The slow curse of disaster capitalism covers the world

I recently wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald about the ever-increasing arrival of the Shock Doctrine in Australia and Asia-Pacific. Privatisation running riot.

George Monbiot writes about the same problems facing Britain:

We’ve been staring at the wrong list. In an effort to guess what will hit us tomorrow, we’ve been trying to understand the first phase of the British government’s assault on the public sector: its bonfire of the quangos. Almost all the public bodies charged with protecting the environment, animal welfare and consumers have been either hobbled or killed(1). But that’s only half the story. Look again, and this time make a list of the quangos which survived.

If the government’s aim had been to destroy useless or damaging public bodies, it would have started with the Commonwealth Development Corporation. It was set up to relieve poverty in developing countries, but when New Labour tried, and failed, to privatise it, the CDC completely changed its mission. Now it sluices money into lucrative corporate ventures, while massively enriching its own directors. Private Eye discovered that in 2007 this quango paid its chief executive just over a million pounds(2). The magazine has also shown how the CDC has become entangled in a series of corruption cases(3). Uncut. Unreformed.

The same goes for the Export Credit Guarantee Department. The ECGD effectively subsidises private corporations, by underwriting the investments they make abroad. At one point, 42% of its budget was spent on propping up BAE’s weapons sales(4). It also pours money into drilling for oil in fragile environments(5,6). A recent court case showed how it has underwritten contracts obtained with the help of bribery(7,8). Uncut. Unreformed.

The Sea Fish Industry Authority exists “to help improve profitability for the seafood industry”(9). Though it is a public body, all but one of its 11 directors work for either the fishing industry or food companies(10). They seek to “promote the consumption of seafood”(11), to “champion the industry in public debates”(12) and to “influence the regulatory process” in the industry’s favour(13). Uncut. Unreformed.

Can you see the pattern yet? Public bodies whose purpose is to hold corporations to account are being swept away. Public bodies whose purpose is to help boost corporate profits, regardless of the consequences for people and the environment, have sailed through unharmed. What the two lists suggest is that the economic crisis is the disaster the Conservatives have been praying for. The government’s programme of cuts looks like a classic example of disaster capitalism: using a crisis to re-shape the economy in the interests of business.