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Klein writes: "This catastrophe very likely created by climate change-a crisis born of the colossal regulatory failure to prevent corporations from treating the atmosphere as their open sewer-is just one more opportunity for more deregulation."

Author and activist Naomi Klein. (photo:
Author and activist Naomi Klein. (photo:

Shameless Disaster Capitalism

By Naomi Klein, The Nation

12 November 12


Yes that's right: this catastrophe very likely created by climate change-a crisis born of the colossal regulatory failure to prevent corporations from treating the atmosphere as their open sewer-is just one more opportunity for more deregulation.

he following article first appeared in the Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for their email newsletters here.

Less than three days after Sandy made landfall on the East Coast of the United States, Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute blamed New Yorkers' resistance to big-box stores for the misery they were about to endure. Writing on, he explained that the city's refusal to embrace Walmart will likely make the recovery much harder: "Mom-and-pop stores simply can't do what big stores can in these circumstances," he wrote.

And the preemptive scapegoating didn't stop there. He also warned that if the pace of reconstruction turned out to be sluggish (as it so often is) then "pro-union rules such as the Davis-Bacon Act" would be to blame, a reference to the statute that requires workers on public-works projects to be paid not the minimum wage, but the prevailing wage in the region.

The same day, Frank Rapoport, a lawyer representing several billion-dollar construction and real estate contractors, jumped in to suggest that many of those public works projects shouldn't be public at all. Instead, cash-strapped governments should turn to "public private partnerships," known as "P3s." That means roads, bridges and tunnels being rebuilt by private companies, which, for instance, could install tolls and keep the profits.

Up until now, the only thing stopping them has been the law-specifically the absence of laws in New York State and New Jersey that enable these sorts of deals. But Rapoport is convinced that the combination of broke governments and needy people will provide just the catalyst needed to break the deadlock. "There were some bridges that were washed out in New Jersey that need structural replacement, and it's going to be very expensive," he told The Nation. "And so the government may well not have the money to build it the right way. And that's when you turn to a P3."

Ray Lehmann, co-founder of the R Street Institute, a mouthpiece for the insurance lobby (formerly a division of the climate-denying Heartland Institute), had another public prize in his sights. In a Wall Street Journal article about Sandy, he was quoted arguing for the eventual "full privatization" of the National Flood Insurance Program, the federal initiative that provides affordable protection from some natural disasters-and which private insurers see as unfair competition.

But the prize for shameless disaster capitalism surely goes to right-wing economist Russell S. Sobel, writing in a New York Times online forum. Sobel suggested that, in hard-hit areas, FEMA should create "free trade zones-in which all normal regulations, licensing and taxes [are] suspended." This corporate free-for-all would, apparently, "better provide the goods and services victims need."

Yes that's right: this catastrophe very likely created by climate change-a crisis born of the colossal regulatory failure to prevent corporations from treating the atmosphere as their open sewer-is just one more opportunity for more deregulation. And the fact that this storm has demonstrated that poor and working-class people are far more vulnerable to the climate crisis shows that this is clearly the right moment to strip those people of what few labor protections they have left, as well as to privatize the meager public services available to them. Most of all, when faced with an extraordinarily costly crisis born of corporate greed, hand out tax holidays to corporations.

Is there anyone who can still feign surprise at this stuff? The flurry of attempts to use Sandy's destructive power as a cash grab is just the latest chapter in the very long story I have called The Shock Doctrine. And it is but the tiniest glimpse into the ways large corporations are seeking to reap enormous profits from climate chaos.

One example: between 2008 and 2010, at least 261 patents were filed or issued related to "climate-ready" crops-seeds supposedly able to withstand extreme conditions like droughts and floods; of these patents close to 80 percent were controlled by just six agribusiness giants, including Monsanto and Syngenta. With history as our teacher, we know that small farmers will go into debt trying to buy these new miracle seeds, and that many will lose their land.

When these displaced farmers move to cities seeking work, they will find other peasants, indigenous people and artisanal fishing people who lost their lands for similar reasons. Some will have been displaced by foreign agribusiness companies looking to grow export crops for wealthy nations worried about their own food security in a climate stressed future. Some will have moved because a new breed of carbon entrepreneur was determined to plant a tree farm on what used to be a community-managed forest, in order to collect lucrative credits.

In November 2010, The Economist ran a climate change cover story that serves as a useful (if harrowing) blueprint for how climate change could serve as the pretext for the last great land grab, a final colonial clearing of the forests, farms and coastlines by a handful of multinationals. The editors explain that droughts and heat stress are such a threat to farmers that only big players can survive the turmoil, and that "abandoning the farm may be the way many farmers choose to adapt." They had the same message for fisher folk inconveniently occupying valuable ocean-front lands: wouldn't it be so much safer, given rising seas and all, if they joined their fellow farmers in the urban slums? "Protecting a single port city from floods is easier than protecting a similar population spread out along a coastline of fishing villages."

But, you might wonder, isn't there a joblessness crisis in most of these cities? Nothing a little "reform of labor markets" and free trade can't fix. Besides, cities, they explain, have "social strategies, formal or informal." I'm pretty sure that means that people whose "social strategies" used to involve growing and catching their own food can now cling to life by selling broken pens at intersections, or perhaps by dealing drugs. What the informal social strategy should be when super storm winds howl through those precarious slums remains unspoken.

For a long time, climate change was treated by environmentalists as a great equalizer, the one issue that affected everyone, rich or poor. They failed to account for the myriad ways by which the superrich would protect themselves from the less savory effects of the economic model that made them so wealthy. In the past six years, we have seen the emergence of private firefighters in the United States, hired by insurance companies to offer a "concierge" service to their wealthier clients, as well as the short-lived "HelpJet"-a charter airline in Florida that offered five-star evacuation services from hurricane zones. "No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds, just a first class experience that turns a problem into a vacation." And, post-Sandy, upscale real estate agents are predicting that back-up power generators will be the new status symbol with the penthouse and mansion set.

It seems that for some, climate change is imagined less as a clear and present danger than as a kind of spa vacation; nothing that the right combination of bespoke services and well-curated accessories can't overcome. That, at least, was the impression left by the Barneys New York pre-Sandy sale-which offered deals on Sencha green tea, backgammon sets and $500 throw blankets so its high-end customers could "settle in with style". Let the rest of the world eat "social strategies, formal or informal."

So we know how the shock doctors are readying to exploit the climate crisis, and we know from the past how that would turn out. But here is the real question: Could this crisis present a different kind of opportunity, one that disperses power into the hands of the many rather than consolidating it the hands of the few; one that radically expands the commons, rather than auctions it off in pieces? In short, could Sandy be the beginning of a People's Shock?

I think it can. As I outlined last year in these pages, there are changes we can make that actually have a chance of getting our emissions down to the level science demands. These include relocalizing our economies (so we are going to need those farmers where they are); vastly expanding and reimagining the public sphere to not just hold back the next storm but to prevent even worse disruptions in the future; regulating the hell out of corporations and reducing their poisonous political power; and reinventing economics so it no longer defines success as the endless expansion of consumption.

These are approaches to the crisis would help rebuild the real economy at a time when most of us have had it with speculative bubbles. They would create lasting jobs at a time when they are urgently needed. And they would strengthen our ties to one another and to our communities- goals that, while abstract, can nonetheless save lives in a crisis.

Just as the Great Depression and the Second World War launched populist movements that claimed as their proud legacies social safety nets across the industrialized world, so climate change can be a historic moment to usher in the next great wave of progressive change. Moreover, none of the anti-democratic trickery I described in The Shock Doctrine is necessary to advance this agenda. Far from seizing on the climate crisis to push through unpopular policies, our task is to seize upon it to demand a truly populist agenda.

The reconstruction from Sandy is a great place to start road testing these ideas. Unlike the disaster capitalists who use crisis to end-run democracy, a People's Recovery (as many from the Occupy movement are already demanding) would call for new democratic processes, including neighborhood assemblies, to decide how hard-hit communities should be rebuilt. The overriding principle must be addressing the twin crises of inequality and climate change at the same time. For starters, that means reconstruction that doesn't just create jobs but jobs that pay a living wage. It means not just more public transit, but energy efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. It also means not just more renewable power but democratic community control over those projects.

But at the same time as we ramp up alternatives, we need to step up the fight against the forces actively making the climate crisis worse. Regardless of who wins the election, that means standing firm against the continued expansion of the fossil fuel sector into new and high-risk territories, whether through tar sands, fracking, coal exports to China or Arctic drilling. It also means recognizing the limits of political pressure and going after the fossil fuel companies directly, as we are doing at with our "Do The Math" tour. These companies have shown that they are willing to burn five times as much carbon as the most conservative estimates say is compatible with a livable planet. We've done the math, and we simply can't let them.

We find ourselves in a race against time: either this crisis will become an opportunity for an evolutionary leap, a holistic readjustment of our relationship with the natural world. Or it will become an opportunity for the biggest disaster capitalism free-for-all in human history, leaving the world even more brutally cleaved between winners and losers.

When I wrote The Shock Doctrine, I was documenting crimes of the past. The good news is that this is a crime in progress; it is still within our power to stop it. Let's make sure that this time, the good guys win. your social media marketing partner


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+43 # great_pumpkin 2012-11-12 12:24
Amen, Naomi. I'm with you.
-67 # egbegb 2012-11-12 12:46
"Most of all, when faced with an extraordinarily costly crisis born of corporate greed, hand out tax holidays to corporations"
Honestly, this is one of the silliest statements I've seen in RSN.
Are there no better ways to bring aid and recovery than to wait for incompetent governments?
+30 # wantrealdemocracy 2012-11-12 13:55
Yes, it is what they are doing in New York City. People are helping one another. Neighbor to neighbor. It is not that our government is so 'incompetent' but that they are so corrupt. We voted to keep the corporations in control. Of course our sad choice was between one the the other corporate political party. Time for the people to take a look at where unfettered capitalism has brought us. It is time for the people to rise up and DEMAND that the government listen to the people instead of the 'human being' corporations. We have to get out on the streets and demand a 1% sales tax on all transactions on the stock market. All of a sudden austerity can be beat and the Congress can gain a little respect for their constituents. No one is going to give us anything that we do not insist is what we want. After the tax on Wall stree we cn INSIST that the endless wars of plunder and destruction end AT ONCE!
+20 # Kimc 2012-11-12 15:42
It isn't the government that has been failing us, it has been the private sector. the private sector caused the bubble and the bubble caused the bursting of the bubble -- all the sole responsibility of the private sector. the private sector then goes on to point at the government and blame it -- and people like you believe that lie.
In a democracy, the government IS the people. If you hate the government, you hate The People, and you don't belong here in the USA.
-9 # egbegb 2012-11-13 17:46
The "private sector" was guided by the government.
Gov created derivatives. Gov forced bond buyers to use NRSRO's.
Gov accepted NRSRO's "AAA" ratings for those buckets of crap.
Gov forced banks to lend to no income, no job, no assets people. Gov bought CDO's from banks. Gov lowered interest rates so unqualified people could buy. FDIC, HUD, Fed Reserve, SEC and more changed rules to allow housing bubble. FHA changed its requirements for down payments. Without Federal Government guidance, support and strong encouragement, the housing bubble would never have happened.

Don't fall for "Wall Street was 100% to blame." If you do, all can be assured you don't know what you are talking about.

(PS: I hope this response can get a bigger negative response [-54] than the previous one.)
-8 # egbegb 2012-11-13 17:47
The folks on Long Island and Staten Island are among those who depend on government for help during emergencies.
I don't think they are happy with the Federal Government response.
+2 # CAMUS1111 2012-11-13 14:55
@egbegb... and i thought yours was one of the "silliest statements I've seen in [sic] RSN," and other than the fact that i would substitute "stupidest" for "silliest," I'd be right.
0 # bingers 2012-11-14 17:43
Quoting egbegb:
"Most of all, when faced with an extraordinarily costly crisis born of corporate greed, hand out tax holidays to corporations"
Honestly, this is one of the silliest statements I've seen in RSN.
Are there no better ways to bring aid and recovery than to wait for incompetent governments?

Certainly government's record in this regard beats the corporate response all hollow. It's only when conservatives control government response that it's incompetent. Great job Brownie.
0 # David Starr 2012-11-15 13:02
@egbegb: Governments have a public obligation to find better ways; although it depends on the ideological make-up. Corporations are not required to have that obligation, which makes them more prone to incompetence, and of course, worse.
-18 # Milarepa 2012-11-12 12:55
Thank you, Naomi, for pulling all this into the here and now. But the here and now ain't gonna do it. Climate change is just two words that hurt no one. The hurricanes, floods, fires and earthquakes do the hurting. Does it matter how much money you have in the bank when the bank is flooded to the ceiling and three floors up, and you're sitting in your penthouse with no place to go?
+19 # Todd Williams 2012-11-12 14:16
Milarepa, you obviously didn't read the entire article or you would not have made such a statement.
+34 # Lgfoot 2012-11-12 13:06
Unfathomable greed and lack of compassion must be the necessary prerequisite to doing the kind of 'business' half of America believes is holy doctrine. This won't be easy.
-3 # egbegb 2012-11-14 17:45
Spoken by someone who has never started a business.
Is that correct, Lgfoot?
If not why did you start your business?
-37 # America 2012-11-12 13:49
First part of this article brilliant.

But to blame the storm on man's activities causing climate change is preposterous.

The writer and all the climate change proponents need to check the 4 billion years of the history of this planet and just don't misjudge the power of 'nature'.

Check the top 10 terrifying natural disasters at

Then go figure how man caused them.

These simplistic explanantions ... are they supposed to make the thousands suffering people in NJ and NYC look for human scapegoats?
+18 # Todd Williams 2012-11-12 13:49
Wow. That really blew me away! I was just looking at a news piece on CNN regarding the lack of electrical power in the Far Rockaways and the resulting suffering in a high-rise public housing project. I wonder when developers will be clamoring to get rid of the public housing and put up uber rich condos? After all, the land is near the beach and too valuable for those poor folks in public housing.
+23 # Vardoz 2012-11-12 13:51
Corporations want to undo our Democracy and would be happy if all regs and protections are dead and buried at any cost to people or the planet. They are Maggots and if not regulated will destroy everything.
+8 # Kimc 2012-11-12 15:45
We need more solutions -- doable solutions. I agree with what Naomi says, but how do we get there from here? How do we make this change?
+3 # hbheinze 2012-11-12 19:45
Kimc, I'm with you. I absolutely agree with everything Naomi says, but I always feel absolutely helpless. Yes, there might be solutions, but they're so huge & lofty & seemingly unreachable---w hat can one ordinary citizen DO? That's what nobody seems to know! So frustrating!!!
0 # Derek1G 2012-11-14 15:18
Turn your yard or a vacant lot into a garden using principles of Permaculture. It's an empowering, invigorating, proactive thing to do. And in the long run, it will taste good while supporting good health.
0 # John Steinsvold 2012-11-12 18:48
An Alternative to Capitalism (since we cannot legislate morality)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative".
She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

John Steinsvold

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."~ Albert Einstein
0 # dbriz 2012-11-12 20:01
An Alternative to John Steinsvold (since we can't censor these threads)

One glass of Cabernet, soft music, dim lights. If still unable to ignore, repeat the procedure.

"Insanity is caused by seeing the same freeloading advertisement over and over again." dbriz
-4 # Milarepa 2012-11-13 00:57
I'm always delighted to get a lot of red thumbs-down. It means I'm having an effect on readers, maybe even upsetting them. We need to be upset these days, that's where change comes from, doesn't it?
+2 # Todd Williams 2012-11-13 10:09
Yes, change comes from a compromise (in some cases) between equally intellegent and committed people. It does not come from inane statments meant to shock.
+1 # John Steinsvold 2012-11-13 11:27

Today, we live in a materialistic society. Material wealth is a status symbol. Currently in the USA, wealth directly symbolizes competence, power, and intelligence. In a way of life without money, we will all be economically equal (or nearly so; at least poverty will be eliminated). You will not be able to tell a CEO from a janitor by the clothes they wear or by the cars they drive or by the homes they live in. The aristocracy in a way of life without money will be those who contribute the most to society in the way of achievement, leadership & ideas. They will be held in our esteem.

Perhaps for the first time in history, we, as a nation and as a people, have the ability to conduct our internal economic affairs without the need to use money. We have the necessary democratic government, we have the abundant resources, we have the educational facilities and also the technical knowledge to do so. In light of what is happening in our economy today, should we not, at least, explore this possibility?

John Steinsvold

"The free market is indeed free. Its free of responsibility and accountability. Owners are free to ignore the future, free to act in ways that generate short term gains for themselves and push long term costs onto other people, the environment and the future."
-Lloyd Ireland
0 # dbriz 2012-11-13 13:56


Much preferable to redundant posts advertising an essay.

You raise interesting propositions, some may find worthy of discussion, even debate.

Over the centuries, there have been any number experimental communities set up along the lines of your suggestions.

Their success at becoming models for larger society has been negligible however.

Even as late as the 70's we had much publicity around the communal activities of flower children, peace, love and harmony devotee's.

It is always possible that your explorations will lead the way. So, yes by all means explore away.
-1 # John Steinsvold 2012-11-13 23:09
Yes, in the past, there have been numerous attempts at various forms of "Utopia". Their failures are well documented. For example, at Johnstown, people hunted at night so they wouldn’t have to share their food with others. It failed because food was scarce in those days. As a nation, we can supply the necessities and luxuries for everyone many times over. Otherwise, a way of life without money could not be attempted. Other groups have tried by isolating themselves in a colony but could not sustain themselves because of their isolation. Each has a sad story to tell.

In some respects, our economy will be the same as it is today. Our free enterprise system will remain in place; but no money will be exchanged. Profit will no longer be a factor and cooperation will replace competition. Government, industry and the people will work together as a team toward common goals.

John Steinsvold

The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.
~Elizabeth Barlow
+1 # David Starr 2012-11-13 13:56
There are quite a few terms to use regarding capitalism. Klein, of course, uses the term "disaster." Yeah, it's precisely within its' nature priority-wise. Labor is the superior to capital. Without the former, the later wouldn't exist. So, I'll dare say that socialism, given its' nature in prioritizing labor's interests and rights, is superior to capitalism, and thus should regulate, monitor and domesticate it. Capitalism has proven to be too irresponsible, putting it mildly, functioning on it own. Its' nature is that way.
+1 # wfalco 2012-11-13 18:27
Perhaps the Rockaways and Staten Island could get an I.M.F. loan, implement an austerity plan, and slash social spending.
Disaster Capitalism at its finest-debt for government (a.k.a.-the middle and woring classes)and big money for the Masters of the Universe.
-1 # Duster 2012-11-14 01:25
Humbug is about the best I can put it. Anyone who thinks that Sandy was "avoidable" has not learned from history - in any fashion. First Sany was a big storm, yes, but not the biggest in history to hit the east coast. Second, damage caused by any large storm comming ashore, will be greater now than 50 years ago, and would have been greater 50 years ago than 100. This is unavaoidable. Since the onset of Euroamerican colonization population, development and potential economic loss have consistently increased. This is function of sociology, geography and economics. It is unavoidable under ANY circumstance short of a plague or nuclear war reducing the east coast to a wasteland. Trying to claim responsibility and propose to control via "controlling" emmissions is not merely stupid, it is delusional.

Given the basic assumptions of AGW, the more reasonable view would be that AGW REDUCED the damage Sandy caused. Thermal ghradients between the poles and the equator drive weather. AGW should produce lower gradients - there is considerable noise about arctic warming, ergo lower gradients, less powerful storms. You cannot have it both ways.
0 # bingers 2012-11-14 17:38
I guess none of these dunces is aware that the problem has been caused by low taxes and deregulation.

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