A painting of me

Disaster Capitalism

   13 November 2007, terribly early in the morning

I’m barely a third of the way through Naomi Klein’s last essay for Harper’s, Disaster Capitalism, and I’m already seething with rage. I suspect the last two-thirds will be equally as good and as frustrating to read. I love Harper’s.

After each new disaster, it’s tempting to imagine that the loss of life and productivity will finally serve as a wake-up call, provoking the political class to launch some kind of “new New Deal.” In fact, the opposite is taking place: disasters have become the preferred moments for advancing a vision of a ruthlessly divided world, one in which the very idea of a public sphere has no place at all. Call it disaster capitalism. Every time a new crisis hits — even when the crisis itself is the direct by-product of free-market ideology — the fear and disorientation that follow are harnessed for radical social and economic re-engineering. Each new shock is midwife to a new course of economic shock therapy. The end result is the same kind of unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned, that is on display in Baghdad.

Consider the instant reactions to last summer’s various infrastructure disasters. Four days after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, a Wall Street Journal editorial had the solution: “tapping private investors to build and operate public roads and bridges,” with the cost made up from ever-escalating tolls. After heavy rain caused the shutdown of New York City’s subway lines, the New Yark Sun ran an editorial under the headline “Sell the Subways.” It called for individual train lines to compete against one another, luring customers with the safest, driest service — and “charging higher fares when the competing lines, stingier on their investments, were shut down with tracks under water.”[It’s not hard to imagine what this free market in subways would look like: high-speed lines ferrying commuters from the Upper West Side to Wall Street, while the trains serving the South Bronx wouldn’t just continue their long decay-they would simply drown.

It’s a very good read so far. I imagine her book The Shock Doctrine on the same topic will be an interesting read. (It inspired Alfonso CuarĂ³n to create a short film of the same name.) The October Harper’s is particularly good; this months not so much, though I did enjoy the Mitt Romney article very much.

(Also, Harper’s new web site continues to amaze me. I’m so impressed with what they’ve done.)



  1. You know Paul Ford from ftrain.com was the driving force behind the new Harper’s site, yes? That man never ceases to amaze me.

  2. I in fact did know Paul Ford did the redesign. Can’t recall how I stumbled on that information.

    FTrain is cool. I hadn’t checked it out in ages.

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