welcome To 2030: I Own Nothing, Have No Privacy And Life Has Never Been Better. Ida Auken. World Economic Forum (2016).
2. Zakenman Gerard Sanderink tierend in rechtszaal: ‘Deze rechtbank deugt voor geen meter!’ AD.nl (2023).
3. Patagonia’s Next Chapter: Earth is Now Our Only Shareholder. Patagonia (2022).
4. Are You Living In a Computer Simulation? Nick Bostrom. Philosophical Quarterly, 2003, Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255.