Saving Haiti from disaster capitalism

Haiti becomes a target for economic "shock therapy"

Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine warned of the rise of "disaster capitalism", under which governments and corporations use disasters as a chance to push through free-market policies unachievable in times of stability.

Where most see a crisis, neoliberal actors spy new market opportunities. And with poor countries desperate for any kind of aid, they are often forced to carry out extensive privatisation, deregulation and wage cuts in return.

Following the devastation inflicted on Haiti by Tuesday's earthquake, it's clear that the country has become a target for such economic "shock therapy". Over at Left Foot Forward, Adam Ramsay (recently interviewed by the NS) notes that some right-wing institutions have explicitly declared their intention to use the disaster to further a corporate agenda.

In the introduction to a paper on Haiti, originally titled "Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the US", the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, declared:

In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the US response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti offers opportunities to reshape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.

After just two hours, the foundation removed the offending passage and changed the title of the paper to the rather gentler "Things to Remember While Helping Haiti". But the damage was done.

Meanwhile, according to the Nation's Richard Kim, the IMF has agreed a new $100m loan to Haiti but has insisted on stringent conditions, including raising electricity prices, keeping inflation low and freezing pay for all state employees except those on the minimum wage.

As Klein argues in the video above, it is up to campaigners to insist that Haiti receive grants, not loans. With existing debts of $891m, the people of Haiti cannot afford for economic dogma to trump human need.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.