...shock therapy on countries in various states of shock for at least three decades...
April 17, 2005 1:43 PM   Subscribe

The Rise of Disaster Capitalism --...Although hotels and industry have already started reconstructing on the coast, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, governments have passed laws preventing families from rebuilding their oceanfront homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly relocated inland, to military style barracks in Aceh and prefab concrete boxes in Thailand. The coast is not being rebuilt as it was--dotted with fishing villages and beaches strewn with handmade nets. Instead, governments, corporations and foreign donors are teaming up to rebuild it as they would like it to be: the beaches as playgrounds for tourists, the oceans as watery mines for corporate fishing fleets, both serviced by privatized airports and highways built on borrowed money....
Naomi Klein on "reconstruction" money after natural disasters--and who benefits. (Makes Wolfowitz seem like a less unlikely choice to head the World Bank after reading, too.)
posted by amberglow (36 comments total)

 
Would it be bad of me to write a letter to the Red Cross demanding my five dollars back?

This is disgusting.
posted by futureproof at 1:47 PM on April 17, 2005


I saw this before (posted on the disinfo page if I recall correct) and read two paragraphs of typical Klein wailing and got bored. Thank you very much for extracting the salient point from the end of her article that I did not get and posting this, amberglow.

When I took a journalism class they said lead with all the main points succinctly.
posted by bukvich at 2:05 PM on April 17, 2005


Let me be the first to say it:

I'm not surprised.

I just went back and looked at an old email exchange I had with some friends wherein we discussed this very outcome about two days after the tsunami. We were specifically discussing how this probably meant the end for a community of fishermen in Inida who'd been fighting the development of a waterpark in their mangrove swamps but we bet, no we knew, this would happen over the entire region.

Personally, I've just decided that I will never take a vacation there. I hope a lot of other people feel the same way.
posted by fshgrl at 2:05 PM on April 17, 2005


btw, this is why I donated directly to a village over the net. Even if it was a scam I'd rather be ripped off by locals or individuals than corporate interests any day.
posted by fshgrl at 2:08 PM on April 17, 2005


Those goddamned motherfuckers. Way to kick someone when they're down.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:14 PM on April 17, 2005


That's it, the world is over. I'm off to shove a crayon in my ear and be blissfully ignorant of all of this shit.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:30 PM on April 17, 2005


many observers say that today's disaster capitalism really hit its stride with Hurricane Mitch. For a week in October 1998, Mitch parked itself over Central America, swallowing villages whole and killing more than 9,000. Already impoverished countries were desperate for reconstruction aid--and it came, but with strings attached. In the two months after Mitch struck, with the country still knee-deep in rubble, corpses and mud, the Honduran congress initiated what the Financial Times called "speed sell-offs after the storm." It passed laws allowing the privatization of airports, seaports and highways and fast-tracked plans to privatize the state telephone company, the national electric company and parts of the water sector. It overturned land-reform laws and made it easier for foreigners to buy and sell property. It was much the same in neighboring countries: In the same two months, Guatemala announced plans to sell off its phone system, and Nicaragua did likewise, along with its electric company and its petroleum sector.

All of the privatization plans were pushed aggressively by the usual suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, "the World Bank and International Monetary Fund had thrown their weight behind the [telecom] sale, making it a condition for release of roughly $47 million in aid annually over three years and linking it to about $4.4 billion in foreign-debt relief for Nicaragua."


Thanks for this, amberglow; it's a good piece that summarizes recent events in a shocking new way.
posted by mediareport at 2:31 PM on April 17, 2005


Condi might call this too an "opportunity."

sigh.
posted by LouReedsSon at 2:45 PM on April 17, 2005


It does seem that in the interest of tourism they're basically getting rid of a lot of what used to bring the tourists there in the first place.
posted by clevershark at 3:34 PM on April 17, 2005


Condi might call this too an "opportunity."

I wonder if Condi would whistle the same tune were an "opportunity" of this magnitude, natural or man-made, were to visit the US of A.
posted by clevershark at 3:35 PM on April 17, 2005


clevershark, you think she wouldn't? This bunch has no more loyalty to individual Americans that could be affected by such a disaster as they do for Sri Lankan villagers.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:00 PM on April 17, 2005


Well, DUH!!!! What did anybody really expect? Do you really believe that Mr. Indigenous living on the beach for generations had a deed of any sort to his land?

I was held so nasty, evil, and heartless for suggesting this outcome months ago. I haven't changed, and being right isn't helping my outlook.
posted by buzzman at 8:27 PM on April 17, 2005


I had a feeling this would happen. [this is truly sad]
posted by shoepal at 8:37 PM on April 17, 2005


Come the revolution...
posted by five fresh fish at 8:38 PM on April 17, 2005


Come the revolution...
... you and I will be the first up against the wall, because the revolution will be corporatised and sanitised for the protection of customers of big business.

I too foresaw this - one of my first thoughts after coming to terms with the sheer tragedy was that a greater tragedy was to follow, being the permanent loss of homes and livelihood because the only ones able to rebuild anything will be governments and big business.
posted by dg at 8:48 PM on April 17, 2005


Anyone remember that Far Side comic where a mother just barely saves her toddler from falling into a pit of snakes in the center of the living room? The caption reads, "Stan, little Joey almost fell into the snake pit again!" The joke being, of course, why do these people have a snake pit in their living room.

As long as we allow global corporatism to run rampant and without restraint, this kind of revolting exploitation will continue and accelerate. Because it has to. I repeat: has to. Capitalism requires ever-increasing consumption to live. This is a classic example of growth without conscience. It's fucked. And it owns us.
posted by squirrel at 9:05 PM on April 17, 2005


bukvich: I saw this before (posted on the disinfo page if I recall correct) and read two paragraphs of typical Klein wailing and got bored.

Here is the first paragraph.
Last summer, in the lull of the August media doze, the Bush Administration's doctrine of preventive war took a major leap forward. On August 5, 2004, the White House created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, headed by former US Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual. Its mandate is to draw up elaborate "post-conflict" plans for up to twenty-five countries that are not, as of yet, in conflict. According to Pascual, it will also be able to coordinate three full-scale reconstruction operations in different countries "at the same time," each lasting "five to seven years."

This hardly had me bored. This told me that American Policy is to now plan on ways to benifit financially, politically, socially, and worst of all culturally on the tragedy of others.

That had you bored? Wake the fuck up. For serious.
posted by futureproof at 9:11 PM on April 17, 2005


The answer, of course, is not to send people back to reconstructions of their idyllic squallor on the beaches. Despite the lines about "hand-made nets" which makes us all wistful for the simple life of manual labor, these victims were living a lifestyle that most Americans would not accept in terms of about any quality-of-life metric. They get sick, they die young (and yes, of course Western capitalism contributes to that too).
But something that gets lost too often in the outrage over what is rapacious greed is that the battle is not to simply keep the resorts out and the people in their "traditional" life. The battle is to make sure that every development that goes in is one that will serve the public who suffered, and be an investment in their futures.
That can come with more hotels and more tourism. In this case, the development doesn't seem to be sustainable in either environmental or class terms, but it could have been. And that's what's worth fighting for. To make sure that development does happen, but that it's the correct development.
(And that's a big reason why people need to pay attention and stay engaged with their governments, even when their governments are acting overseas).
posted by klangklangston at 9:27 PM on April 17, 2005


I think you make some good points klangklangston, but I also feel that it's such a fine line being drawn.

What if the inhabitants don't want development? What if they are perfectly happy waking up in the morning, going fishing, spending time with their family and then going to sleep?

Is it so bad to live a life not worrying about interest rates and as a trade off maybe dying at a younger age?
posted by futureproof at 9:42 PM on April 17, 2005


You commie pinko naysayers need to think Big Picture:

1. Push your Congressmen and -women to vote to gut that no-good socialist Social Security welfare program

2. Subsequently invest heavily in coastal insurance companies, tropical leisure industries and hardware supply corporations (why not pull in those sweet dividends from all ends?)

3. Pray to Jesus for increased global warming and more tsunamis (hey, a rising tide lifts all boats!)

4. Profit handsomely from the resulting havok!
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:06 PM on April 17, 2005


So, what are the alternatives to the World Bank? I agree, it's a manipulative tool of capitalist interests, and it forces countries to make uncomfortable choices between liberty and safety. But what other options, real or hypothetical, could developing countries have to receive this kind of assistance? It seems that the very things that make the Bank so reviled are also responsible for its continued existence: like any other investment bank, it protects its interests by requiring a level of accountability on the part of those it lends money to. It's not a charity, but no source of aid is, and it seems that there's no other organization that has the muscle and the longevity to provide what it currently does. Is the problem with the Bank in the nature of its demands? If so what demands should it be making instead? If not, where is the money going to come from? What strings will be attached in that case?

Futureproof:
Is it so bad to live a life not worrying about interest rates and as a trade off maybe dying at a younger age?
Have you ever seen someone on the edge of death due to malnutrition? I have, once. It was probably a pretty gruesome example, but here's what I learned: early death, the nonrandom kind that drags down life expectancy statistics, is the culmination of a truly dehumanizing process of malnutrition and disease. Should the right to enjoy a traditional culture be subordinate to the right to health? It's an awful decision to make, but if I had to make it, yeah, it should. I think that the only humane way to maintain traditional cultures is basically to subsidize them, and many developing countries don't have that option.

AlexReynolds: I don't understand what you're getting at. Conservatives are... bad? Then Jesus does something? What?
posted by monocyte at 12:52 AM on April 18, 2005


So, the big corporations are engaged in a conspiracy to put tourists in the danger spots, and move the locals to secure spots up the hills?

When the next wave hits and the western tourists are flushed out to sea, who will be crying then?

On preview - nonprofits are just tax shelters. They are subject to the same greed that every other human enterprise is subject to. It just expresses itself in a slightly different form.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:14 AM on April 18, 2005


I'm off to shove a crayon in my ear and be blissfully ignorant of all of this shit.

No, no! It's supposed to be sharpened pencils in your nose.

Hello? Hello!?

Sigh. I guess he can't hear me...
posted by spazzm at 2:40 AM on April 18, 2005


It's not as simple as oh, their lives sucked anyway this will be for their own good (not to mention I seriously question that judgement, these people were not starving to death, they were poor). It is a matter of collective and indigenous rights to things like water, property and fishing grounds. Development would have come anyway and in the natural scheme of things the locals would have been involved and would have benefited. Now they have been moved inland, villages broken up and their claim to resources will not be honored. Instead the resources will be divvied up amongst corporate interests by the government.

I bet you $10 we hear a story about villages being deliberately broken up and relocated far apart in order to stop collective action within the next month.
posted by fshgrl at 3:57 AM on April 18, 2005


monocyte, interesting observations, I would suggest that the problem is balancing what people want with what they are told they need. The current scheme does not seem to have any provision for what they want at all. What they need does not seem to be decided on any basis other than maximum profit in the short term for big business and government. The pursuit of further development on the coast will result in greater destruction following another similar disaster. This is due to the fact that the mangrove covered areas reduce damage from the tsunami. Mangroves are destroyed in prawn and shrimp harvesting and for hotel construction.

Have you ever seen someone on the edge of death due to malnutrition? I have, once. It was probably a pretty gruesome example, but here's what I learned: early death, the nonrandom kind that drags down life expectancy statistics, is the culmination of a truly dehumanizing process of malnutrition and disease. Should the right to enjoy a traditional culture be subordinate to the right to health?

Traditional fishing methods are sustainable and would not result in malnutrition. Over fishing by commercial fishing fleets may result in a lack of fish, but this is not the fault of the local inhabitants. They should be compensated for it if it impinges on their quality of life, IMHO.

It's an awful decision to make, but if I had to make it, yeah, it should.

'Social engineering' projects which do not have the peoples' well being at heart are doomed to result in damage to a society. Some people may get rich in the process, but they are probably rich already so they are far from deserving.

I think that the only humane way to maintain traditional cultures is basically to subsidize them, and many developing countries don't have that option.

Sustainable tourism, developed by locals on their own terms would be one way to avoid this scenario. There are plenty of others that I can think of, and I am sure the locals could think of plenty more.
posted by asok at 4:42 AM on April 18, 2005


Asok: Actually, traditional fishing does not mean sustainable practice. Fishing can only support a small population without turning into commercial fishing, and in most developing nations the population is balooning at a rate where even things that have been sustainable are now untennable...
posted by klangklangston at 6:42 AM on April 18, 2005


I wonder if Condi would whistle the same tune were an "opportunity" of this magnitude, natural or man-made, were to visit the US of A.
posted by clevershark at 3:35 PM PST on April 17


clevershank, they already got their opportunity (9/11) and they worked miracles with it!

...There are plenty of others that I can think of, and I am sure the locals could think of plenty more.
posted by asok at 4:42 AM PST on April 18


asok, that's exactly what the rest of the world thought when Bush et al decided to screw the world after the 9/11 opportunity, but the locals (that's you, dear Americans) did fuck all about it.
posted by acrobat at 6:59 AM on April 18, 2005


Are there really people who believe that involving the viallagers affected in the development of the land their village used to stand on is too much to ask?

Are there really those people here?
posted by mediareport at 7:52 AM on April 18, 2005


The most efficent way to regenerate the local economy would be to give people the damn money to spend as they see fit: on moving expenses, rebuilding, education or what have you. If they choose to sell up and leave, you BUY the land from them or from the village. That way you are not creating a flood of economic refugees.

If you think malnutrition was a problem before wait till these people hit the slums.
posted by fshgrl at 8:07 AM on April 18, 2005


This is going to be kind of scattershot, I have to post and run.

First off, the comment about malnutrition was not intended to be an example of the typical consequences of poverty; I intended to point out that there's Hobbes in with the Rousseau of traditional culture.

'Social engineering' projects which do not have the peoples' well being at heart are doomed to result in damage to a society.
Oh, I definitely agree with this, and I find the glee with which business has poured itself into the the exploitation of disaster to be truly unsettling and disheartening. But I think that the larger problems with the types of intervention that we're discussing don't arise from malice: I'm sure that the administrators of the World Bank really believe that their approach is the best way to improve the lives of people in developing nations. That is, they really do believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.

The repeated emphasis on local and community investment is, I think, one good answer to my original question about alternative means for the distribution of aid; it major benefit seems to be that it gives individuals and communities a lot more control of their own fate, and it ensures the benefits of aid will go directly to the people, rather than getting misappropriated or mismanaged by higher levels.

But what are the drawbacks of this approach? There have to be tradeoffs. It seems to me that the biggest problem would be related to the development of infrastructure, especially after disasters: the maintenance and repair of roads, electrical systems, etc. is likely linked to a system that is too large for individual communities to manage. Of course, this is a general problem after disasters, no matter what the aid strategy. It seems like the barracks that Klein mentions were a 'quick-fix' response to infrastructural failure: since aid can't easily get out to the villages, bring all the villagers to the distribution point.


Are there really people who believe that involving the villagers affected in the development of the land their village used to stand on is too much to ask?
I don't like your insinuation. I'm not trying to infantilize people in the third world, just trying to remind people that nothing is free, and that any scheme for aid will have to privilege some rights over others as a result of this.
posted by monocyte at 11:17 AM on April 18, 2005


any scheme for aid will have to privilege some rights over others as a result of this.

Did you read the linked article, monocyte? It clearly shows that this isn't a question of "privileging some rights over others" in a tough balance of realpolitik. It's a question of greedy fucks looking to remake the existing world into a place where local people have no say whatsoever in how their land is exploited, in order to increase the short-term profits of large, politically corrupt corporations who are salivating over the same land. I can't imagine a more ignorant question than the one you asked: "what other options, real or hypothetical, could developing countries have to receive this kind of assistance?"

Are you really unaware of other options available to third world countries aside from Western-corporate-friendly World Bank abuse? I mean, look at Argentina; it did everything the IMF and World Bank wanted and its economy imploded. This is economic change as extortion, and it is *not* the only option. Do some basic reading about sustainable development, ok?
posted by mediareport at 3:35 PM on April 18, 2005


Despite the lines about "hand-made nets" which makes us all wistful for the simple life of manual labor, these victims were living a lifestyle that most Americans would not accept in terms of about any quality-of-life metric. They get sick, they die young (and yes, of course Western capitalism contributes to that too).

Um, bullshit.

This has been going on all up and down the coast of Vietnam for a decade without any tsunami. Autocratic faux-socialist (ten percent flat tax, no social security, no unemployment benefit) gummint displacing fishing villages in order to build hotels. Refugees moving on to live in ditches in the urban areas. I went to as many of these villages as I could get to before they were gone. The people live long lives of relative leisure. There is little disease as people live more healthily than we'll ever know. The children were the happiest of any I've ever seen. I saw the disappearance of the last lives worth living on the face of the earth. The only thing that made me leave was that I was not allowed to stay. It makes me sick every day to think about it.
posted by 3.2.3 at 8:49 PM on April 18, 2005


Are you really unaware of other options available to third world countries aside from Western-corporate-friendly World Bank abuse? I mean, look at Argentina; it did everything the IMF and World Bank wanted and its economy imploded. This is economic change as extortion, and it is *not* the only option. Do some basic reading about sustainable development, ok?

Sustainable development. I see this busted out all the time like some kind of magic wand that can eliminate social and economic ills in the developing world. But basically you're saying that the patient wouldn't have died if only he got healthier. Sustainable development is an effect, not a method; it's what we want coming out of a process, not what's put in. In general it seems like the schemes that people call 'sustainable' involve trading short-term gains for long-term growth, and I'll take it that this is what you meant.

All well and good. So turning to disasters: it seems like the short-term tradeoffs made here would be made against people's lives. That is, if action isn't taken now, nobody's going to be around for their bright and cheery sustainable futures. This sort of limits the acceptable trades that can be made- if you won't go to the multinationals, and you can't supply immediate relief out of pocket, how do you do it? Answer this question either as a policymaker in the first world preparing relief mechanisms for future disasters or as an administrator (at any level) of a third world country which has just now experienced a disaster.
posted by monocyte at 9:13 PM on April 18, 2005


What would it take for all the rebuilding efforts in disaster areas to rebuild the site to exactly how it was before the disaster?
posted by futureproof at 12:07 PM on April 19, 2005


Yes, by all means, move the fishermen inland.

They will now contribute to the economic life of their homeland... by serving as waiters and doormen at snazzy resorts.
posted by dreamsign at 5:29 AM on April 21, 2005


AlexReynolds:

3. Pray to Jesus for increased global warming and more tsunamis (hey, a rising tide lifts all boats!)

This has always made me chuckle, ever since its deployment in the Reagan years, as it presupposes that one can afford to own a boat and isn't just treading water. A rising tide drowns all non-boat-owners.

Of course, these days I'm chuckling less from bemusement and more from sadness.
posted by trigonometry at 10:12 AM on April 21, 2005


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