Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine is one of the most important books of the young 21st century and will likely remain so as it ages. I’ve mentioned it before and will probably have call to mention it again and again. As a public service, I’m making this film version available here for anyone who doesn’t have the time/patience/whatever to read the book. I hope it will convince you to make a plan to read the whole work.]
Once again, forward-thinking journalist Naomi Klein is steps ahead of the pack. In an interview with Klein on his Dot.Earth blog, the New York Times’s Andrew Revkin summarizes the conclusion Klein reached in a recent Nation article while attending the libertarian Heartland Conference of climate change deniers in Washington last summer: “[P]assionate corporate and conservative foes of curbs on greenhouse gases are right in asserting that a meaningful response to global warming would be a fatal blow to free markets and capitalism.” Here’s a taste of the interview:
There is no question that robust public infrastructure is key to both reducing emissions and preparing for the heavy weather that we cannot avoid. Yet for the right-wing think tanks that sponsor the Heartland conferences (not to mention the modern-day Republican party), this is ideological heresy. Their whole reason for being is to shrink the public sphere in the name of low taxes and the benefits of privatization. What I’m arguing is that the idea that we can win the climate fight without engaging in ideological battle over these core questions about the role of government has always been a fantasy. Trying to dodge this fight is a big part of why we lose, and we need to get over it. It’s no coincidence that the countries with the most enlightened climate policies are also, overwhelmingly, the most social democratic.
And by the way, it’s not just that most of the big green groups avoid the growth question (with notable exceptions, as you point out). It’s that the solutions that groups like EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) have pushed are very often consumption based: buy these light bulbs, drive a hybrid, etc… And often these changes make sense. But the not-so subtle impact of putting so much emphasis on individual shopping habits has been to reinforce both consumerism and individualism. Tom Crompton and Tim Kasser have written some wonderful stuff on this. In this report, for example, Crompton argues that environmentalists need to do more to challenge the individualistic worldview in their campaign work.
This is particularly salient in light of the social science I reference in my article, particularly the research coming out of Yale’s Cultural Cognition Project, which has found that the major determinant of whether a person rejects the scientific consensus on climate change is whether they have a strongly “hierarchical” or “individualistic” worldview. One set of stats that didn’t make it into my piece: 78 per cent of subjects who display an “egalitarian” and “communitarian” worldview believe that most scientists agree climate change is happening (which is true) – compared with only 19 per cent of those with a “hierarchical” and “individualist” worldview.
For me, it follows from this that part of being an effective environmentalist is trying to win more people over to a worldview in line with the laws of physics and chemistry, rather than offering shopping advice and touting “market-based solutions.” Put another way: if we know that aggressive regulation and rebuilding the public sphere through collective action are integral to meeting this challenge, then we have a responsibility to say so, and to defend the worldview behind those policies.
I’ll return to this idea of the urgent need to change the manner and tone of the discussion when I return to my history of the fracturing Democratic grassroots (read the first and second parts here) in upcoming posts.
In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein brought to light the neoliberal tactic of crisis capitalism, unleashed in circumstances (as in Chile, Argentina, Poland, Russia, South Africa) where political powers have exploited (or even created) extreme conditions–such as coups, natural disasters, or economic crises–during which the local population is disoriented and their defenses are down, to instigate corporation- and “investment”-friendly policies like lowered taxes and the cutting and privatization of government services. The justification given for such maneuvers is to bring the target economy in line with the global economy, but, of course, very few people (only a tiny few) in the world actually benefit from these capitalistic incursions. One of the most obscene instances of the Shock Doctrine in action resulted in the rape of the former Soviet Union”s assets by the oligarchs in the name of Boris Yelstin’s economic “reforms.” But that’s only one of the most obvious and well known cases.
During the Clinton years, as former communist apparatchiks were helping themselves to radically discounted oil fields and other rich resources in Russia, Catherine Austin Fitts says she witnessed a similar feeding frenzy much closer to home. A former managing director and board member at the Wall Street firm Dillon Read who served as Assistant Secretary at HUD in the first Bush administration, Fitts started a financial company of her own, The Hamilton Securities Group of Washington, D.C., to help communities make the most of federal monies and improve their standing in what she calls the Popsicle Index, which measures the confidence families in a community feel to send a six-year-old by herself to the corner store and back. Fitts witnessed firsthand the collusion between Washington and Wall Street insiders (often the same people on opposite sides of a revolving door) to employ crisis capitalism techniques in the US as part of the daily repertoire of government actions (my emphasis):
Our efforts at The Hamilton Securities Group to help HUD achieve maximum return on the sale of its defaulted mortgage assets coincided with a widespread process of “privatization” in which assets were, in fact, being transferred out of governments worldwide at significantly below market value in a manner providing extraordinary windfall profits, capital gains and financial equity to private corporations and investors. In addition, government functions were being outsourced at prices way above what should have been market price or government costs — again stripping governmental and community resources in a manner that subsidized private interests. The financial equity gained by private interests was often the result of financial, human, environmental and living equity stripped and stolen from communities — often without communities being able to understand what had happened or to clearly identify their loss. This is why I now refer to privatization as “piratization.”
One of the consequences was to steadily increase the political power of companies and investors who were increasingly dependent on lucrative back door subsidies — thus lowering overall social and economic productivity. Hence, the doubling of FHA’s mortgage recovery rates from 35% to 70-90% ran counter to global trends and ruffled feathers…. Continue reading
When I read pieces by eminent conservative economists like the Hoover Institute’s Robert J. Barro’s Keynesian Economics vs. Regular Economics, I get the sick feeling in my stomach that the rift between left and right is becoming less and less bridgeable by day. It becomes clearer and clearer to me that, while the left may be going through a prolonged crisis of self-confidence, the right is becoming more deeply mired in an ideological morass and their project is to drag the rest of us down into it whether or not we want to go.