The dan­gers of disas­ter cap­i­tal­ism dur­ing virus crisis

Arab News - - Opinion - ASMA I. ABDULMALIK

In 2007, Cana­dian au­thor and so­cial ac­tivist Naomi Klein’s book “The Shock Doc­trine: The rise of Disas­ter Cap­i­tal­ism” was pub­lished. In it, Klein in­tro­duces the the­ory of “disas­ter cap­i­tal­ism,” in which ne­olib­eral poli­cies are pushed for­ward through the ex­ploita­tion of dis­as­ters. She ex­plains that, dur­ing the shock of dis­as­ters — whether eco­nomic, nat­u­ral or wars — cap­i­tal­ists, cor­po­ra­tions and others see the op­por­tu­nity to im­ple­ment their poli­cies and agen­das, ex­ploit­ing the fact that so­ci­eties are too dis­ori­ented and dis­tracted to re­sist.

The 2020 coro­n­avirus dis­ease (COVID-19) pan­demic is noth­ing short of a disas­ter that has shocked the world. It has af­fected ev­ery as­pect of our lives. The global econ­omy fell to the brink of col­lapse with as­ton­ish­ing speed. How­ever, with the world pre­oc­cu­pied, the COVID-19 pan­demic presents the per­fect con­di­tions for gov­ern­ments, politi­cians, cor­po­ra­tions and others to im­ple­ment poli­cies and changes that may have been met with pub­lic re­sis­tance were we not so dis­tracted. To il­lus­trate, in March, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed a $2.2 tril­lion emer­gency re­lief pack­age to stim­u­late the econ­omy. The pack­age in­cluded bailouts to big in­dus­tries such as air­lines and the gas and oil sec­tor.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion also or­dered the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) to sus­pend its en­force­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal laws dur­ing the coro­n­avirus crisis and low­ered fuel emis­sion stan­dards for ve­hi­cles sold in the US. To make mat­ters worse, the EPA also an­nounced a “blan­ket pol­icy sus­pend­ing en­force­ment and civil penal­ties for any reg­u­lated en­tity that can show COVID-19 was the cause of a fail­ure to com­ply with the law.” This de­ci­sion, con­sid­ered a big win for the oil in­dus­try, poses a great risk to both the en­vi­ron­ment and peo­ple and al­lows in­dus­try to con­tinue to pol­lute with few reper­cus­sions. The de­ci­sion prompted se­ri­ous crit­i­cism from health and climate change ex­perts.

Un­der­min­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion poli­cies has al­ways been a key tar­get under the um­brella of disas­ter cap­i­tal­ism. In Al­berta, Canada, the gov­ern­ment — us­ing ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers granted under the COVID-19 pub­lic health emer­gency — passed leg­is­la­tion to dereg­u­late the Al­berta oil sands. The lo­cal gov­ern­ment sus­pended en­vi­ron­men­tal re­port­ing and amended air qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing re­quire­ments, cit­ing “un­due hard­ship.” In Hun­gary, soon af­ter the coro­n­avirus out­break hit the rest of the world, the par­lia­ment passed a bill giv­ing the na­tion­al­ist Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban sweep­ing emer­gency pow­ers. The de­ci­sion came amid both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional re­sis­tance and crit­i­cism, ar­gu­ing that it gave the PM un­lim­ited power to bol­ster his lead­er­ship. Not long af­ter the bill was passed, Or­ban signed a $2.1 bil­lion loan agree­ment with China to fi­nance a rail­way link be­tween Bu­dapest and Bel­grade. The terms of the loan will be kept se­cret for an un­prece­dented 10 years.

Dur­ing dis­as­ters and tur­bu­lent times, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand there will al­ways be others who see the sit­u­a­tion dif­fer­ently. They rec­og­nize this is an op­por­tu­nity, not nec­es­sar­ily to ben­e­fit the over­all well­be­ing of so­ci­ety, but rather to ex­ploit the cir­cum­stances to ben­e­fit spe­cific groups and agen­das. A quick search through re­cent history yields al­most end­less ex­am­ples.

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