After a disaster, why is it that some people or groups
profit while others struggle? Australian journalist Antony
Lowenstein has travelled across continents and into
prisons, learning how multinational corporations protect
themselves and make money in unexpected ways. He describes
DISASTER CAPITALISM, a term coined by Naomi Klein, a
Canadian journalist. First, he tells us that the wealthiest
one percent of the world's population owns 46% of the
world's assets. Quoting from sources as diverse as the US
Department of Agriculture and Rolling Stone writer Matt
Taibbi, he explains how the rich have got insanely richer
through the bank collapse while ordinary people are much
poorer, through losing homes and pensions. Climate change -
as seen in Hurricane Sandy - is already contributing to
further the divide.
The first part of this book deals with lands such as Papua
New Guinea, Pakistan and Haiti. Why is Greece included?
Antony Lowenstein first takes us to Afghanistan, where he
looks at the highly profitable security contractors. These
firms employ a mix of former soldiers and Afghan nationals,
helping to feed families and gain loyalties. But ending
tensions is not in this kind of firm's interest. They
provide security to NGOs, diplomats and business people.
They're well paid for this dangerous work. Lowenstein hears
that India and China are buying up mineral-rich land,
waiting for stability to mine. This has displaced
villagers. Lowenstein then looks at political details
around the Afghan conflict, and the suppliers of food and
drink to the US Army here, among other firms. I found his
own visits to the drug-infested capital and a university
Greece, which has borders with Turkey and other countries,
has been an arrival point for the majority of African and
Asian migrants and refugees. Lowenstein visits one migrant
detention centre, though not overtly as a journalist. He
meets a man who complains that Greece has laws which put
Greeks first for employment and migrants last. To many this
seems like common sense - Greece has a youth unemployment
rate of 50%. Massive debt and systemic corruption in Greece
has made tatters of its economy and Europe has been forced
to 'lend' the country more billions which it can never
repay, just to pay its civil servants. Huge firms have paid
little tax for years. Migrants, who continue to flood in,
can't be supported, causing resentment from ordinary
householders who are starving and without medicine, as
Lowenstein discovers. He believes this contributes to a
rise in support for a Fascist party.
Last night on television I saw a swiftly-constructed
building to house these migrants in their hundreds, with
new furnishings. Clearly a government can't haggle with
builders and suppliers to get the work done fast. The
author also explains that outside firms have bought up
mining rights and public assets which Greece has been
forced to sell to meet its debts.
Moving on to Haiti, which suffered a devastating earthquake
in 2010, the author says that on two visits since he has
seen little in the way of repair of social infrastructure.
A 2010 cable released by Wikileaks, written by the US
Ambassador, stated that 'the gold rush is on' as outside
firms moved in to sell their services and products,
including small dwellings. These firms, Lowenstein says,
thus ate up almost all of the aid money sent to the region.
A new clothing factory was built, displacing small farmers.
The author spoke with women workers - they earned four
dollars a day, less than minimum wage, and half of that
went on transport and food. At the same time he notes that
the workers all carried phones. US scholar Alex Dupuy
states that investment here has nothing to do with making
the country self-sustaining and exporting crops like
coffee, and everything to do with cheap labour
The second part of this book deals with America, Australia
and Britain. Disasters occur here as everywhere, from
weather conditions or bank collapses. Lowenstein also looks
inside prisons, telling us that if a profit-making firm can
profit from keeping prisoners and from their labour, it is
not in their interests for offenders to cease reoffending.
Still, many people would prefer offenders to be locked away
where the rest of society is safe.
No review can do more than scratch the surface of this kind
of book, but I hope I have whetted your appetite to learn
more. We all now live in such an intensely globalised world
that we each feel the ripples from an event. Journalists
in the various media bring us the stories and it is up to
us to take the time to understand what is happening. Maybe
voting, candidate choices and online petitions, as well as
social media campaigns and choice of products, will
influence the world of our future. DISASTER CAPITALISM by
Antony Loewenstein is a gripping and enlightening read. I
particularly like that we get stories told by ordinary
people the reporter met on the ground as well as the
bewilderingly large economic issues.
Crisis? What crisis? How powerful corporations make a killing out of disaster
Award-winning journalist Antony Loewenstein travels across the US, Britain, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
Haiti, Papua New Guinea and Australia to witness the reality of Disaster Capitalism—the hidden world of
privatized detention centers and militarized private security, formed to protect corporations as they
profit from war zones. He visits Britain’s immigration detention centers, tours the prison system in the
United States, and digs into the underbelly of the companies making a fortune from them. Loewenstein
reveals the dark history of how large multinational corporations have become more powerful than
governments, supported by media and political elites.