The Disaster Continues

In 2007 Naomi Klein published Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which detailed how, since the 1970s, wars and natural disasters have provided opportunities for the advancement of neo-liberal programmes, whose effect has been a shift in resources and the balance of power in favour of capital.

Klein’s work can be linked with David Harvey’s account of accumulation by dispossession – namely, the theory that profitability has been maintained not by any productive advantages inherent in the capitalist mode of production, but through the expansion of capital itself, its encroachment on areas of activity that were previously less capitalised, often common or public.

With the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, there was some talk of the brakes being applied and a re-evaluation of neo-liberal programmes. But, as Susan Watkins suggests in New Left Review (NLR 63, 2001), is the crisis in the end providing yet another opportunity for the advancement of disaster capitalism?

As Wolfgang Schäuble recently pointed out, each European government can use the crisis to push through capital’s wish list of structural reforms: in Germany, softening up the labour force by cutting unemployment benefits; in Spain and France, stripping out the gains—‘rigidities’—of older employees; in Italy, slashing the Mezzogiorno public sector. The widely proclaimed end of neo-liberalism looks more and more like the continuation of its agenda by other means.

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