COVID-19: An opportunity for the Shock Doctrine — or its opponents?

Naomi Klein expands, briefly, on ideas from a book she wrote several years ago:

I especially love how she takes a quote from far-right economist Milton Friedman (the author of the original Shock Doctrine, which Klein critically examined in her book) and turns it on its head.

By the way, the Doctrine is still very much at work, and the current US administration is still very much in the “swamp” they promised to drain when it comes to that. And it’s not just Republicans pushing bad policies in times of crises; don’t blink, because you’ll miss none other than the current front-running Democratic presidential pre-candidate Joe Biden in there, pushing for social-security cuts just as enthusiastically as any hardcore right-winger. Yes, that’s right, kids; Creepy Uncle Joe was gung-ho for the ludicrous idea that the only way to save the Great Society was to kill it by a thousand cuts. Friedman’s toxic ideas have infected parties across the political spectrum, and it’s time to put them under the microscope in earnest, because what’s swimming around in that “wet market” is a virus even more deadly than the COVID-19 one that’s scaring the shit out of everyone.

It may not be a good time to gather in public places, but it is, more than ever, a time for organizing and protest. Already, here in Canada, we’ve seen how effective a bit of bad publicity is for getting big corporate actors, such as owners of NHL teams, to do right by their most vulnerable employees. It’s also being used to make the lives of profiteers less comfortable than they had hoped to get by buying up and reselling disinfectants and TP at exorbitant prices. And in the US, local governmental intervention — the Shock Doctrine’s most reviled bugaboo — is now being turned to combatting the small-time hucksters seeking to profiteer from people’s suddenly amplified fear of germs. The state of California is using hotels to house the homeless. Petitions and pledges are circulating on the Internet all over the world to ensure that people, corporations and governments all act in socially-responsible ways, so that the COVID-19 crisis becomes more survivable. There is much that we, both individually and collectively, can do to counter the disgusting things our governments and their corporate lobbyists are trying to ram through on us.

But what’s really exciting and hopeful right now is the possibility that a better society can be built from the ground up as a result of this moment. The same shocks that can drive people to accept the previously unacceptable (and the blatantly immoral) can be also used to drive the resistance to those political and economic profiteers who piggyback on the Shock Doctrine. The last time anything like it happened, FDR pushed the New Deal through and ended the Great Depression. And USMC general Smedley Butler not only refused to mount a military coup against him, as Wall Street was urging him to do, but he blew the whistle on the whole dirty bunch. The US as a whole benefited from the decisive actions of the one, and the principled resistance of the other. And here in Canada, Tommy Douglas finally rammed through universal medicare in Saskatchewan, prompting the rest of Canada to follow suit within a few years. Other public measures followed. Social programs (not coincidentally, the same that are in tatters thanks to the Shock Doctrine today) pulled millions out of poverty and saved countless lives.

A similar situation prevails today.

Right now, the sudden drops in heavy industrial pollution in the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 are demonstrating that ecosocialism has potential to be nothing less than a planetary savior. People can self-isolate better by working and studying from home, instead of being crowded into schoolrooms, factories and office buildings. The idea that everyone must constantly be under the watchful eyes of bosses is also taking a body blow. The once-sacred prevailing view that more blood — er, “productivity” — can be squeezed out of ever fewer individuals, rendering money scarcer and jobs more uncertain, is becoming a joke.

And government bailouts for Wall Street? Fuck that noise! It didn’t work in 2008, and it won’t work now. Back then, corporations took the bailout cash (no strings attached, of course) and fired workers here, and moved their jobs to places where wages are so low that the workers might as well be slaves. Attaching strings to any future bailout might be a good idea, but not bailing out the “too big to fail” corporations is a much better one. Good money must not be thrown after bad. Not one cent of taxpayer money to the corporate sector, EVER! Everyone ought to know by now that the stock market is not the real economy, and that compensating the biggest and richest corporations for their stock losses is bullshit. One might as well be flushing trillions of dollars down a vast and bottomless toilet.

Likewise, the much-vaunted, app-driven “sharing economy” is on the verge of going bust. And no wonder: It relies on the availability of economically insecure people willing to use their own housing, cars and bodies to hustle for gigs, as well as other people demanding piecemeal use of those same. If a plague is making the rounds, who’s going to travel? Who’s going to rent a temporary, unregulated accommodation? Who’s going to want someone else coming into their house to do small menial tasks? And conversely: Who’s going to risk their health driving others (or their takeout meals) around? Renting their house or their hands out to strangers who could be sick as dogs?

The problems of the gig economy and the global capitalist race to the bottom are all suddenly naked to the eye. And anyone with an eye can see how much they are hurting us all.

But what’s helping? The opposite of all that: socialism, combined with environmentalism. Cuba, despite more than six decades of embargo, is leading the way with medical research and aid. And Germany has said nein to Drumpf, who dangled a billion-dollar “deal” to try to obtain exclusive rights to a potential vaccine. And many African nations — the same that Donnie called “shithole countries” — have taken the lead in protecting their own by barring travellers from the clearly unregulated US of Amnesia. Good sense is waking up out of its decades-long slumber, and it’s happening where people least expected to see it.

More compassion, more humanity, more social services instead of cutbacks. Less traffic, less pollution, fewer people being crammed into tight quarters — it’s good against so much more than just COVID-19. What hurts capitalism is helping humanity and the environment both.

The people are having a moment, and an opportunity to strike a death blow to the Friedman doctrine once and for all is here.

Let’s use it!

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