The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

And there is no doubt that there are profits to be made in the reconstruction business. There are massive engineering and supplies contracts ($10 billion to Halliburton in Iraq and Afghanistan alone); “democracy building” has exploded into a $2 billion industry; and times have never been better for public-sector consultants–the private firms that advise governments on selling off their assets, often running government services themselves as subcontractors. (Bearing Point, the favored of these firms in the United States, reported that the revenues for its “public services” division “had quadrupled in just five years,” and the profits are huge: $342 million in 2002–a profit margin of 35 percent.)


As in other reconstruction sites, from Haiti to Iraq, tsunami relief has little to do with recovering what was lost. 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 KleinThe Rise of Disaster Capitalism (The Nation)

Klein sees, in the global outpouring of support in the wake of December’s tsunami, a crass, opportunistic colonialism. Instead of rebuilding the small fishing villages, the money will be used to build industrial fishing farms, and more tourist facilities.

Of course, rebuilding costs money. It’s shocking to think of the displaced villagers still huddled in refugee camps after all this time, but Klein is using that emotional image not to draw attention to the villagers’ plight, but as ammunition for a political statement.

And there’s nothing wrong with that — this is an opinion piece, not a news story. But I was bothered by Klein’s selective use of Condoleezza Rice’s January statement: “I do agree that the tsunami was a wonderful opportunity to show not just the U.S. government, but the heart of the American people. And I think it has paid great dividends for us.”

Klein trims the quote, writing “Condoleezza Rice sparked a small controversy by describing the tsunami as ‘a wonderful opportunity’ that ‘has paid great dividends for us.'” As Klein puts it, Rice seems to be saying that the tsunami paid great dividends, but grammatically speaking, “opportunity” is just as plausiblly what she was referring to when she said “it”. Taking the whole statement in context, I find it obvious that Rice was speaking of the American response to the tsunami, not to the tsunami itself.

Rice’s original quotation was easily googlable, and since my expertise is in language, I can easily see what Klein has done to Rice’s original statement in order to make her (Klein’s) position stronger. But because I’m hardly an expert in international finace or global politics, I don’t know what other detials Klein has similarly dressed up to suit her argument.

I found Klein’s ethical argument about the nature of the “reconstruction” to be gripping and convincing. I actually started blogging this editorial out of a sense of outrage at the treatment of the tsunami victims. But her conclusion is an attack on Rice, and not a very effective one. It reminds me of the attacks against Bush for insisting that the U.S. government will never stop thinking of new ways to harm our country and our people. Of course, Republicans are just as silly when they act as if Al Gore really claimed to have invented the internet.

Grammar flaming is fun, but it doesn’t change minds or solve problems. If you just want to incite your own loyal supporters, then that’s another story.