Unformatted text preview: had taken place under the banner of "free trade." For decades, Washington-backed structural-adjustment programs had pampered investors and starved public services, leading to such cliches of lopsided development as glittering shopping malls with indoor skating rinks surrounded by moats of open sewers. Now those sewers had failed completely. In wealthier countries, where public infrastructure was far more robust before the decline began, it has been possible to delay this kind of reckoning. Politicians have been free to cut taxes and rail against big government even as their constituents drove on, studied in, and drank from the huge publicworks projects of the 1930s and 1940s. But after a few decades, that trick stops working. The American Society of Civil Engineers has warned that the United States has fallen so far behind in maintaining its public infrastructure-roads, bridges, schools, dams-that it would take more than a trillion and a half dollars over five years to bring it back up to standard. This past summer those statistics came to life: collapsing bridges, flooding subways, ex- E 48 HARPER'S MAGAZINE I OCTOBER 2007 ploding steam pipes, and the still-unfolding tragedy that began when New Orleans's levees broke. After each new disaster, it's tempting to imagine that the loss of life and productivity will finally serve as a wake-up call, provoking the political class to launch some kind of "new New Deal." In fact, the opposite is taking place: disasters have become the preferred moments for advancing a vision of a ruthlessly divided world, one in which the very idea of a public sphere has no place at all. Call it disaster capitalism. Every time a new crisis hitseven when the crisis itself is the direct by-product of free-market ideologythe fear and disorientation that follow are harnessed for radical social and economic re-engineering. Each new shock is midwife to a new course of economic shock therapy. The end result is the same kind of unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned, that is on display in Baghdad. Consider the instant reactions to last summer's various infrastructure disasters. Four days after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, a Wall Stxeet lownal editorial had the solution: "tapping private investors to build and operate public roads and bridges," with the cost made up from ever-escalating tolls. After heavy rain caused the shutdown of New York City's subway lines, the New Yark Sun ran an editorial under the headline "Sell the Subways." It called for individual train lines to compete against one another, luring customers with the safest, driest service-and "charging higher fares when the competing lines, stingier on their investments, were shut down with tracks under water."[ It's not hard to imagine what this free market in subways would look like: high-speed lines ferrying commuters from the Upper West Side to Wall Street, while the tra...
View Full Document
This note was uploaded on 04/19/2011 for the course AMST 150 taught by Professor Perkinson during the Fall '10 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.
- Fall '10