Why it isn’t mad to oppose the World Economic Forum

Why it isn’t mad to oppose the World Economic Forum. By Samuel Gregg.

For many WEF critics, the vileness of the organization can be encapsulated in one word: ‘neoliberalism.’ It’s a term that conjures up images of plutocrats and untrammelled markets ravaging the planet and exploiting blue-collar folk in the name of profit. Funnily enough, Chairman Schwab agrees with that assessment of the world’s ills. Once upon a time, the WEF prioritised the necessity and benefits of economic globalisation.

That has not been the case for many years, however. In October 2020, Schwab stated that:

[S]hibboleths of our global economic system will need to be re-evaluated with an open mind. Chief among these is the neoliberal ideology. Free-market fundamentalism has eroded worker rights and economic security, triggered a deregulatory race to the bottom and ruinous tax competition.

Precisely how and where ‘free-market fundamentalism’ has run amuck remains a mystery. After all, we live in a world in which most governments in developed nations routinely control 40 per cent or more of their nation’s GDP.

Nor does the regulatory and welfare state’s relentless growth in, say, the European Union, Britain and America suggest that free market radicals have been in charge in Brussels, London or Washington for decades. As for China, since 2008, its Communist party leadership has been steadily reasserting state control over an economy that was only ever very partially liberalised. …

“Stakeholder capitalism” really means bureaucratic control of the world:

So who are the stakeholders …? For Schwab, they are ‘governments,’ ‘companies,’ and ‘civil society’ (NGOs, unions, etc.). At this point we arrive at the essence of Schwab’s grand redesign. For all his invocation of the predictable woke pieties, Schwab’s core commitment is to political and economic arrangements which used to be known as corporatism.

Corporatism is a broad concept. It can run the gamut from the hyper-authoritarian version embraced by Mussolini’s Italy to worker-boss structures of the type described by Schwab in postwar western Europe. All forms of corporatism, however, share some common themes.

One is the necessity of limiting market competition in order to preserve social cohesion. Another is mandating cooperation between representative groups of different social and economic sectors — a process overseen and, if necessary, enforced by government officials for the sake of the common good.

What, you might ask, could be wrong with this? The answer is: plenty.

So we get authoritarianism, groupthink, stagnation, and corruption:

For a start, corporatism — including its Schwabian expression — isn’t big on freedom. It’s all about forming and then maintaining a consensus on economic and social policies. For this reason, corporatism doesn’t cope well with dissent. Indeed, it discourages any questioning of the consensus, whether the issue is tax-rates or climate change.

The language of corporatism, like that of Schwab’s WEF, may be one of coordinated consultation, but the agenda is one of control. ….

Not only does this generate groupthink. It encourages the marginalisation of those who dispute the consensus. If you have reservations about, say, open borders, don’t be surprised if you are branded a xenophobe. If you decline to have your workforce unionised, you’re likely be labelled a market fundamentalist who treats his employees as mere objects.

Another problem is the collusion and cronyism fostered by corporatism. Corporatist structures facilitate client-patron relations between businesses and governments. That in turn produces insiders and outsiders. …

Outsiders are those who lack the resources to grease the wheel. An example might be the young entrepreneur with a great idea that might revolutionise an entire economic sector but who doesn’t enjoy the political connections. Long-established companies rarely hesitate to use their connections to try and establish regulatory environments, which makes it hard for such entrepreneurs to compete in the marketplace.

Lastly, corporatist-style stakeholder capitalism is decidedly ambivalent about democracy. … The model reflects a positive distrust of bottom-up initiatives because these are harder to control and less likely to buy into the established consensus. …

On an economic level, corporatism discourages innovation, produces inflexible labour markets dominated by unions whose priority is maintaining the status quo, and riddle the marketplace with privileges for well-connected businesses.

In political terms, even mild forms of corporatism significantly disenfranchise voters and put an ever-growing number of important decisions in the hands of unaccountable bureaucracies. …

The WEF is the bureaucrat’s champion:

Which brings us back to the WEF. It wields no formal political power and can’t make anyone do anything. Nonetheless, since its founding in 1971, the WEF has become an organisation which embodies supreme confidence in the imperative of a particular type of person running the world from the top-down. In his famous 2004 essay entitled ‘Dead Souls,’ the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington called this prototype ‘Davos Man.’

A clever moniker that neither Schwab nor the WEF have ever succeeded in shaking off, Davos Man was Huntington’s short-hand description of ‘academics, international civil servants and executives in global companies, as well as successful high-technology entrepreneurs’ who thought alike and tended to view national loyalties and boundaries ‘as residues from the past.’ Davos Man also looked with undisguised disdain, Huntington suggested, upon those who weren’t getting with the programme — whatever the content of the programme happened to be.

Look at the trends of the last decade or two. The world is clearly being reshaped according to the WEF’s vision.

hat-tip Stephen Neil