Q&A: Antony Loewenstein and Guardian readers debate vulture capitalism

The recent release of my new book, Profits of Doom (and forthcoming documentary trailer), gives me a unique opportunity to discuss issues too often ignored in the mainstream media.

Today the Guardian hosted a Q&A session in which I engaged for three hours with readers from across the world on vulture capitalism.

Here’s my introductory piece and check out the countless comments:

What strikes me is the sheer waste and ignorance. Governments and private companies, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and Australia, act with impunity and only profits on their mind. This isn’t a conspiracy or an accident, it’s the economic system under which the vast bulk of the world lives and breathes daily. Vulture capitalism is the religion and its followers are ubiquitous in political parties, business, the media and popular commentary.

What’s missing is the human element, responsibility for the actions of corporations and officials that occur in my own country or sphere of influence. Noam Chomsky… has presciently written… that because we “can do something about it” that’s reason enough to investigate the role of multinationals and governments behaving beyond the law close to home and abroad.

I’ve spent the last three years traveling to war zones, poverty-stricken nations, privatised detention centres, polluted and discarded mines, clothing sweat shops and multinational resource sites in an attempt to understand how the world is truly ordered, away from the spin of the 24/7 news cycle. I witness resistance across the globe and it inspires me.

My book and documentary-in-the-making,… Profits of Doom, aims to show how the last 30 years has seen the corporation… become more powerful… than the state and the implications for society and human rights.

I’m using the thesis designed by Naomi Klein in her 2007 best-seller,The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and expanding it beyond elites benefiting from disaster by arguing the nature of capitalism itself encourages and enriches exploitation in nearly every aspect of our existence. Alternatives are desperately needed.

One of the most egregious examples of outsourcing… is the role of British company Serco, a firm that specialises in running prisons, hospitals, detention centres for asylum seekers, juvenile justice programs and even nuclear early warning systems. Its record,… documented in countless UK and Australian government reports… and a high-level Serco whistle-blower in my book, is shocking.

“We’re in the human warehousing business”, “Sean” told me. The reality inside immigration centres, many of which I have visited in Australia and off-shore, is isolation with under-trained staff managing distressed and traumatised asylum seekers. Inevitably the mix is toxic for all concerned. But the more refugee boats that arrive, the greater the profits for the company.

Sean told me recently that the bottom line is all that counts for Serco management in Britain and Australia – he reminded me that the company can’t cope with the roughly 10,000 people in its care but never acknowledged this to the authorities – while Canberra struggles to process Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis and Tamils who don’t expect to be imprisoned by misery profiteers.

Vulture capitalism thrives because public debate so rarely articulates the necessary role of the state to care for the most vulnerable in our midst. “The inglorious history of privatising public services moves from failure to disaster”,… editorialised the Guardian in late July.

It’s time that serious questions are asked.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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