Are We About to Get Screwed Again?

Naomi Klein’s book on disaster capitalism, The Shock Doctrine, contains a number of — and this is being polite — difficult to defend claims.  Yet, I haven’t seen anyone discredit her core claim — and people have been trying.

Her core claim, as I understand it, is that Free Market Capitalists have learned to take advantage of emergencies, disasters,  and calamities in order to impose the social, economic, and political changes they desire:

At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts…. New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters — to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.

Indeed, I agree with those critics of Klein who state that, despite its flaws, The Shock Doctrine is one of the few books that really help us to understand the present, and that Klein may have revealed a master narrative of our time.   One can disagree with some of the things Klein offers as specific examples of disaster capitalism, but it seems no one has been able to refute her thesis that disaster capitalism is being practiced — and practiced routinely — these days.  There are about a half dozen “big ideas” that go very far to explain the political world we live in.  The notion that Free Market Capitalists have been taking advantage of calamities to first destroy the order of things, and then to replace that order with Free Market Capitalism, is almost certainly one of those six big ideas.

When disaster capitalism was in its infancy about thirty or forty years ago, the Free Market Capitalists would wait for a calamity to naturally occur.  Apparently, they don’t always wait for calamities nowadays — instead, they sometimes manufacture them.  And it seems the current budget crisis might be just such an example of a manufactured crisis.

As Yves Smith points out this morning on her blog, Naked Capitalism, this budget crisis stinks all the way to satellite orbit:

Let’s review how we got here. Obama made it clear before he took office (hat tip reader Hugh) that he intended to go after Social Security and Medicare. As we discussed, shortly after he took office, Obama was privately reassuring conservatives that he’d curtail entitlements once the economy was on a better footing. Clearly, he’s been willing to settle for “better” being tantamount to “not in imminent danger of falling off a cliff.” And if you had any doubts, Obama made his intentions abundantly clear (to use that Nixonianism) by creating a Deficit Reduction Commission and staffing it with enemies of Social Security, former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles and Senator Alan Simpson.

The second thing to keep in mind is that his deficit ceiling crisis is contrived. The Bush Administration bumped up against it multiple times and never used it as a basis for budgetary theatrics, even though it was also keen to cut Social Security. Obama could have taken action long ago, before the midterm elections, which were seen as putting the Democratic majority in the House at risk, to gain more headroom.

So it seems possible to me that what we have here is another instance of a conscious effort to panic the American people into supporting something that it is against their best interests to support — namely cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

And I think it will probably work.  Just as the Gulf War worked.  Even thirty, forty, or fifty years from now a lot of folks will still be swearing that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that we invaded Iraq because that country helped Osama Bin Laden conduct the attacks of 9/11.  I seriously doubt many people are going to question — genuinely question — what has been so carefully fed to them about the existence of a budget crisis.

To easily form an opinion is human nature; to easily change one’s mind is not — which is precisely why the Free Market Capitalists rely on calamities, real or manufactured, to create the fear and panic that are necessary to get most of us to change our minds.

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Recommended Further Reading:  “The Audacity of Dopes“, posted on Slobber and Spittle, by Cujo.

19 thoughts on “Are We About to Get Screwed Again?

  1. Interesting post, Paul, also disconcerting. It seems that many of our government’s recent decisions have been driven by fear and extremist rhetoric — “the mushroom cloud” for example. Sounds like we may get screwed.

  2. As she usually is about these things, Yves is right here. I can’t imagine a more contrived crisis than the government arguing over whether or not it will meet a financial obligation it has assumed thanks to a budget that it passed, particularly when it is clearly obligated to do that by its most fundamental law.

  3. You ask a question that is extremely pertinent question and the only answer I can give is a resounding “Yes!” I’d enlarge upon it but I’m having a problem with getting a coherent thought in place.

  4. I believe that in this country, getting screwed is not so much an event as it is an ongoing process. The only difference is one of intensity. Sometimes the screwing gets harder and faster but, unfortunately, a lot less enjoyable.

  5. I haven’t read the book but if you are relating the terms correctly, there is a huge flaw in the message that is being sent. A Free Market Capitalist would never use the government as an agent. In texts, the US is considered a “mixed economy” but a lot of people who believe that “corporate capitalism” better describes the system where corporations pay government officials to put these Shock Doctrine strategies into play.

    • I think there might be a difference between the ideal Free Market Capitalist and many of the real Free Market Capitalists of the past 50 or so years. The Free Market Capitalists of the Chicago School certainly do not have much of a reputation for refusing to use governments — especially South American and Latin American governments.

      • Which is probably why people have resorted to calling the Free Market, “Anarcho-Capitalism”. Free Market sounds better but like many things, it’s been tainted.

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