Tired of “too big to fail”? Tired of the US government’s eagerness to spend billions of public dollars to bail out the very institutions that brought the global economy to the brink of ruin? Tired of record profits (Goldman Sachs) and massive CEO bonuses (just about every big money bank) in the midst of the Great Recession? Tired of letting the big boys use your money to get themselves rich through speculative shenanigans and investment in globalized enterprises that destroy both the biosphere and human communities? Tired of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?
Here are some resources I’ve found helpful in trying to understand the critical mess we’re in and how to get out of it.
The Economic Crisis and the Bailout
The Big Takeover. The global economic crisis isn’t about money – it’s about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution. By Matt Taibbi. Probably the best single article I’ve seen explaining the debacle.
The New Trough. The Wall Street bailout looks a lot like Iraq — a “free-fraud zone” where private contractors cash in on the mess they helped create. By Naomi Klein. How the current economic crisis is just the latest manifestation of Disaster Capitalism.
New York Times
Obama’s Ersatz Capitalism: “What the Obama administration is doing is far worse than nationalization: it is ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses.” by Joseph Stiglitz
We are reaping what we have sown. The current economic implosion is not merely the consequence of foolish or unscrupulous practices in the world of big corporations and high finance, nor is it simply the fallout of the policies of a particular administration (i.e. Bush), nor the result of the reign of a particular economic ideology (i.e. neoliberalism). We are bewildered, frightened, and angry, and we want to know who to blame, but we need look no further than our own backyards. The present disaster is ultimately the result of the way we have chosen to structure our political and economic relationships to the earth and to each other, both in our personal lives and collectively as human beings.
This is not just an economic crisis, it is an ecological crisis, it is a political crisis, and, at its root, it is a spiritual crisis. This crisis didn’t begin with the sub-prime mortgage debacle, not with Bush, not with the dawn of free-market corporate capitalism. We have been in the midst of the current crisis for a very long time.
So why now? If the problematic nature of our political and economic relations to the earth and each other stretches way back (maybe all the way back) then why is everything going all haywire right now? The answer is globalization. This is a new era in the history of humanity. The expansion of the scale of human activity, power, and presence within the finite context of the planet earth has crossed a critical threshold. The earth can no longer absorb the consequences of our actions. The impact of our presence on earth has outstripped the capacity of evolution to adapt in a way that can sustain life. The reduction of friction* and increasing interconnectedness of human political/economic relations, the consolidation of power in geographically abstracted mega-corporations, the creation of a globally integrated and instantaneous communication and information network, the fast movement of huge amounts of money, all driven by the power of computers, has changed us. We as human beings now exist in a categorically different relation to the natural systems of the earth that sustain us. We have become too powerful, too fast, too effective. Because of the integrated nature of our globalized world, the consequences of our actions become immediate and far-reaching. There is less and less delay in both space and time between the moment of action and its global effects. But our wisdom has not kept pace with our power. Lacking wisdom, we have become the monster, the economic Frankenstein, of our own creation.
If you follow the news, you know that the Bush administration is finally coming close to achieving its objective in Iraq. Thousands of US soldiers are dead. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead. Millions are displaced. The whole region is a volatile quagmire. But it was worth it, because Operation Iraqi Freedom has succeeded: we are finally going to get the oil. Just in time too, what with gas at $4 per gallon and all.
No-bid contracts are about to be handed over to Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total, BP, Chevron and a number of smaller companies so that they can help “rebuild the decrepit Iraqi oil industry.” In exchange, they will receive premium access to one of the largest remaining oil deposits in the world. These foreign firms are positioned to keep 75 percent of the value of the contracts granted under the control of the Iraqi National Oil Company. As other global sources dwindle, this is going to lead to a cash-flow for the chosen few that will make last year’s record-setting profits laughable. Mission accomplished, he said.
Here’s how it went down. We went in for the oil. We destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, raided its coffers, despoiled priceless and ancient national treasures, illegally held and tortured detainees, killed people, decimated the economy, spawned a civil/religious war, alienated most of the world, and reduced the place to chaos. Then we handed out no-bid contracts (see a theme emerging?) to companies such as Haliburton and Bechtel with direct connections to the highest reaches of our government, funneling billions of US citizens’ dollars into a grossly negligent privatized reconstruction of Iraq. Now we want Iraq to pay for this “reconstruction” by handing over the oil.
Iraq is nearly destroyed, the American people were first lied to and then robbed blind, and a handful of multinational corporations are getting rich beyond their wildest dreams. You want to know what Iraq was really about? Take the advice Deep Throat gave during the Watergate scandal: follow the money.
That’s Iraq, but what I really want to talk about is Naomi Klein.
The mess in Iraq is just one the most recent and egregious examples of the consequences of what Naomi Klein calls “Disaster Capitalism”. Klein’s latest book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (a New York Times best seller) is now being released in paperback. It is the story of “how America’s free market policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.” Klein systematically takes us through a modern history of human catastrophe, war, and natural disaster and shows how multinational corporations in bed with political and economic free-market ideologues have seized advantage of crises to impose draconian economic policies on wounded populations, handing over to private companies the riches of the public sphere, and creating conditions advantageous to only the biggest global players, often with brutal repression of dissent. Russia, China, Central and South America, the South-East Asia crisis, South Africa, the tsunami, New Orleans, Guantanamo, Iraq… She covers it all. Disaster profiteering has become one of the most lucrative ventures available for those who are positioned to exploit a shocked and beaten populace. We, as Americans, need to understand how powerful interests play on our fears to garner support for international interventions in the name of national defense (i.e. the “war on terror”) that do little to secure us from harm, but do a lot to secure vast amounts of wealth for an elite few.
This, in my opinion, is one of the most important stories of our time. It’s scary as hell. Buy the book. Read it.