Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Awe Shocks: Disaster Capitalism in Action

Are we in the worst financial crisis since the depression of the 1930's? I'm not so sure. And why should we believe what we're being told? Sure there are banks in trouble. But imagine if there's a tad of exaggeration to exploit the crisis. We're seeing shock and awe all over the place. While we're left staring into space, they run in a grab the cookie jar. Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," lays a lot of this out.

The proposed massive bailout has been called socialistic. Not. It is the reverse - the total take over of the financial system (it was part of the way there already) without the few checks and balances that remain. I can assure you of one thing. You hear all that talk about limiting CEO profits and pay? Right now for public consumption to temper the critics. Like I say about the UFT: Watch what they do, not what they say. They'll make an example of a few but the fat cats will walk away fatter than ever. At one point we said the new Russia was becoming more like us. It looks more like the US is becoming Russia with its privatized state with billionaire oligarchs and gangsters. Can assassinations of critics in the press in the US be far behind? Maybe that's why the press corps is so cowed about reporting the truth. Like, why isn't Naomi Klein on major TV stations explaining what's really going on? (Though I hear she made a great appearance on Bill Maher a few days ago.)

Klein's thesis is that when a system suffers severe shock, whether a natural disaster or man made, a golden opportunity is presented for those who are prepared to rush in and grab what can be grabbed while people are still in shock and before any opposition can formulate. This is a world-wide phenomenon: Examples she cites: Iraq, New Orleans, Russia, Chile in the 70's under Pinochet. She could have included the NYC school system under BloomKlein, as clear a case of the shock doctrine as can be made. But more on shock and awe in NYC schools at another time.

Klein (Naomi, not Joel) puts forth the idea that in the 1970's the Milton Friedman school of an unfettered, fundamentalist view of capitalism began to put into effect its plan to dismantle the New Deal, which just by the way saved capitalism from coming undone in the last great financial crisis when there was actually a left in this country that was capable of organizing people.

Klein writes in her introduction:

The corporatist alliance is in the midst of conquering its final frontiers: sectors of Western economies that have long been protected from profit making – including responding to disasters and raising armies. Since there is not even the veneer of seeking public consent to privatize such essential functions, either at home or abroad, escalating level of violence and even larger disasters are required in order to reach the goal....Bush's exploits merely represent the monstrously violent and creative culmination of a fifty-year campaign for total corporate liberation.

Well, we may be in the mother of financial disasters and whether it is all real or "created" or exaggerated to create the sense of shock needed, the goal is to move the ball up the field. Check Blackwater to see private armies and the privatization of disaster response. Oh, and have you checked the enormous profit-making opportunities in the NYC school system where even after school programs have been thrown on the table for private firms to make a bundle? Sorry, I was going to resist going there today.

Klein talks about the Keynesian/New Deal concepts of capitalism:

A free market in consumer products can coexist with free public health care, with public schools, with a large segment of the economy – like a national oil company– held in state hands. It's equally possible to require corporations to pay decent wages, to respect the right of workers to form unions, and for governments to tax and redistribute wealth so that the sharp inequalities that mark the corporatist state are reduced. Markets need not be fundamentalist.

Keynes proposed exactly this kind of mixed, regulated economy after the Great Depression, a revolution in public policy that created the New Deal and transformations like it around the world.

It was exactly this system of compromises, checks and balances that [Milton] Friedman's counterrevolution was launched to methodically dismantle....the desire for a clean slate on which to build a re engineered model society.

Klein refers to the Friedman doctrine as a "dangerous ideology" because of its drive for purity. Sound familiar?

Bob Herbert in the NY Times last week discussed the Palin/McCain health plan which would basically lead to the end of employer backed health plans and throw everyone at the feet of health insurer middlemen who can take their pound of flesh out of the system. And how's about that old kid, social security, the prime New Deal enchilada the Friedman bunch have been after? I'm heading down to get mine while it's still there.

So expect the latest economic shocks to lead to - not more regulation, but less. Just listen to those radical kids for change - Palin and McCain who will take the right wing ideology so well described by Naomi Klein in her book and use the current crisis to go further in making the American government an instrument and banker for the private interests while removing as many of the protections for the American public as they can get away with.

As for the NYC school system, 3 reorganization shocks were applied and the continuance of the mayoral control onslaught continues. As we write this the UFT leadership is figuring out how they can present to the membership a PR-based document that makes it look like they want changes but in reality continues a system that has the ability to apply the shocks needed to cow parents and teachers, not to say children, into submission.

For a prime example of the latter, check out D2Route's Educating the future workforce to accept disaster capitalism. (thanks to A Voice). If you think this is about KIPP, you are correcto.


  1. I agree with you so much, and I am so grateful that N.Klein for deconstructing this phenomena for us because it is so gosh-darn applicable. Before I go and read D2Route as you suggest, I hope you'll let me post here something I wrote back in January on Joel Klein's world in terms of Naomi Klein's analysis:

    "Joel Klein’s multiple and devastating reorganizations of the school system have softened all of us up: administrators, educators, parents and students alike. Without any familiar systems, rules, administrative personnel, or contracts to get us through the chaos of these successive remodelings, we flounder, fall, slink off, and fail.

    "And this is exactly what BloomKlein and their conspirators have planned for the city all along: less presence and political clout from the rank-and-file and the users of the system, and a virtual partnership with the corporations, private contractors, and hired technocrats with whom they will be doing business from now til kingdom come.

    "In the wake of this destablizing transition, even the new hires are counted upon to be “temps” — not to be nurtured all that much now and not to be thanked later on down the road, but to remain forever expendable in a system that doesn’t deliver what it’s supposed to and supports nothing that any of us can value."

  2. Great post Norm.
    Let's not forget that Friedman called Chile under Pinochet, "a miracle".

  3. I'm working on the Chile chapter. I may do a chapter by chapter summary.


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