What do Wisconsin’s Republican politicians, the political aftermath of 9-11, the Wall Street banking crash, and the federal budget crisis all have in common?
In each case, a crisis (real or contrived) was used as the excuse to impose preconceived agendas of radical right-wing policies upon our political and/or economic lives.
The Patriot Act, for example, was not a carefully crafted response to the 9-11 attacks. Rather, it was a massive collection of proposals for stripping away Americans’ constitutional rights to privacy, due process, and so forth. These proposals were too radical to ever be passed by Congress during normal times, so they sat on the shelf until an opportunity arose. After 9-11 the Bush regime lumped them all together into one gigantic bill and – exploiting the post-9-11 fear – rushed it through Congress before anyone in Congress or the media or the public had time to read it.
In 2007 Naomi Klein published a powerful book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, to explode the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Klein’s book exposes the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades. The preferred method has been to exploit people and nations that have suffered disasters or other severe crises by imposing radical “free market” policies upon them and stripping away social spending and democratic rights.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the government demolished public housing (including buildings that had not been damaged at all), public hospitals and public schools. Federal reconstruction efforts focused on privatizing schools, white tourist neighborhoods, and so forth. After a tsunami wiped out Southeast Asia’s coasts, the pristine beaches were auctioned off for tourist resorts.
Fast forward to Wisconsin in January 2011, when a newly elected Republican governor with an agenda concocted by some of the richest individuals and corporations gave about $140 million in new tax breaks to rich corporations, and then declared that the resulting budget crisis required that he bust the state employees’ union. Even when the union agreed to harsh economic cutbacks, the governor persisted with his effort to unilaterally cancel collective bargaining. In order to avoid a legal tangle, he separated out his union-busting legislation from the budget bill, revealing that abolishing collective bargaining – not balancing the budget – was his real goal.
A crisis allows “disaster capitalism” to impose radical right-wing re-engineering upon societies so quickly as to prevent resistance. Klein’s Shock Doctrine book looks back fifty years to the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman, which produced many of the leading neo-conservative and neo-liberal thinkers who still wield tremendous power in Washington DC and elsewhere.
Beyond Klein’s research and insights, the Olympia FOR’s May 2011 TV interview also examines more recent events and offers additional insights related to our May program’s title, “Causing and Exploiting Budget Crises.”
Our guests are Molly Gibbs and Larry Kerschner, two well informed, wise, and insightful members of our peace and justice community.