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.

Subscribe to the New Statesman and we'll donate £20 to UNICEF's Haiti appeal

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496