Like every year, the “who’s who” of the global elite have converged on Davos as part of their annual “problem-solving” talkfest. In a very ritualistic manner (as they have been doing all along), Davos 2023 kicked off with a new theme and a new word, Polycrisis, to describe a “problem” that they had created in the first place. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023 uses the term to explain how “present and future risks can also interact with each other to form a ‘Polycrisis’ – a cluster of related global risks with compounding effects, such that the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part”. To help you understand what this word means and how we got here in the first place, let me walk you through the economic history of the last so many decades, which can contextualise what Polycrisis is and what it means for all of us.
To start with, the post-Second World War years were an era of unprecedented prosperity and economic growth as the “victors” of WW2 “helped” those devastated by the war to rebuild themselves under the ambit of what was known as the Marshall Plan. This reconstruction of the West (specifically Europe and Japan, and some parts of Asia) “rejuvenated” the economies of both the winners and the vanquished and the “shared” economic boom that followed raised hopes of avoiding another global calamity like a World War. However, there was also a need to “contain” the other “winner”, namely the Soviet Union. Hence, the Cold War ensued, with each side arming themselves and prepping for the Armageddon scenario.
While this was underway, the Western elite also realized that the “wave” of technological inventions since the early 1970s would result in a new “technocratic” age. So, they started preparing their people for the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions throughout the ensuing decades. These tech-driven revolutions resulted in another successive wave of prosperity for the West and Asia as well, coinciding with the “reforms” in China, the Japanese resurgence, and to some extent, paving the way for the Indian Renaissance as well. Moreover, given that this was happening under the “shadow” of the Cold War, the “shared” aim of the West and their allies was to maintain the “edge” over the Soviet Union. Though a pioneer in space and the arms race, the Eastern bloc (allied with the USSR) soon found themselves wholly outflanked as the West’s economic and military might proved unassailable as the 1980s drew close.
The “inevitable” collapse of the Soviet Union was also a result of sustained globalization of the world where the Western “soft power” was as beguiling as the “iron fist” of its military prowess. Moreover, globalization proved to be more than the Zero Sum game of the Cold War, resulting in large swathes of the globe lifting Billions out of poverty. Indeed, this was when India too liberalized and opened up, trying to outcompete an already established China. As global trade boomed and economies worldwide flourished, the “outdated” Communist ideology was soon consigned to the “dustbin” of history, with the countries of the Soviet Bloc falling in a domino fashion like Nine Pins. In a way, the “triumph” of the West meant that, ideologically speaking, the “game” was over. This “triumphalism” was echoed in phrases such as the End of History and the dawn of the New World Order, which essentially meant a neoliberal way underpinned by free market capitalism, along with globalism and liberalism as the foundations.
So, what does Polycrisis have to do with all this? One must look at the “intersecting” trends of globalization, technological revolutions, neoliberalism, and neocolonial “expansionism” to answer that. I have already explained these terms, except for the last, which is a marker of “continued” conquest and making the world “free” for liberal democracy. However, while the world did indeed “accept” these, there were also the disaffected and the dispossessed (literally and figuratively) that led to a “blowback” in terms of 9/11 and the succeeding wars in the Middle East. Moreover, under Putin, a “reincarnated” Russia refused to play “ball” along with China, which always hid an undercurrent of historical supremacy and masked bitterness at their humiliation by the West. In a way, the “problems” simmered and came to the fore as the 21st Century began.
As if these weren’t enough, the “failure” of neoliberalism in a “post-growth” world led to The Great Recession of 2008, which spawned an “angry” populist revolt, as the Semi-Urban Whites and those without college degrees, found themselves jobless as Western multinationals outsourced their manufacturing and services to China and India respectively. Of course, the “liberal” immigration policies, too, served as a “double-edged” sword, as they both sustained Big Tech as well as sparked a virulent “nativist” backlash against these trends. Talking about Big Tech, as the initial “euphoria” around the internet subsided and the realization that the only game in town for the Big Tech giants was money and not any Utopian ideals, the resultant dissatisfaction gave rise to neo-Luddite movements as well. Worse, Climate Change made it imperative for the world and the West in particular, to “change or perish”, which again pitted the liberal elite against the far Right, who, along with the Evangelicals, saw it as yet another “assault” on their “way of life”.
In a way, the Polycrisis we see now is the direct outcome of these “intersecting” crises, decades in the making and culminating in the pandemic of 2020. Coming at a time when populism too was resurgent, the pandemic and then Putin has catalyzed the “convergence” of the Polycrisis, which the Davos Elite is now wringing its hands at, yet, created by them over the years, ostensibly as a means of “changing” the world, but, instead, ending up in destroying it. Note that the Chief of the WEF talks much about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or the coming Digital Age, which the Davos elite promises would be “the one” trend that would finally lead to Utopia. However, there aren’t many takers for this as the Frankenstein-like monstrous creations of the global elite is now “biting back” at them, with Polycrisis as a result.
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