By Robert J.
Burrowes, New Age Islam
26 September 2015
In his just-released
book, 'Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe', Antony
Loewenstein offers us a superb description of the diminishing power of national
governments and international organisations to exercise power in the modern
world as multinational corporations consolidate their control over the
political and economic life of the planet.
While ostensibly a
book about how national governments increasingly abrogate their duty to provide
'public' services to their domestic constituencies by paying corporations to
provide a privatized version of the same service – which is invariably inferior
and exploitative, and often explicitly violent as well – the book's subtext is
easy to read: in order to maximize corporate profits, major corporations are
engaged in a struggle to wrest all power from ordinary people and those
institutions that supposedly represent them. And the cost to ordinary people
(including their own corporate employees) and the environment is irrelevant,
from the corporate perspective.
Loewenstein spent five
years researching this book so that he could report 'the ways in which our
world is being sold to the highest bidder without public consent'. In my view,
he does this job admirably.
Taking as his starting
point the observation of famed future studies and limits to growth expert
Professor Jørgen Randers that 'It is profitable to let the world go to hell',
Loewenstein set out to describe precisely how this is happening. He went to
Pakistan and Afghanistan to explore the world of 'private military companies',
Greece to listen to refugees imprisoned in 'brutal' privatized detention
centres, Haiti to investigate its 'occupation' by the United Nations and 'aid'
organizations following the earthquake in 2010, and Bougainville to understand
the dilemma faced by those who want progress without the price of further
corporate environmental vandalism (for which they have paid heavily already).
checked out the 'outsourced incarceration' that now ensures that the US rate of
imprisonment far exceeds that in all other countries, the privatized asylum
seeker detention centres in the UK which are the end product of 'a system that
demonizes the vulnerable', and the equivalent centres in Australia which
'warehouse' many asylum seekers in appalling privatized detention centres,
including those located on offshore islands.
It is easy and
appropriate to be outraged by some of the details Loewenstein provides, like
the 'three strike' laws in the United States 'that put people behind bars for
life for stealing a chocolate bar', but it is obviously important to comprehend
the nature of the systemic crisis in which we are being enveloped by 'disaster
capitalism' if we are to have any chance of resisting it effectively. So what
are its key features?
In essence, predatory
corporations (which usually keep a low profile) are financed by government
money (that is, your taxes), supported by tax concessions and insulated from
genuine accountability, political criticism and media scrutiny while being
given enormous power to provide the infrastructure and labor to conduct a
function, domestically or internationally, which has previously been performed
by a government or international organization if this happens at the expense of
a nation truly exercising its independence, then too bad.
Moreover, because the
corporate function is being performed 'solely to benefit international
shareholders' which means that maximum profit is the primary aim, both the
people who are supposedly being served by the corporation (citizens, refugees,
prisoners...) and the corporation's own employees are invariably subjected to
far greater levels of abuse, exploitation, violence and/or corruption than they
would have experienced under a public service equivalent.
the evidence to demonstrate this fact in one case after another. The ones that
I found most interesting are the use of mercenaries in Afghanistan which
provided further evidence that US policy, and even its military strategy and
tactics 'on the ground', is being progressively taken over by corporations, and
the 'occupation' of Haiti, post-earthquake in 2010, by the UN and NGO 'aid'
agencies which forced locals into the perpetual victimhood of corporate-skewed
The use of private
military companies (jargon for government-contracted companies that hire and
deploy mercenary soldiers, 'intelligence' personnel, private security staff,
construction teams, training personnel and provide base services such as food,
laundry and maintenance) in Afghanistan has meant that there are far more US
contractors than US soldiers in Afghanistan and 'troop withdrawal' means just
that: troops not contractors. The occupation is far from over, Loewenstein
Moreover, he asserts,
the US mission in Afghanistan is 'intimately tied to these unaccountable
forces'. As many of us have been observing for considerable time, with control
of US government policy now largely in the hands of the US elite (a select
group compared with the military-industrial complex of which departing
president Eisenhower warned us in 1961), its controlling tentacles reach ever more
deeply into US actions at all levels. This is reflected in the way that
military tactics are often designed in response to the development of weapons
(such as drones) rather than, as should be the case, policy and strategy
determining the nature of the tactics and weapons (if any) designed and used.
It's not so much that the corporate 'tail' is now wagging the government 'dog':
the 'tail' is now bigger and more powerful than the 'dog' itself. In essence,
the 'US government interest' means the 'US corporate interest'.
Afghanistan is not the only 'horror story' in Loewenstein's book. I was
particularly pained by his account of the multi-faceted violence that has been
inflicted on Haiti since the devastating earthquake on 12 January 2010 that
affected three million Haitians, killing more than 300,000. On 1 February 2010,
US Ambassador Kenneth Merton headlined his cable 'The Gold Rush Is On' and went
on to explain his excitement: 'As Haiti digs out from the earthquake, different
companies are moving in to sell their concepts, products and services.'
Merton's lack of compassion for those killed, injured or left homeless by the
earthquake is breathtaking.
Tragically, it isn't
just corporate exploitation of Haitians that exacerbated the adverse impact of
the earthquake. The United Nations was horrific too. The evidence clearly
pointed to its responsibility for a cholera epidemic shortly after the
earthquake, which affected more than 700,000 people, killing 9,000. And given
the responsibility of UN troops, allegedly present to enhance safety, for
previous violence against Haitians, most Haitians simply regarded the presence
of UN troops as 'another occupation' following the French colonization, which
they overthrew in 1794, and the US occupation which led to the Duvalier
dictatorships, that were resisted until their defeat in 1986.
But whatever damage
the UN has done, it is the governments of the US, France and Canada, whose aid
dollars via many corporations never reach those in need, NGOs like the Clinton
Foundation, and the predatory corporations that truly know how to exploit a
country. This is why the civil infrastructure in Port-au-Prince remains
unrepaired nearly six years after the earthquake and the average city resident
still lives in 'rubbish, filth, and squalor'. Somehow, the corporations that
were given the aid money to rebuild Haiti or provide other services were able
to absorb billions of dollars without doing much at all. Although, it should be
noted, company profits have been healthy. Are they held accountable? Of course
not. Disaster capitalism at its best.
So can we predict the
outcome for Nepal following its earthquakes earlier this year? We certainly
can. The corrupt diversion of aid funds to corporate bank accounts. And
ordinary Nepalese will continue to suffer.
I could go on but you
will be better off checking out the book yourself. Loewenstein writes well and
he has fascinating material with which to hold your interest. By the way, his
personal website if you want to keep track of his journalism is here.
http://antonyloewenstein.com/ He has recently been doing research in South
So is there anything I
didn't like? Well, given my own passion for analysis and strategy, I would have
liked to read more about Loewenstein's thoughts on why, precisely, this all
happens and how we can get out of this mess. He is an astute observer of
reality and hopefully, in future, he will be more forthcoming in making
In the meantime, if
you are interested in understanding why many individuals have a dysfunctional
compulsion to make profits at the expense of human and environmental needs, my
own analysis is briefly outlined in this article: 'Love Denied: The Psychology
of Materialism, Violence and War'. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1305/S00186/love-denied-the-psychology-of-materialism-violence-and-war.htm
But there is much more detail explaining the psychological origins of violent
and exploitative behaviours in 'Why Violence?' http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence
And if you are someone
who does not outsource your own responsibility to play a role in ending the
elite-driven violence and exploitation in our world, you might like to sign the
online pledge of 'The People's Charter to Create a Nonviolent World'.
http://thepeoplesnonviolencecharter.wordpress.com The Nonviolence Charter
references other documents for action if you are so inclined.
Anyway, apart from
this observation, the main reason why I think this is such a good book is
because it gave me much new and carefully researched information that got me
thinking, more deeply, about issues that I often ponder. There is a good chance
that it will enlighten you too.
Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to
understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since
1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a
nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of 'Why Violence?'
http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence His website is at robertjburrowes.wordpress.com