How Disaster Drives Economy

It is profitable to let the world go to hell.
— Jørgen Randers, professor of climate strategy

Jørgen Randers, professor of climate strategy at the Norwegian Business School first addressed climate change in 1972 with his seminal work, The Limits to Growth: “Capitalism is carefully designed to allocate capital to the most profitable projects. And this is exactly what we don’t need today…” Randers lamented the fact that corporations and governments refused to invest in more expensive solar and wind power, instead preferring to fund cheap fossil fuels. Forty-five years later we are at a crossroads. The transition to sustainability is still in its infancy. Robust emissions-reduction limits should be in place now but that probably won’t happen until disaster is upon us. At that point, it will be too late to adopt policies and direct capital toward relief – but rest assured, someone will still be making a profit.

Despite the fact that just 1% own 48% of the world’s wealth [and that percentage continues to climb] while the least well-off own just 5.5%, epidemic resource plunder and worldwide corporate rapacity continues unabated. Climate change and economic disparity are part of the same conversation – a market system that incentivizes greed. In Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe, journalist Antony Loewenstein provides a chilling account of how corporations forge profits from economic crisis. Disaster is profitable – but only for some.

Loewenstein cites the “Reagan Revolution” as the beginning of the end of the middle class and of any hope for a more equitable distribution of wealth. He’s not wrong. Reagan era deregulation made it easy for the federal government to profit from “unaccountable financial private interests.” Since then, even more wealth and power has shifted to unaccountable interests who routinely undertake whatever practices necessary to secure profits. The collusion of big business and government has made it easier for multinationals to exploit resources anywhere in the world and one of the best ways to make a profit is to exploit already vulnerable populations.

Loewenstein takes us into the bowels of desperation and capitalist plunder. It’s a journey into dystopia and America is neck-deep in corruption, clandestine deals, human rights violations, and subterfuge. Multinationals such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton, routinely cash in on despair and vulnerability by quickly imbedding contractors and policies – that function as governments – in nations where war or natural disasters have destabilized the economy. Once ensconced, private corporations receive little, if any, resistance. Private Military Contractors [PMCs] survive on chaos; former soldiers can make thousands of dollars a day providing security in war-ravaged countries. Refugees and asylum seekers are housed in substandard and dangerous for-profit detention centers that don’t abide by any code of ethics; people are routinely beaten and starved and women raped. War, prisons, and disaster have been successfully corporatized. It’s nothing new, but the extent of the devastation, the power of the financial oligarchy, and Loewenstein’s precise and disturbing account, is riveting. 


    For my review of Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business, by Rana Foroohar and The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, by Guy Standing – head on over to The Indypendent.

— Deborah Johnstone

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