DISASTER CAPITALISM

Posted in Rants on July 13th, 2009 by Ed

Naomi Klein wrote a well-received book recently, The Shock Doctrine, about how neocons use large-scale disasters to ram through economic policies which wouldn't have a chance in hell of making it through the democratic process. It's simple, whether in 2003 Iraq or post-Katrina New Orleans: wait until the public is "shocked and awed" to the point of complete social collapse and then while people are scrambling around for food, clean water, or the right to avoid being executed by Sunni death squads, install an AEI wet dream of a government and begin auctioning the entire area off to the highest bidder. That last part is optional, by the way. You'll notice that this process is little different from how cattle are slaughtered. A blow to the head. Unconsciousness. Strung up and dissected. Sell every usable part.

On a less grand scale, Christian Parenti has written a number of essays (and a pretty good book, Lockdown America) about Prison Economics. There are some similarities to Klein's theory, but instead of a single disaster the vultures simply take advantage of communities while they're weak and desperate. Take Crescent City, California for example. The state waited until the logging industry collapsed and the town was nearly vacant before they offered the dying town salvation in the form of 4,000 ultra-violent (not to mention predominantly black and Hispanic) Supermax prisoners at the shiny new Pelican Bay State Prison. Of course no community would want a Supermax prison any more than they would want a toxic waste dump or a massive landfill. But prisons, landfills, and waste dumps all have one thing in common: they end up in communities that are too broke to say No.

I daresay the remaining players in the auto industry who still have a pulse are taking advantage of a similar dynamic these days.

art_kia_sign_cnnPerhaps you've seen the tale of West Point, Georgia, a typical rural craphole situated on the GA-AL border, which has been sent its salvation (quite literally) in the form of a new factory from KIA Motors, a subsidiary of the Korean Hyundai Corporation. With 20% of its rapidly-shrinking population under the Federal poverty line and more than 1/3rd receiving some form of government assistance, I can imagine why the folks of West Point are so thrilled to have KIA set up shop. And we must admit that an auto plant is a (relatively) pleasant economic savior compared to nuclear waste dumps and landfills. All things considered, the factory will be a good thing for the town. So why is it that this story feels so depressing?

West Point, the county, and the state laid out the usual smorgasbord of government cash to lure KIA or any other major employer to town. Has it really come to that in the United States? That in order to retain a manufacturing sector or provide any employment whatsoever for people outside of cities we have to bend over to the tune of $400,000,000 in free land, free amentites, tax breaks, and up-front cash payments? The factory and other employment sources which are expected to accompany it will provide something on the order of 7,500 jobs. That's probably an optimistic estimate, but let's go with it. Various governments with jurisdiction over West Point, Georgia just paid a foreign company $53,300 per job. That, apparently, is where we're at as a society.

If you don't find anything sad about that, try this video. The mayor of nearby Connorsville, Indiana speaks for a promotional video the town is using to woo an automaker – and it's not even a real one. It's some startup operation called Carbon Motors which will probably fold before making a single vehicle. The town has everything Carbon could want: desperation, terrible location, and an abandoned Visteon (Ford) auto parts factory. I managed to watch the video up to the point at which he began stridently reassuring his potential feudal lords that the town DOES in fact have a Red Lobster, albeit 3 miles away.

Local governments, Chambers of Commerce, and the like have always laid out a red carpet to attract potential large employers, but this level of grovelling and begging is a recent development. Rural towns have become the equivalent of a homeless person waving a sign reading "Will do anything for food" at passing cars. We could even leave aside the fact that it's disgusting because it sets communities against one another in an unwinnable race to the bottom (who can offer more tax breaks, who can most convincingly promise to keep the UAW out, who can grab their ankles the fastest and most enthusiastically). Even in a vacuum these stories are simply pathetic. Watching people in what claims to be the world's economic powerhouse fight to prostrate themselves before an employer and surrender to it completely – before it even gives them a job, no less – is enough to make Eugene Debs rise from his grave, which is not too far from Connersville, so he can die again of shame.