Disaster Socialism

In her recent book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein describes how catastrophes provide cover for politicians to invoke radical change. In the examples she discusses — including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the Iraq war — the beneficiaries of post-disaster restructuring have invariably been private corporate interests.

The current economic crisis has all the right shock doctrine stuff, and with the bailout we have already seen the all too rapid creation of policy measures that benefit private banks. But hold on, cause the game has hardly begun. And this time around there’s every chance we’ll see disaster capitalism turned inside out to re-emerge as disaster socialism.

Doubt it? Here’s what Obama’s new chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said in an recent interview: “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid. In 1974 and 1978, we never dealt with it, and our dependence on foreign oil never changed.”

So just maybe, as Paul Krugman advocates, our new leaders will “figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent.” And just maybe, we’ll start making the massive public investment that Al Gore calls for in this poignant and inspiring essay on climate change and energy independence.

Closer to home, Governor Gregoire is seeking an “immediate” $300 million stimulus package that provides relief to those on the lower end of the income spectrum.

And right at home, here in the Seattle area, voters just approved funding for public investments in transit, parks, and the Pike Place Market, but vetoed an initiative designed to appeal to the self interest of those who spend lots of time in a single-occupant vehicle.

But check this: Could it be that the Bush presidency itself is the operative, root catastrophe that will lead to the rise of disaster socialism? And lo, it may well be that the W crew has shocked the country so thoroughly over the past eight years that we may finally be ready for the biggest socialist move since the New Deal: heath care reform.