The theme of the rise of consumerism over all of our lives is a something I am currently thinking about. And have thought about. Exhibit A – Companies are from Mars and Customers are from Venus.
I find it a difficult moral place to exist in. On the one hand my company SMLXL is all about enabling customers and brands to better engage with eachother. And I consult and work with companies to enable them to be commercially more successful.
But as Tomi and I have gone deeper into the possibilites of the networked world what we see are the possibilites not only of an evolved media and business ecology that redefines communications, media and commerce, but also starts to restructure the possibilites of society. Potentially in a positive way. But its not all black and white.
My thoughts were brought into sharper focus recently. By the publishing of Naomi Kleins book The Shock Doctrine, the thesis of which is that free markets thrive on freedom is a lie. You can read here major thought piece here
Klein points to the disaster capitalism as she describes it, that took place in the aftermath of the New Orleans natural disaster.
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans' school system took place with military speed and precision. Within 19 months, with most of the city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.
Klein attacks Milton Friedman as the architect of this strategy that has been applied in many countries around the world. In makes me feel uneasy. But it goes right back to 1947, right after the war, which frames the thinking contextually. words by George Monbiot in his piece How the neoliberals stitched up the wealth of nations for themselves
When the Mont Pelerin Society first met, in 1947, its political project did not have a name. But it knew where it was going. The society's founder, Friedrich von Hayek, remarked that the battle for ideas would take at least a generation to win, but he knew that his intellectual army would attract powerful backers. Its philosophy, which later came to be known as neoliberalism, accorded with the interests of the ultra-rich, so the ultra-rich would pay for it.
Neoliberalism claims that we are best served by maximum market freedom and minimum intervention by the state. The role of government should be confined to creating and defending markets, protecting private property and defending the realm. All other functions are better discharged by private enterprise, which will be prompted by the profit motive to supply essential services. By this means, enterprise is liberated, rational decisions are made and citizens are freed from the dehumanising hand of the state.
Her account of the ideological zealotry, stupidity and greed that informed how Iraqi reconstruction was handled is among the most original and revealing in the book. The ambition to have low taxes, minimal regulation, no state, free markets, low tariffs and maximum corporate involvement because they conformed to the free-market blueprint distorted economic priorities and generated huge opportunities for waste and racketeering.
Worse, they involved a scorched-earth policy towards Iraqi institutions that created the vacuum occupied by the sectarian, murderous militias. It was the true denouement of disaster capitalism.
And again this makes me feel uncomfortable. Good old Don Rumsfeld, got a $37m payout when he left Haliburton
But it cannot be one thing or the other. There are times on this blog Tomi and I will push the envelope. Perhaps we need the Kleins of this world? However Huttons view is that...
her delusional, Manichaean world view, privatisation, free markets, private property, consumer freedom, the profit motive and economic freedom are just other terms for corporate self-enrichment, denial of voice, limitation of citizenship, inequality and, sometimes, even torture. The discredited electro-shock psychological treatment of the Fifties, we learn, informed the thought system of the free marketeers; it is guilt by association and assertion rather than proof, a weaknesses of too much of the book.
Nothing good can ever come from globalisation, which is just more capitalism. Democracy, however, is a halcyon world of political and economic co-operation, citizen voice and engagement, with a freely arrived- at assertion of the common interest in which most think along the same lines as, say, Naomi Klein. She and free-market economist Milton Friedman, whom she has in her sights, are mirror images of each other in the absolutist categories in which they think.
But the dirty facts are there. Which Klein and Hutton both acknowledge.
In the Week (sub required) I read a short report that 8 Iraqi civillians had been shot dead by the private soldiers of the US owned Blackwater. that's grim. Though Blackwater was been banned from operating in Iraq after the event. But for how long?
Rosa Brooks the author says
Most of the media coverage concentrated on the legal vaccuum in which security contractors operate, but that missed the true blockbuster story: the wholesale privatisation of war and US foregin policy
Blackwaters Iraq contract is worth $750m, and it's base in North Carolina is reported to be the world's largest private military facility, which the US army hires to train in. Klein you see may have a point? However, Operations costs in Iraq were estimated at $5.6 billion per month in 2005 the findings delivered by a Study of the Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy
The assertion is the that US government has been selling off US foreign policy to commercial auction. Abroad and in fact it seems at home. This is avarice on a massive scale.
What we have at the heart of this excellent thriller is a story of greed, the misuse of the law, the contempt of the powerful for the weak and the small window of decency through which such things can be corrected. Clooney is the eponymous 45-year-old Michael Clayton, son of an Irish-American cop, product of a minor law school, experienced in handling crime as an assistant district attorney and now a dependable, highly paid troubleshooter for one of New York's most prestigious law practices.
His more personal pictures, such as Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana, take a highly principled view of civic responsibility.
This raises many important questions, about the responsibilites of the state, and all of us that make that state. Kleins worldview is scary and depressing, even if Hutton believes it is too one sided. We can all agree abuses of power are bad and we are all witness to those in many ways. In Klein's view the big abuser is the the Whitehouse. And I purposefully make the distinction between the US as a body politic and the governmet currently holding the Oval office in Washington.
What happened on September 11 2001 is that an ideology hatched in American universities and fortified in Washington institutions finally had its chance to come home. The Bush administration, packed with Friedman's disciples, including his close friend Donald Rumsfeld, seized upon the fear generated to launch the "war on terror" and to ensure that it is an almost completely for-profit venture, a booming new industry that has breathed new life into the faltering US economy. Best understood as a "disaster capitalism complex", it is a global war fought on every level by private companies whose involvement is paid for with public money, with the unending mandate of protecting the US homeland in perpetuity while eliminating all "evil" abroad.
In a few short years, the complex has already expanded its market reach from fighting terrorism to international peacekeeping, to municipal policing, to responding to increasingly frequent natural disasters. The ultimate goal for the corporations at the centre of the complex is to bring the model of for-profit government, which advances so rapidly in extraordinary circumstances, into the ordinary functioning of the state - in effect, to privatise the government.
And that is prety much the truth of it. It frightens me that you can't have a war without Blackwater or reconstruction without Haliburton. It frightems me that Medicins Sans Frontiers fights for money and that the UN struggles for universal support against a military junta in Burma, that seems happy to kill its own people. Its a bit like consumerism but its upside down. The west needs good consumers the Junta needs good compliant citizens. Does anyone know a marraige like that? A good wife, and good husband? its good and bad its a struggle and its really hard work at times.
Yet there are those out there that seem to have little regard for society or community. What type of world is that? what is left for us?
What we are witness to is the tectonic plates of society and commerce moving, where it ends up I have no idea. We at CDB are great optimists, and take the view that we can make a better world. As Howard Rheingold says, what we create is up to us.