In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein describes what she sees as an emergent pattern wherein world catastrophes invite major power grabs by government and vested interests. The case could be made, I would point out, that this has always been so, back to Nero rebuilding Rome after the fire, back to Athens turning the threat of another Persian invasion into the Delian League then into the Athenian Empire— back even unto the times of primitive men when divine disfavor visited as a plague among men might allow a shaman to overrule a chief. In a sense, natural disasters can, just as much as war or assassination, leave a power vacuum in their wake, and politics, no less than Nature, abhors a vacuum.
Klein calls this destroy-and-rebuild pattern (what economists sometimes call creative destruction), “Disaster Capitalism.” Instead of Profit & Loss, it’s Loss & Profit— and Klein would probably prefer to call it, “Loss & Less.” She defines Disaster Capitalism thusly: “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities.” The “orchestrated raids” range from the dismantling of the New Orleans’ public school system in favor of voucher schools after Hurricane Katrina, to the snatching-up of a nation’s stock of capital after a military coup. The “catastrophic events” are anything from revolution to multi-national wars to natural disasters. And Klein, muckraker extraordinaire, seems to take it for granted that there will also be another common element present in cases of Disaster Capitalism: U.S. government officials or conservative businessmen will also be involved— and you would guess after reading Klein, they usually are.
Klein casts a very wide net with The Shock Doctrine, but though she drudges up some dolphins with her dead bodies, she does indeed haul in a catch. She was one of the first to see clearly what many of the rest of us only have vaguely recognized: that the world has turned, as it has a tendency to do, and a new kind of Imperialism has emerged, not Colonialism –which is far too slow a process in a fastfood-eating, micro-trading world– but a Grab’n’Go wrecks-ploitation. Bismarck may have been a master at old-fashioned diplomatic maneuverings and the thrust and parry of 19th century realpolitick, but the 21st century’s version of genius foreign policy is heavy on the thrust and light on the parry.
And with the United States being fundamentally a plutocracy (wherein the leaders of government and the captains of industry are all part of the same clan), what emerges is the distasteful situation of private fortunes being made from the misery and misfortune of others, with rumors of callous businessmen extolling the “opportunity” of a tsunami or blathering to stock holders about how “the war’s been good to us.” And what irritates Klein at least equally, is that the U.S. is too often involved in the creation of that same misery and misfortune from which it profits politically and economically— of course, those last two adverbs are redundant when we realize that U.S. foreign policy has long been handmaiden to financial interests.
What Klein prefers to call “Disaster Capitalism” (really simply the modern version of the vacuum-filling greedy grab) far surpasses good ol’ fashioned war-profiteering. The phenomenon Klein describes is what one could label “Misery Profiteering,” wherein every teardrop has the potential to become a diamond.
Even before this or that human- or natural- made tragedy abates, Klein depicts a situation in which private industry descends upon the ruins like vultures to an open, mass grave– for in the aftermath of a disaster, houses must be built, security must be provided, loans must be taken, et cetera. And, after all, when the carcass mars the landscape, can you blame the hyenas for their blood-sated laugh?
Reading Klein, one comes to realize that, with so much of America’s foreign adventurisms now privatized, the hens have hardly been slaughtered before the foxes arrive and offer to scramble and sell back the eggs to the wailing survivors. Klein’s anecdotal evidence suggests that whenever sympathetic Yankees come to offer assistance to a wretched folk— they better hide what’s left of their silverware— for the offered aid and relief will come at the high cost of their minerals and markets— a classic case of “you scratch my back, I’ll gouge yours.”
Oh, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses– they’re ripe for the pickin’!