13 Feb 2011

On Austerity and Shock

I've been reading The Shock Doctrine The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein recently (over a period of a few weeks; it's a large book and I mainly read it at school due to my mother's derision of anything political (something I'll go into detail about, or not, in a later post)), and was immediately struck by the resemblance of the "economic shock therapy", and the related/congruent shocks of crisis and enforcement, described with in to what the Tories are doing to this country, especially where it is "democratic" governments doing the 'shocking'.

From what I can gather, "Economic shock therapy" is the ideologically driven wholesale privatisation and stripping down of the state accompanied by the reduction of restrictions on Big Business, and it usually provides those at the top with a lot of money. Said economic shock therapy is normally done quickly (like "a short sharp shock"), due to/during a crisis (or 'disaster', hence the subtitle of the book), be it real or imagines and can be accompanied by a "shock of enforcement" of sorts, usually a massive jump towards authoritarianism towards those who speak out against the Government... or in short there are 3 main shocks: The initial shock of crisis (be it real or imagined), followed by economic shock therapy, with the "planned misery" (to use, I think,  Orlando Letelier's term) being enforced with a further shock, with this last shock being in some cases literal.

There are numerous similarities within this pattern to what this government is doing now; first there's the 'crisis' and 'shock' of the deficit which, which is apparently far larger than the Tories realised before taking office (I'm unsure whether I agree with the assertation that there's no money left, although leading credit agencies did threaten to ruin the UK's Perfect AAA rating, and urge a more ambitious plan to cut the borrowing back in June 2010 (something similar, I think, to what's happened to Canada in the past... with said claims being baseless, but with this knowledge coming too late to do anything against the measures taken)).

The various cuts and privatisation or marketisation (functional at least) of the NHS (at least, there's probably more services that are privatised or are functionally becoming that way)  the Government is making also share strong similarities with "economic shock therapy", coming rather quickly, being what is referred to as "voodoo politics" (behind closed doors and expressly not what the Government was voted in for (well, the tories did promise to make cuts, but not to the scale and they weren't really elected (not to mention all the lies both parties in the coalition (and other governments before hand) made in the run up to the election)), and being accompanied by what George Monbiot has described as the heist of the century; allowing businesses to pay no tax on their foreign branches, cutting corporate tax and  allowing businesses to claim back expenses on the foreign branches that they aren't paying tax for. Not to mention the non-taxing of banker's bonuses (which are worth a *lot*), and there are more. And the Tories claim people on benefits are the scroungers. Numerous charities have also warned of the dangers of the Government's cuts, which seem to be rather similar to the "planned misery" of other economic shock therapy programmes.

This brings me to my final point; the 'shock of enforcement'. The government is not fully authoritarian (yet), but the usage of 'kettling' during protests (especially to peaceful, and relatively young (not entirely 'children', but I think the ages of those protesting did lean towards the young side (after all, we're the ones who are losing our futures)) protestors, as seen on Day X (24th November 2010) and Day X3 (9th December 2010),although happily averted on DayX 2 (30th November)) and the, admittedly isolated, usage of CS spray on protestors for UK uncut, who were protesting against tax avoidance, and the cuts, arguing that, if big business paid its taxes, the cuts would be largely unnecessary (when one man (the lovely Sir Phil Green, owner of Arcadia, who is an advisor to the Government on the cuts (well, he's the "efficiency adviser")) has dodged more in tax in one year than my mum'd earn in 100000 years I can say that this is probably not far off, although the tax reforms mentioned before will probably make this less of the status quo) in particular stick out. The discussion of banning protests and the introduction of water cannons (and the police being praised for their restraint in not shooting protestors who surrounded a car carrying the Duchess of York and Prince Charles to the Royal Variety Performance) also raise issues for the fture.

All in all, I'd say that the government's austerity measures are economic shock therapy but less so; perhaps just a jolt from one of those 'shocking pens' or those games which give you electric shocks if you get the answer wrong, rather than a full on ECT shock, but still not very nice nonetheless.

This said, this blog post was written before many of the cuts hit in full and the 'March for the Alternative' on the 26th March (and the Royal Wedding), and the government's handling of those events may very well change my view.

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