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The Great Reset or the Great Hysteria?

Published at: 05-03-2021

Posted on: March 5th, 2021 by RaduC No Comments

In the past year a ghost has been haunting the public debate. Its name is “The Great Reset”, a concept talked about ever since the 2020 World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos. It subsequently became the preferred topic of conspiracy theories.

The ball was pushed rolling in this direction by political groups and media outlets close to president Trump in an attempt to dent President Biden`s popularity, an advocate of global fundamental changes. Once rolling, the conspiracy ball only amplified and tweaked ideological movements on both ends of the specter.

The failure and not the success of big changes is the issue

One assessment of the Great Reset conspiracy theories that I consider accurate is done by Naomi Klein, a well-known journalist and activist in The Intercept. Conspiracy theories purport ‘to expose something no one ever attempted to hide, most of which is not really happening anyway, some of which actually should’.

At the end of the day, if we take a look at past Davos meetings, ‘The Great Reset’ fits in nicely with the grand titles and glorified objectives that are so typical of the event. To this end, the journalist reminds us of the “Shaping the Post-Crisis World” (2009), “Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild” (2010), “The Great Transformation” (2012) or “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” (2018) big ideas.

However resounding, what followed fell way short of rhetoric. If anything, society has at times moved in the exact opposite direction. Although millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, economic polarization worldwide has deepened, the wealth of a minority elite has not ceased to increase at much faster rate compared to the rest of the population. Businesses, driven solely by the prospect of profits, turned to the largest markets and cheapest labor, leaving behind a poorer and more alienated middle class, higher social tension and frustration.

Meanwhile we have made only tentative progress towards protecting the environment and mitigating climate change as approaches worldwide have not been harmonized and ran contrary to countries` or economic groups` vested interests. The United States` indifference has been an aggravating factor. The ongoing technological revolution has brought about swift changes which took societies by surprise and caused them to be more reactive than proactive.

The issue is that if our approach, as a civilization, remains unchanged, the outcomes will be the same. The same approach will not bring new results! Therefore, if we want to be able to cope with the fast-paced economic, social, environmental or technological challenges we need a rethink of the current operating model.

So why is The Great Reset such a factor of stress or even fright for so many people?

Human reaction to big changes should not be underestimated

I think it is natural for people to react to the changes that decision-makers hail as unavoidable in very adverse circumstances. The change management theory explains that denial and anger precede enquiry and acceptance in how people normally react to change. On the other hand, the more substantial and fast the change is, the stronger the popular resistance. Moreover, the prospect of having to change at a time marked by high levels of unpredictability or anxiety only amplifies the negative reactions.

All these features are already associated with the changes that world leaders propose as part of ‘The Great Reset’. Whoever has the patience to read first-hand and dispassionately about them, will see that they are already directions in which the economy started to move, or concepts that had been around for some time but have seen a comeback in the context of the pandemic.

The big issue facing the world elites, however, is a lack of trust. Again, the change management theory teaches us that change is easier implemented if the general perception is that of a strong leadership that can be credited by the subjects of change with enough trust to lead them in the right direction. Sadly, this is not the case of leaders currently running the most powerful nations on Earth. Over the past decades they managed to leave behind the common interests of the general public and ignore their economic priorities.

Meanwhile, unpopular decisions and a string of blunders during the pandemic, the overall feeling that the crisis mitigation measures have benefitted the rich, deepened even further the divide between leaders and the public and eroded the foundation of trust. Trust in the leader, however, is the main ingredient of embarking on and successfully completing deep change. Without trust, resistance to change will be huge and, no matter how fair and justified the projects are, they will still be regarded with maximum suspicion.

The important questions get lost in the chase after sensational stories

Which are the ‘suspicious’ projects that should shape our future?

Environmental sustainability aided by financial incentives and targeted investments.

Promoting economic systems that provide a fairer distribution of wealth, along with social and economic accountability to the next generations.

The ethical use of technology to meet the needs of all social categories.

Support requalification so that people are ready for the new labor market which will be quite different from what we know.

Businesses that focus on achieving value for all stakeholders, not just for the shareholders.

A healthcare system which is accessible to all, prepared to cope with future pandemics the occurrence of which is favored by higher urban density and climate change.

Worldwide government coordination to better tackle humanity’s challenges.

Given the complexity of these goals, the major risk is not that they will be met, but that they are too idealistic to be attainable. The real important questions move in directions other than those suggested by the conspiracy proponents.

How do we abandon the ‘GDP growth’ fixation and accept other criteria to gauge economic wealth?

How to convince the private sector to stop bowing exclusively to the God of the ‘net profit’ and use social performance criteria? And will these projects be carried out against corporations or with them?

What role should governments play? Their part during the crisis proved to be crucial, but how appropriate is their recipe to socialize the private sector losses and privatize their profits? Doesn`t a bigger government come with higher inefficiency and bureaucracy?

How damaging and easily reversible is the recent partnership between governments and central banks as the money printed ended up in the wealthy people`s pockets?

What to do with the losers of the digital revolution? Unskilled labor will be the first (but not the only one) to fall victim to digitalization so how will we keep the social fabric intact?

How can we guarantee gender equality as education will be an increasingly dividing factor? How will we manage those unable to reinvent themselves so as to cope with an ever-changing labor market?

How can we avoid extreme polarization and the risks of its political consequences?

And the list of these terribly important questions, existential for some, may go on. The bad news is that Romania is also affected. A google search for the Great Reset in Romanian will reveal the predominantly conspiratorial perspective on this topic taken in the public debate even by otherwise respectable analysts.

Romania cannot afford to miss out on its rebirth

The fact that the way in which capitalism should be rethought is deemed to be socialism or communism is in itself a remnant of the unfortunate ideology: whoever criticized the communist system was an enemy of the state order and the people. Along the same line, whoever raises the question of amending the capitalist system is labelled a socialist. Unlike communism, the liberal and capitalist world has an advantage that communism never had: to permanently assess itself and speak in all liberty of the possibility of its reinvention.

Romania should not walk away from this debate, should not say no to being part of the changes that are heralded. It would be a mistake to see this any other way. The final and ultimate mistake.

Let us be realistic. With or without Romania, these global changes will go ahead and this forces us to choose one of the following: make the most of this wave of changes or ignore it and later blame invented enemies for our new-made irrelevance.

Romania`s disadvantage is that it sets out on this journey as vulnerable and running out of time. The crux of the matter is that there is no experience in rolling out a nationwide development plan. Over the past three decades, the country`s development happened haphazardly. The opportunities that investors seized, had not been knowingly created by the government but came as a natural development. This is how we ended up with significant development and wealth gaps between Transilvania and Moldova or Bucharest and the rest of the country.

In the current setting, this approach stands no chance of winning. Chaotic development will lead to a dead end for two main reasons. Firstly, the changes that the next decade will bring are conditional on human intelligence, highly skilled, technologically literate labor. We stand no chance if we step into the future with tens of thousands of workers making internal combustion engine parts, or working the land. But a skilled workforce cannot be conceived outside a strong education system with a good grasp of reality, able to tap into the nation`s intelligence.

A word of caution, however, this is a requirement but it will not be enough to cope with the changes. The race for highly skilled workers will be global which is why a country with a good school system but unable to retain its graduates is equal to a black hole for taxpayers` money. Two things will be key here. Firstly, a working environment that is challenging, comes with exciting projects, prospects of personal development and a good paycheck. Secondly, the road, telecommunication, healthcare infrastructure these experts will use in Romania will matter.

The second reason for which a coordinated national strategy is a prerequisite has to do with funding and accessing the UE`s €100bn recovery package. The money should be used to support Romania strengthen three sectors that I find critical given global changes: food, meaning agriculture; infrastructure on which a sound business environment and good living standards hinge; education and developing the industries of the future.

Romania experiences the same major problem as many developed countries: a lack of trust in decision-makers. This should be ground zero for any endeavor to reinvent the country. And this is not easy, especially when the people concerned seem to be oblivious to it.

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