October 24, 2007

Shock and Awe II: Iran

The war criminals are up to their usual skullduggery.

I've been reading The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, as I mentioned the other day. It's the most horrifying book I've ever read and I'm not even done with it yet. But essentially, the point is that economists of the Milton Friedman school working hand in hand with the US State Department have been engaged in what Klein describes as extraordinarily violent armed robberies all over the globe since the 1970s. From early on, their economic programs have been referred to as aiming for shock and awe.

For all that it happens on paper and in banking transactions, economic shock and awe isn't that different from the kind Bush perpetrated against Iraq in the early days of the invasion. And it's exactly what the Coalition Provisional Authority enacted once they got hold of the country's accounts and law books.

At first, before Friedman's disciples perfected the technique, starting with Indonesia and Chile, they could only impose their heinously unpopular reforms at gunpoint and with the disappearance, torture and murder of political opponents. When Bolivia finally struggled back to nominally democratic rule, with the help of economist Jeffrey Sachs, their newly elected president implemented these reforms by surprise and by putting the country on lockdown.

After that, the hyperinflationary debt crises rocking the developing world, as one corrupt dictatorship after another collapsed under the weight of their failures, served as the new entry point. The World Bank and IMF were invariably called in to help stabilize the currency and they imposed what's euphemistically called "structural adjustment." These radical privatization agendas insisted that the governments drop public services, end food assistance, fire thousands of government workers without there being other jobs for them, freeze wages, drop all the trade barriers, then finally sell off all public assets at fire sale prices on the principle that it's wrong to have public ownership of anything that could be turned to a profit.

Consider for a moment that if you live in a repressive dictatorship with no middle class, there are basically only four types of people who have enough money to buy public assets, even at fire sale prices: corrupt officials, criminals, people with relatives outside the country, and foreigners. It's not mysterious.

These policies always result in higher unemployment. In hunger and privation. In the destruction of native industries engaged in the processing of raw materials, where all the significant value is created. You have heard the term 'value-added', right? Right. So naturally, there is opposition.

But when people are shocked and alarmed, when there's war and nationalistic fervor whipped up, when there's hyperinflation, when there's political uncertainty, there comes a moment of opportunity when a government by surprise can replace all semblance of democracy. People's faculties are unbalanced, it's as if they're sleepwalking, they're trying so hard to adjust to rapidly changing and highly charged circumstances. And then when they wake up, the world has been remade before their eyes.

Consider. Is it more morally reprehensible to kill someone's child with a gun or with an economic program, one that forces them to watch helplessly as the weakest members of their family succumb to starvation and disease? Is it worse to break someone's spirit by torturing or killing their political heroes, or to break it by destroying their opportunities for dignified work and burying them in debt?

You may know that I was raised in an apocalyptic faith. In a household where there were daily musings on when the end of the world would be coming. I've talked about it before. You may also know that the right wing of the evangelical movement, the part with so much clout with the Republican party, is also apocalyptic. And they want it to come. The cataclysm. They long for it as in anticipation of a sexual climax.

Such beliefs have been around for a long time. But it's only now that our species is actually powerful enough to end, not the world, naturally, but at the least the world as we know it.

The evangelicals aligned with the hard right clearly know their brethren when they see them. Neoliberal economics, hand in glove with neoconservative foreign policy, is also inherently apocalyptic. They invite catastrophe, because it means an opportunity for a 'clean' slate. They rejoice, if quietly, when they see violence and chaos looming, hoping for the worst, hoping for the big one that will make them the new lords of the Earth. The Chosen who walk as the messengers of God, the faithful who saw the light when the unbelievers were lost in doubt.

Never mind that both visions require enormous human suffering. This is irrelevant to them. This is why, if there's anything I can't stand, it's people who say it has to get worse before it gets better. It ticks me off just as much to hear it from people on the left. 'Worse' means desperation and death for flesh and blood people, it means the destruction of accumulated social and infrastructure capital that's slow to accumulate. It means a future where people are materially and qualitatively worse off.

And just, no, it doesn't have to get worse before it gets better. That's a choice. A human choice.

It's people who make these violent and cruel decisions. No impersonal forces of history, no gods, no devils, no ancestral spirits, no animating principles sit in the nation's capital planning to rain down hell on Iran. Only people. Like you and me.

The Bush administration is planning to follow their armed robbery of Iraq with an armed robbery of Iran. They carefully picked countries for whom there's little public sympathy, because our press has persistently wed public impressions of them to images of their unsavory leaders. They will use it, once again if they can, to use crimes of murder to hide their crimes of theft against the American public.

And look how much they've stolen from us.

Our National Guard aren't here to protect us from floods, storms and fires. Our intelligence services have been outsourced such that the nation must now rely on private companies to guard itself. The rich, cultural icon that was New Orleans has been wiped away, and the shock and dislocation of Katrina was used to completely privatize their school system and fire the public school teachers. Our military has been robbed of the ability to manage their own support services, and the private contractors have taken far more from our budget than salaried troops used to cost. And, oh yeah, the budget. This war of choice in Iraq has stolen away the money needed to invest in our own citizens and infrastructure.

Above all, our government of laws and not men has been stolen utterly away. We can't know that the Justice Department's prosecutions aren't purely political, or that they will uphold the law when faced with crimes by allies of the president's party. It's no good to have a law, or a regulatory agency, if no agent of the law will prosecute a violation of its precepts.

Can we possibly keep our Republic against the wishes of the highest officeholders in the land and their cringing lapdogs? Can we hope to avert their latest criminal fancy?

"Finance is a gun. Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger." - Don Lucchesi, The Godfather III

Posted by natasha at October 24, 2007 10:05 PM | Iran | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

...Can we possibly keep our Republic against the wishes of the highest officeholders in the land and their cringing lapdogs? Can we hope to avert their latest criminal fancy?

I don't think so. Chaos is the plan. If you would avert it, you must create an order that can withstand it.

There may be a Republic when this is all over, but you can bet it won't be the one we have right now.

Posted by: kelley b. at October 25, 2007 07:11 PM

I hope, faintly, that you're wrong.

Posted by: natasha at October 25, 2007 08:52 PM

I'm reading this book too and agree with you wholeheartedly. The scary thing is that this book explains many things much better than the official explanations we had been given in the past, much like reading Chomsky for the first time.

The most difficult thing about trying to explain this to others is that the Friedmanists took the name "free market" to describe their insidious scheme for robbing the citizenry and have had decades of marketing spin helping them sell "free market" economics as the twin of democracy and freedom. It will take us a great deal of effort to change that frame, in spite of the mountain of evidence of its falsehood.

"Shock Doctrine" explains the Iraq War and the "wah on terrah" like nothing else before it. Now at last we have an explanation that makes sense.

Posted by: Charles at October 26, 2007 05:29 AM
Consider for a moment that if you live in a repressive dictatorship with no middle class, there are basically only four types of people who have enough money to buy public assets, even at fire sale prices: corrupt officials, criminals, people with relatives outside the country, and foreigners.
Along with friends and relatives of the leader. In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, the concession for a toll highway from the airport to the city was given to the daughter of then-president Suharto. And President Karimov of Uzbekistan (of prisoners boiled to death fame) has flogged state-owned enterprises to his relatives at bargain prices, creating a family conglomerate that dominates the economy. Posted by: Gag Halfrunt at October 26, 2007 07:49 AM

I hope I'm wrong, too.

Posted by: kelley b. at October 26, 2007 08:51 AM

book sounds like the premise in confessions of an economic hit man.

Posted by: jello at October 29, 2007 11:13 AM