Detroit, Disaster Capitalism and the Enclosure of the Water Commons
Kevin Carson | November 18th, 2014
The “privatization” of local government functions under the state-appointed emergency manager in Detroit is lionized by a lot of right-leaning libertarians as an example of “free market reform.” But it’s a lot more accurate to treat it as flat-out looting — what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.”
The so-called “privatization” of government assets, as it’s carried out under “actually-existing free market reform,” is really just the latest example of a phenomenon as old as history: the enclosure of commons by state-connected rentiers. As Michael Hudson stated, in an interview on Thomas Piketty’s Capital:
…let’s look at Forbes’ list of the richest people in Russia, China, the Ukraine or the post-Soviet economies. I can guarantee you that they didn’t make this wealth by saving up income, they didn’t earn a higher income; they stole the property by fraud and internal bribery, the same way that the great fortunes were made in the United States. The History of Really Great American Fortunes by Gustavus Myers shows how the railroad land grants made fortunes by bribing congressmen and by privatising the land. The great fortunes are made by privatising natural resources, land and the public domain, and since 1980, when the concentration of wealth and income have really taken off, as Piketty shows, this is the age of privatisation, of Margaret Thatcher, of Ronald Reagan, and Boris Yeltsin in Russia.
But this goes back way further than Thatcher and Reagan, or even the Gilded Age railroad barons. As Henry George noted, most of the political conflict within the Roman Republic took the form of the patrician classes “privatizing” (enclosing) lands in the public domain, and land-poor and landless peasants periodically rising up to demand land reform.
And the same basic pattern applies to all kinds of public service “privatization,” under the kind of “free market reform” that’s carried out by neoliberal vultures feeding on one prostrate country or another. ...