I am currently reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is probably the most important book I have read in the past ten years and anyone with pretensions to being a progressive should read it. It provides a dead-right analysis of the pernicious nature of the free-market capitalism pushed by Milton Friedman and his acolytes. Sounds dry, I know, but, given the catastrophic results of applied “Friedmanism,” as well as the wide-spread acceptance it enjoys, it is truly riveting reading. You can find reviews here.
On the simplest level, Klein makes the argument that Friedman’s utopian, free-market theories cannot be applied in a democratic environment–the results of a completely privatized, pure free-market economy is to create vast wealth for elites at the expense of the general population. It is difficul to sustain this inequality in a democracy where the middle and working classes have a voice and can protest. Radical free-market policies require massive destruction, or shock, that leave those most vulnerable to the depredations of the untrammeled free market unable to defend themselves. As Klein notes:
Crises are, in a way democracy-free zones–gaps in politics as usual when the need for consent and consensus do not seem to apply
Chile and Argentina offer examples of societies so shocked by brutal juntas that their citizens were unable to resist the economic damage done to them by the Freidmanite economists who were imported to supervise what were previously relatively successful, mixed economies.
In the U.S. the rebuilding of New Orleans offers a clear example of the shock doctrine. The level of destruction left by Katrina enabled the Bush administration to not only hand over the reconstruction of the city to corporate pals, but to disable environmental and labor regulation, and privatize city institutions. Business interests have made millions and are set to make millions more, while poor and middle class New Orleans citizens wait in vain for the good times to rouler once again.
How is this relevant to Missouri, you ask …
… one need only think two of the various crises that face citizens in our state: 1) health insurance, and 2) the “failure” of the St. Louis School system.
Just look back in the archives for Hotflash’s excellent summary of Mr. Blunt’s plans for Missouri health care, A Summary for Dummies of Missouri Health Care for the Poor. As Hotflash notes, both of the programs that Blunt has proposed to deal with the uninsured in Missouri privatize what was earlier a government function. This proposed new, privatized health care is itself a response to a crisis partly manufactured by the Blunt administration when it moved large numbers of lower-income citizens off of Medicaid–a little shock therapy perhaps? People, otherwise deprived of coverage, may accept the new, privatized, insurance plans without complaint, grateful to have anything after trying to shift by on their own. Successful government programs die out, private interests profit and citizens subsidize the profits of the insurance industry.
As for the St. Louis school system, I only know what I read in the local papers, but it has always seemed to me that the goal of many of those involved in attempting to address its problems has been to gut the system not fix it–admittedly a daunting task since the school system is itself only a subset of a larger community system that seems equally broken. There seems to be a belief that the school problems can be addressed in isolation ithout any real reference to the poverty and related ills that plague much of inner city St. Louis. As Sylvester Brown remarked in his column:
The academic failure of St. Louis Public Schools came as no surprise, after watching four years of slicing and dicing budgets, selling and closing schools and cramming students into new environments.
And it seems equally obvious that, as Brown noted later in the same column, that the rebuilding will involve moving away from the free public school model of the past:
I’ve been reading about Slay’s proposed system of hand-picked, charter schools. His office sent letters to educators, nonprofits and charter school companies asking for them to consider St. Louis.
Slay hopes to add as many as 30 charter schools within the next 10 years. The cash-strapped district … is already paying $25 million more to charter schools than it did two years ago.
And of course the voucher-vultures are hovering over the soon-to-be corpse of St. Louis Public Schooling; Rex Sinquefield and those politicians on his payroll are ready to push vouchers, private-school tax credits, etc. whenever and where ever. When charter schools and private schools have drained all but the most hopeless out of a resource-depleted system, it will be a short time until real, free public school education is only a memory in St. Louis.
In both cases crises have been manufactured or intensified, as the case may be, and we have been moved just that much closer to living in privatized, profit-driven society.