Naomi Klein writes for the Guardian U.K. and has a blog called ‘Truthout‘. After researching post-disaster recovery effort she discovered that the Milton Freedmans of this world are using disasters to radically and quickly implement free-market doctrine in a place that was previously either not receptive (pre-Pinochet Chile’) or where ‘we’ suddenly had a ‘laboratory’ (i.e. Iraq, after toppling Saddam).
I started researching the free market’s dependence on the power of shock four years ago, during the early days of the occupation of Iraq. I reported from Baghdad on Washington’s failed attempts to follow “shock and awe” with shock therapy – mass privatisation, complete free trade, a 15% flat tax, a dramatically downsized government. Afterwards I travelled to Sri Lanka, several months after the devastating 2004 tsunami, and witnessed another version of the same manoeuvre: foreign investors and international lenders had teamed up to use the atmosphere of panic to hand the entire beautiful coastline over to entrepreneurs who quickly built large resorts, blocking hundreds of thousands of fishing people from rebuilding their villages. By the time Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was clear that this was now the preferred method of advancing corporate goals: using moments of collective trauma to engage in radical social and economic engineering. Most people who survive a disaster want the opposite of a clean slate: they want to salvage whatever they can and begin repairing what was not destroyed. “When I rebuild the city I feel like I’m rebuilding myself,” said Cassandra Andrews, a resident of New Orleans’ heavily damaged Lower Ninth Ward, as she cleared away debris after the storm. But disaster capitalists have no interest in repairing what once was. In Iraq, Sri Lanka and New Orleans, the process deceptively called “reconstruction” began with finishing the job of the original disaster by erasing what was left of the public sphere
If you read about the period immediately after we toppled Saddam and actually had opportunity to bring about a somewhat unified central government that might have been supported by a majority of the people, it becomes clear that Bush handed the keys over to a bunch of eager college grads and children of cronies, along with contractors and let them ‘have at it’. The actual needs of the people at the time didn’t seem to have any relevance for these Dr. Frankenstein’s hoping to emerge from the rubble with a flat tax. In fairness to those who would agree with Friedman, the people put in charge were not competent to handle a government or probably even a three-car funeral.
But, allowing a flood, literal or symbolic, to totally sweep away the public will and common good, sacrificing the small businessman for the corporate sway, may be comservative, but is certainly not compassionate.
I don’t agree with all of Klein’s tenets (especially the part about torture), but I think she has a point. The themepark formerly known as the ‘Big Easy’ certainly bears witness to her theories.
hat tip: Kimble Forrister