Don’t Let The Vultures Shock Doctrine Puerto Rico

When I am asked my recommendations for political non-fiction books, the top of my list is almost always Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (Chris Hayes’ Twilight of the Elites is a close second.)

Seven years after its publication, no other book better explains the state of the modern political world. The thesis of the book is simple: vulture capitalists saw profit to be had in institutions that eschewed profit to serve people, and when people would not give up those institutions, the vulture capitalists shocked entire populations into submission using disasters both natural and manmade as an opportunity to privatize entire industries. Kleptocracy, religious fundamentalism, ethnic sectarianism and dictatorship arose quickly from the ashes of stunned, impoverished and subjugated peoples, creating blowback for Western democracies even as the jet set luxuriated in champagne and caviar.

We are living that story today all over the world. Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Russia was the direct result of American-led privatization of the former Soviet Union’s assets, as Bill Clinton and Yeltsin worked to convert the USSR from Soviet Communism to American libertarianism overnight rather than manage a responsible transition to a Scandinavian-style democratic socialist system that might actually benefit a disoriented Russian people. Poverty and anger was the result, and desperate Russians (particularly from rural areas) sought to make their country great again by electing a despot who they imagined would bring back the glory days. Now with Russian interference in the U.S. election, many American elites who instigated the Yeltsin-era collapse have paid the price for their greed in spades, with a particularly bitter irony for the Clinton family.

It happened, too, in Iraq. The American invasion was in part an excuse to destroy every state-run institution in Iraq–not just the oil infrastructure, but every other aspect of civic life under a low flat tax. The enforced libertarianism of the austerity coup and the handover of Iraqi-held assets to multinational corporations was a major factor in creating the homegrown Iraqi insurgency that ultimately led in part to the rise of ISIS. Innocents  the world over, including thousands of American soldiers, have paid the price for that unconscionable greed.

And, of course, it happened here in America. The same vulture capitalists who devastated the Russian and Iraqi towns and countrysides and gave rise to Vlaidimr Putin and ISIS, also did the same to the American Rust Belt. Entire communities were left to rot and die as factories were closed and jobs automated and sent overseas, just to boost next quarter’s stock returns and make the .1% even more fantastically richer. Youngstown, Ohio, shared much the same fate as Vladivostock and Baghdad, its citizens left behind and turned to indentured servants in a dystopia of despair so that a few incompetent elites in a pretend meritocracy could profit more obscenely from the excess than any Roman Emperor or French King. As in Russia, they voted to make their country great again by punishing the elites they rightly felt had betrayed them–even if it meant electing a racist, ignorant buffoon to the Oval Office.

It’s not always the direct doing of the vultures through military or economic aggression. Sometimes they swoop in after natural disasters, as occurred in New Orleans after Katrina when the public schools were converted into a failed privatization experiment. In the case of climate change, lucrative fossil fuel consumption neatly causes Arctic melt that in turn allows further irresponsible exploitation of carbon reserves. It also coincidentally worsens natural disasters that create the opportunity for more creative destruction and privatization at the expense of vulnerable people, species and habitats. It’s a perfect circle of greed and death.

And now the same thing is being done to Puerto Rico. Vulture capital has spent the last decade slowly grinding down the island territory into a cruel debtor’s prison so that Wall Street can scoop up unearned nickels from the impoverished populace. No sooner had Hurricane Maria departed than the same debt dealers were offering Puerto Ricans even more rope with which to entrap them. Wall Street has long been slavering over Puerto Rico’s electric utility, and now sees even more opportunity for privatizing it in the wake of the destruction.

There is no particular reason for America’s pro-business conservatives to come too quickly to Puerto Rico’s aid. The entire ideology of vulture conservatism is that government is incapable of helping, and that communities must fend for themselves (particularly if they lack the right skin tone and dialect.) But beyond that, there is no incentive for the hedge fund class to see Puerto Rico recover too quickly. It’s in their best interest to see Puerto Rico make a painful, grinding transition to full privatization, more debt and endless punitive interest payments.

People of good will must not allow that to happen. The people of Puerto Rico deserve better than the fate of the people of Ohio, Russia and Iraq.

And it’s our job as responsible citizens not just to hold accountable the current megalomaniac in the White House and his most immediate bigoted enablers, but also more importantly the cesspool of murderous corporate and financial sector greed that created him, and all the myriad crises plaguing our modern world.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.