Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein has travelled to Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan, Haiti and around Australia to report on a growing trend of ‘vulture capitalism’ where the political and economic culture encourages ‘corporate vultures to swoop down upon the carcasses of weakened institutions and industries’. Vulture capitalism produces privatised and for-profit prisons, refugee detention centres, militaries and disaster reconstruction projects. The corporations that run these ventures lack transparency and accountability, and many people are unaware of the power they wield.
I was certainly unaware of the extent to which Australia’s refugee detention centres are privatised. It costs the government more money to keep an asylum seeker in detention than in the community, reports Loewenstein, and it is in the profit-making interest of the private companies running the centres to hold people for as long as possible. Loewenstein also exposes the power of the fossil fuel corporations and travels to James Price Point and PNG to examine the social and environmental consequences. He writes that ‘calling out the corporations that are causing global environmental damage is vital’.
Loewenstein builds on ideas from Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, which documents what she terms ‘disaster capitalism’. Klein investigates the extent to which, after war or natural disaster has ravaged a nation, government deregulation and privatisation is imposed without democratic participation. Loewenstein sees a new brand of vulture capitalism, one that goes beyond the exploitation of disaster to infringe on more and more aspects of society.
But Loewenstein’s book is not all doom and gloom: he talks to people on the ground, each fighting against corporate power and predatory capitalism. His aim is to demand accountability and start a global debate. With a voice that is reasoned and intelligent, he warns of ‘a future that is being written without your consent’.
Kara Nicholson is currently completing a masters in environmental studies and spends her time reading novels to avoid doing any of the actual study part.