Misery capitalism

Shock doctrine

There’s nothing in the world that repeats itself more often than history – of a common citizen, watching his nation destroyed by a tiny elite who either own or command 90% of his country’s wealth, is watching history.

If your nation is eulogized as a beacon of righteousness and hope, a magnet for the persecuted, the land of free thinkers who wear their so-called ‘1st Amendment’ like a badge, it is heart breaking to see it dissolving into a farce being played out between two squabbling political parties that have virtually no meaningful ideological differences between themselves.

The mother of all repeating histories is now the fastest growing business ideology in the world – Disaster Capitalism. It has virtually no governmental oversight. The ongoing Hurricane Harvey has prompted the US Government to release $5.9 billion in emergency reconstruction funding and is expected to cost $125 billion over the next five years – big money that many American businesses are already salivating over.

Canadian journalist, film-maker and best-selling author Naomi Klein’s 2007 book ‘The Shock Doctrine – Rise of Disaster Capitalism’ , was a painstakingly researched record of what happened in the aftermath of Katrina

It is apt that I picked up her book at this moment, when the United States of America is officially about to be shut down. It owes others $10 trillions (that is 10 followed by 12 zeros). America has no more money left to run itself. Not that it was running itself even before today. The US government has, over the last two decades, subcontracted the work of running it to private enterprises, sans any oversight, with an almost childlike naivete which believes that the profit motive of a private enterprise shall ensure that the system is more efficient.

And the upshot of it all? I understand that in another month, only the American military is going to get paid. Every other government activity that needs funds to run it, shall be halted. Tourists in national parks will be told to evacuate. Air Traffic Control was already being run by contract workers who will stop being paid. Imagine how that makes the commander of an A380, coming in to land with 700 passengers, feel.

A tapestry, rich in its intricacy and wealth of detail, Naomi Klein’s book walks the reader through the earlier George W Bush years when those Milton Friedman clones and other free enterprise/zero government oversight gurus began twisting the concept of freedom beyond recognition, to suit their diabolical ends. The US government, having turned itself into a recruitment agency for temps and contract workers, is now an employer where no credential commands a higher chance of being hired than a top level security clearance.

In excruciating detail, worthy of mention alongside Frederick Forsyth, Klein reveals how the members of a tiny elite have turned every debacle, every disaster into a profit-making enterprise, giving birth to the term ‘disaster capitalism’. Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 showed the world how grief and misery can be leveraged into a trillion dollar business opportunity. We are about to see it happen again with Harvey.

The author details how Katrina led to the public school system in Louisiana being shut down and handed over permanently to private contractors. 9/11 saw the birth of billion dollar private security contractors like Blackwater. Iraq saw an entirely new business model :- ‘No bid’ reconstruction and oil extraction contracts to American behemoths such as Bechtel, Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil and Chevron.

That’s right, destroy and then rebuild. When business stagnates, create your own new business opportunity. Charge the price of 10, for one pair of night vision goggles, one sleeping bag, one bullet-proof vest, one earth mover or one crane.

Disaster capitalism is the ‘shock doctrine’ that the author refers to. A disaster usually wipes the slate clean. If it’s a tsunami, a shoreline is completely wiped out. If its Iraq, a whole country is devastated. When it was 9/11, ten square miles of prime real estate in the world’s most exclusive location suddenly had nothing left on it.

Architects of the shock doctrine believe that a disaster throws up an opportunity. They believe that the victims of a disaster are so shocked that they go into a sort of trance. In that brief window when the shocked populace is in a state of ‘suspended animation’, they can set in motion a whole new set of shocks and sometimes those shocks are economic ones. A tsunami ravaged shoreline gets transformed into a multi-million dollar resort, throwing out the fishermen who used to live there. An entirely new construction at the site of 9/11, likewise. A new Iraq and its oil, ditto.

Aside from the reconstruction windfall, invasions are payday for art collectors. Remember Hobby Lobby and the plunder and eventual disappearance into thin air, of Bagdad’s priceless museum pieces? Invasions are an even bigger payday when the private fortunes in cash and gold belonging to the despots who were overthrown, are recovered. As long as Saddam didn’t divulge where his stash was, he was in the protective custody of the Americans. The moment they were revealed, along with the access codes to his Swiss bank accounts, Saddam Hussein was handed over to the Iraqi justice system. Beautiful plunder. Robbing the robber is not in any way a crime, is it?

Tsunamis, earthquakes, flood and all sorts of natural disasters have become huge opportunities for windfall profits. NGOs and Charities have become another word for disaster capitalism. You want to be a millionaire? Start an NGO and hire a sharp accountant at $250000 a year. Employees? Don’t worry, the world is filled with bleeding-heart suckers, especially in the west, who are ready to volunteer (and sometimes die), for nothing.

Klein sites the example of the Red Cross teaming up with Walmart, for the distribution and supply for profit, of first-aid kits to third world earthquake survivors. As if that is not enough, go shopping at Walmart and the counter girl will sweetly ask if you want to donate a dollar for those first-aid kits that Walmart is already charging the Red Cross for. As I myself stood in line one Sunday, I watched every single one of the customers ahead of me smilingly paying that dollar.

Listen, don’t be a sucker. Never ever donate at super market checkout counters.

Disaster capitalism has caught on. It is no longer just the US. Every government now practices it enthusiastically, says Naomi Klein. I find it very hard not to believe her. In fact, I find it even more difficult not to be a Naomi Klein fan.

If not the last century, at least the last two decades have certainly been the Satan’s.

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