Friday, November 2, 2007

Editor's Introduction - November 2007

“Disaster Capitalism: The New Economy of Catastrophe” by Naomi Klein. Harper's. October 2007.

An Annotation:

In this month’s Roundtable, our contributors discuss the suggestion that, once again, and in a new way, capitalism has run amok. Looking at the market response to political and natural disasters, Naomi Klein revisits a notion upon which both Karl Marx and Milton Friedman would agree: Capitalist markets create and deal with their own problems. However, the discrepancy that places these economic giants at odds is whether this mechanism constitutes the seeds of capitalism’s own destruction, or simply is a self-corrective and balancing feature of open markets. For Marx, capitalism is perpetually expanding, devouring everything in its path as it insatiably seeks new markets until reaching a crucial tipping point. For Friedman, capitalism, if it remains free to operate, will respond to systemic shocks in such a way that in the long run will re-establish equilibrium and allow for its continuity and growth. Klein uses her own contemporary lens of privatization under neoliberalism to address this question as she looks primarily at the response to Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

“The end result is the same kind of unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned…”

With startling, apocalyptic prose, Klein paints a stark picture of a broken government unable and unwilling to fulfill its basest responsibilities—be they security, health care or education. If the private sector performs duties traditionally reserved for the State, what is the cost? Klein, through her critique, intends to highlight the sidestepping of foundational principles of liberalism and human rights, such as transparency, accountability, and reciprocity. Underlying even these is the notion that all are equal before these principles; none are above the rule of law and none are below the safety net the State provides. Placing these obligations in the hands of corporations compromises the universal nature of the State and threatens to create a situation where these necessities are available only to the highest bidder.

“The companies at the heart of the disaster-capitalism complex increasingly regard both the state and nonprofits as competitors; from the corporate perspective, whenever governments or charities fulfill their traditional roles, they are denying contractors work that could be performed at a profit.”

The process Klein describes is one that begins with public money spent to hire private contractors, which results in transferring “common welfare” provision into the realm of commodification—the very tasks for which government is convened get outsourced and transformed into a product one must purchase. Not only does access to these services become more limited, but the nature and value inherent in them is irremediably altered. Whereas the human rights previously assigned to the State for universal protection are now subject to the dictates of the fluctuating market.

“All indications are that if we simply stay the current course, they [disasters] will keep coming with ever more ferocious intensity. Disaster generation can therefore be left to the market’s invisible hand.”

Is this phenomenon an outgrowth of capitalism itself or a directed political strategy? Put another way, does “Disaster Capitalism” exist by default or by design? Do we correctly point to the “Washington consensus” and the expansion of neoliberal economic ideology or would it be more accurate to identify a State that is compelled to go to outside providers to perform its most fundamental tasks because it is overburdened, overstretched and/or simply incapable? Naomi Klein’s article implies that the Disaster-Capitalism Complex is at the same time a natural progression with its roots in the Military-Industrial Complex, as well as a deliberate attempt to weaken government and maximize revenue for private interests.

Finally we must ask: What is at stake? Do these trends produce positive results for ordinary people? To return to our authoritative economists, while Milton Friedman would respond that this is indeed a positive direction in which to be moving as the market is better suited to meet the demands of “common welfare” than the state, Marx would describe this as yet another instantiation of economic power consolidation bent on securing massive profits at the expense of human freedom and well-being.

These issues and many more are addressed in this month’s installment of Human Rights & Human Welfare’s Roundtable.

~ The Editors


Thursday, November 1, 2007

American Capitalism - Disasterous Consequences?

by Richard A. Falk

"Missing is the possibility of countervailing politics here and elsewhere, from above and below...Looking at world capitalism as a whole, the American economy is being displaced by more constructive forms of profit-making elsewhere in the world that are not linked to 'disaster capitalism.'"

Naomi Klein’s depiction of late-capitalism as feeding off a disaster-prone planet and state-system is provocative and illuminating, even if it seems to be itself a form of “shock and awe” journalism. The great cultural critic of the 1960s, Norman O. Brown, memorably said of psychoanalysis, “[o]nly the exaggerations are valuable,” and so it might be with this critique of the dark sides of recent tendencies in world economic activity. It is notable that the book version of Klein’s article bears the title The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which itself can be read as a sly admission that her account is intended to portray one controversial facet of a much more complex economic reality. Also, it should be understood that most of the attention is paid to the American experience—which has certainly featured a preoccupation with disaster at home and abroad—looking at the combined impacts of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Whether her assessment would be as relevant if the same questions were considered from a Chinese, Indian, Turkish, or French perspective seems quite doubtful.

Klein’s argument is that the private sector has recently flourished in those contexts where either natural disasters occurred or geopolitical obstacles have been experienced. Her stress is upon the word “recently” in order to sustain the position that we have entered a new phase in the evolution of world capitalism. It is certainly true that extreme weather has produced a series of events around the world during the last several years in a form that has required massive aid and reconstruction efforts, and that mega-corporate construction firms such as Halliburton and Bechtel have been better positioned than governments or foreign companies to organize responses. She also correctly notes that the challenge of responding to natural disasters bears resemblance to the challenges associated with occupation and reconstruction in Iraq.

It is almost certain that natural disasters will continue to offer opportunities to private firms for profitable undertakings in the years ahead, but hopefully the outlook is less clear in the area of geopolitical failure. The possibility exists that American political leaders will learn the hazard of seeking to intervene forcibly in foreign countries, and find less costly, more acceptable, and more effective means of pursuing its foreign policy goals. This is by no means assured. The Vietnam War did inhibit interventionist geopolitics for some years, but the so-called “Vietnam syndrome” was gradually overcome by some ambiguous military successes in the First Gulf War (1991) and the Kosovo War (1999), and by the ascendancy of neoconservative grand strategy during the Bush presidency. Klein does not really take into account whether there will be a new “Iraq syndrome” that will discourage recourse to counterinsurgency ventures in the years ahead, and how that might alter the overall profile of unfolding world capitalism.

Surely, Klein is correct to note that post-9/11 homeland security has been an area of robust and profitable economic expansion, and that there exists a correlation between profitability and insecurity within American society. In this respect there is a deeply troubling connection between a politics of fear pursued by the U.S. Government to obtain a mandate for limiting the freedoms of Americans and the private sector benefits that result from the surveillance and monitoring of the citizenry. Klein’s article is valuable in making us appreciate the linkages between the “war on terror” and private sector interests.

Klein also casts her discerning eye on the privatization of the security functions of the state, including even the conduct of wars. The notorious role of Blackwater in Iraq was definitely highlighted by Klein well before it became a matter of public concern in the United States and elsewhere. Her larger point is also well-taken, to the effect that the dominant state in the world, despite its huge military budget, is increasingly dependent on private contractors and mercenary soldiers to fill the gaping holes of its military occupation in Iraq.

Although Klein does not accuse the corporate beneficiaries of conspiring to produce disasters, she notes that they use their leverage with the government and the media to discourage steps that might move toward ecological and geopolitical stability. Again, this is a disturbing trend that when coupled with neoconservative political leadership seems to be leading the country down a catastrophe-laden path.

It is a bleak picture, but perhaps not as decisively so, as Klein would have us believe. Her outlook is expressed at the end of the article where she observes that the only possible counterweight to the disaster scenario is the “unlikely scenario that this latest boom could somehow be interrupted by an outbreak of climatic stability and geopolitical peace.” What is missing is an assessment of tensions within capitalism itself, as not all parts of the economy are dependent on disaster, especially if the future magnifies the disasters experienced in the last decade. Also missing is the possibility of countervailing politics here and elsewhere, from above and below, that is, by shifts in governmental policies and by populist pressures. Looking at world capitalism as a whole, the American economy is being displaced by more constructive forms of profit-making elsewhere in the world that are not linked to “disaster capitalism.” The dollar is declining, U.S. manufacturing is losing out to foreign competitors, trade and fiscal deficits are growing, the military budget is excessive and exacts damaging opportunity costs vis-à-vis restoring the American infrastructure, and investment flows are moving elsewhere.
In concluding, I believe that Klein has over-generalized her argument, insufficiently distinguishing the afflictions of American economic development from the overall condition of world capitalism. There are acute difficulties with world capitalism associated with terms of trade, widening disparities, insufficient social and environmental regulation, but these criticisms do not lend support to Klein’s contentions about “disaster capitalism.” Her framework would be more convincing if it explicitly limited the burden of her indictment to the American role in the world economy, and did not conflate the two. It is a common liberal fallacy to suppose that whatever happens to the United States happens to the world, which seems to me dangerously misleading in this setting because it fails to clarify the relationship between American economic and geopolitical decline (of which “disaster capitalism” is a symptom) and the global economy that is certainly affected by disaster, but not nearly to the same extent. For instance, European governments are more prepared to make sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than is the United States. In this central respect, Naomi Klein should be thanked for starting a conversation, but others must steer it in different directions, if we are to avoid wallowing in despair.

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His most recent book, The Great Terror War (2003), considers the American response to September 11, including its relationship to the patriotic duties of American Citizens. In 2001 he served on a three person Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestine Territories that was appointed by the United Nations, and previously, on the Independent International Commission on Kosovo. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Human Rights Horizons; On Humane Governance: Toward a New Global Politics; Explorations at the Edge of Time; Revolutionaries and Functionaries; The Promise of World Order; Human Rights and State Sovereignty; A Study of Future Worlds; and This Endangered Planet. Falk also acted as counsel to Ethiopia and Liberia in the Southwest Africa Case before the International Court of Justice.


If It Were Only that Simple

by Katherine Gockel

“The fact is that a combination of public, private and civil society efforts are usually employed in most of these situations. To lay most of the blame on privatization and business misrepresents reality.”

Reading “Disaster Capitalism,” one would think that the current dire situation in Iraq and the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina are all because of an emphasis on “small” government, privatization, and partnerships with the business sector. If only it were that simple.

That is the problem with this article and those written by people who argue the “other side”—that big government is wasteful, stifles competition and harms U.S. competitiveness. The fact is that a combination of public, private and civil society efforts are usually employed in most of these situations. To lay most of the blame on privatization and business misrepresents reality. Corruption is also found in government and civil society, especially in the developing world.

Americans need to stop accepting oversimplified arguments. Telling the whole story is impossible. Yet, we should expect those writing for the public to at least offer more than one perspective and even provide examples that might contradict their argument so that better solutions can be developed.

This response article to Ms. Klein’s piece also will not tell the “whole story.” The various situations used as “evidence” for her argument are too complex to cover in 800 words. Rather, it will provide a different perspective on what has happened in Iraq and in the New Orleans’ school system for readers who might want to think more about the validity of the “disaster capitalism” argument.

To begin, the public and private sectors are not mutually exclusive and they never have been. Business people have entered politics and politicians have entered the business world. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Let us not forget that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an organization where many humanitarian professionals would love to work.

Yes, there are businesses with questionable practices. Especially those like Halliburton, which has been censured for overcharging the U.S. Government in Iraq. There are also politicians (from both major U.S. political parties), government officials, and non-governmental organization representatives who have demonstrated questionable and even unethical practices. There are also efforts by members of business, government, and civil society to make the globe a more inhabitable place for all people. More people are coming to accept that it is a combination of efforts from each of these sectors that leads to better and more sustainable solutions.

Let us not forget that questionable public policies brought Iraq to its current state of affairs; and not just those policies of the U.S. Government. The Iraqi Government and the various sects in Iraq are also responsible for the ongoing strife and insecurity that make development and reconstruction so difficult. Iran and other countries also have a role in this, as do groups advocating terrorist activities.

The political situation caused by internal Iraqi sectarianism is now deemed by many experts as being more critical than the security situation. In a dinner conversation last spring, a high-ranking Iraqi shared that every time something was built in Iraq, someone or some group destroyed it. So it is not as if people—from the public, private, and civil sectors—are not trying to help Iraq recover and develop. Rather, power struggles and use of violence by many players are impediments to progress. That situation cannot be blamed solely on the use of private contractors.

Yes, Americans and their allies are afforded greater security in Iraq than most Iraqis. But the picture painted in Ms. Klein’s article would have one think that people inside the Green Zone are not being shelled or attacked, which is not the case. The security situation for Americans is so dangerous that U.S. State Department employees do not want to serve in Iraq. Secretary Rice even had to implement a policy to ensure that posts in Iraq will be filled before any others.

Switching to the New Orleans school system example, again it was poor homeland security responses by local, state, and federal officials that let this natural disaster become a humanitarian crisis. Who can forget the pictures of rows of public school buses that were never used to transport New Orleans’s residents out of the city? Also, the choice to expand the number of charter schools in New Orleans was done in response to what was a previously failing school system. Those of us who have lived in Louisiana know that its educational system has always been poor. That is why so many people in the state send their children to private schools. No one knows how New Orleans’s experiment with charter schools will turn out. But is it not worth trying a new approach?

Overall, turning to the private sector to assist with disaster relief is not inherently bad. Many times the private sector can respond faster and more cost-effectively. But it also requires strong government oversight, which did not happen with many contractors in Iraq, and better administration of policies, which did not happen in New Orleans.

Let us also remember that the Bush administration was re-elected by American voters who knew that the Administration promoted tax cuts while financing two significant wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blaming the private sector and “disaster capitalism” for what is now taking place is just a way to pass the buck, literally and figuratively.

Katherine Gockel is a program officer in the Policy Analysis and Dialogue department. Gockel leads the foundation’s Middle East policy programming and also concentrates on the areas of counterterrorism and failing states. She holds an M.A. in global studies from the University of Denver where she focused on human security and economic development. She also holds an M.B.A. in marketing and a B.A. in communications. Gockel began her career in the business sector where she worked for and with organizations such as AT&T, Sun Microsystems, The National Nanotechnology Initiative, the Center for Teaching International Relations, and Ernst & Young Consulting.


A Democratic Disaster

by Michael Goodhart

“The catalogue of outrages Klein supplies is enough to make even the local chamber of commerce president blush. Yet as I read her piece, I found myself angry not so much with the corporations as with my fellow citizens. How can we allow this to happen?”

Naomi Klein’s “Disaster Capitalism” paints a grim and compelling portrait of an emerging American dystopia: Large corporations making huge profits on non-bid contracts to handle the government’s response to natural and political disasters (like Katrina and Iraq). She envisions “a collective future of disaster apartheid, in which survival is determined primarily by one’s ability to pay.” The catalogue of outrages Klein supplies is enough to make even the local chamber of commerce president blush. Yet as I read her piece, I found myself angry not so much with the corporations as with my fellow citizens. How can we allow this to happen?

Klein’s essay should be read alongside Robert Reich’s musings on “How Capitalism is Killing Democracy,” in the September/October issue of Foreign Policy. According to Reich, “Democracy has become enfeebled largely because companies, in intensifying competition for global consumers and investors, have invested ever greater sums in lobbying, public relations, and even bribes and kickbacks” in seeking to change the rules of the game to their advantage (41). This cash-fueled competition prices most citizens out of politics. In effect, corporations are buying a political system that makes the rules under which “disaster capitalism” flourishes.

Yet the problem is not—or is not fundamentally—corporate greed. Reich reminds us that markets are designed to make us richer: Corporations exist to make a profit. That is what all of us expect and demand that they do when we act like investors, worriedly tracking the rise and fall of our IRAs, or as consumers, shopping for the best bargain. Democracy is supposed to distill and act for the common good. To Reich, the problem is that we do not do a good job in putting our role as citizens ahead of our role as investors and consumers.

“The challenge for citizens is to stop these economic entities from being the authors of the rules by which they live” (40). In other words, citizens must use the power of the ballot to check corporate excesses. Interestingly, the word “democracy” never appears in Klein’s essay, and “democratic” appears only once, with a capital D, in identifying Representative Henry Waxman of California. That is the main flaw in her argument. As repulsive as disaster capitalism is, it is first and foremost a failure of democracy—a failure of the citizens.

Klein seems to think that we are in a hole so deep that we will never climb out of it. But she never admits that we have dug the hole ourselves—or maybe contracted Bechtel to do it for us. Even Reich talks about citizens’ voices being “drown[ed] out” and society finding itself “unable” to respond to the social calamity of unbridled capitalism. Both apparently believe that somehow the corporations have gained an insurmountable advantage, that the writing is on the wall, that capitalism will run amok right until it runs over a cliff.

So in both of these stories, to varying degrees, capitalism is the villain, democracy the victim. This strikes me as utter nonsense. Of course, representative democracy is a flawed system: Money buys influence; the rules favor the haves over the have-nots. And, as Reich acknowledges, we face a tension between our public roles as citizens and our private roles as economic actors seeking to maximize our own personal welfare. But for all their problems, democratic institutions make it possible for the people to make and enforce the rules.

Thomas Frank, in his 2004 bestseller What’s the Matter with Kansas?, argues that people have been duped by right-wingers, distracting themselves with values issues while privatization, deregulation, and the rest of it get smuggled in under their noses. This might be true, but it hardly absolves democratic citizens of our responsibility for those economic policies or for others (like the Iraq war). If people are so lazy, ignorant, or uninterested that they have not noticed corporations plundering the treasury and impoverishing the nation, perhaps the old adage that people get the government they deserve is true after all.

Karl Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto that the first step in the proletarian revolution is “to win the battle of democracy.” He saw that capitalism could never be tamed unless the people first used democratic political institutions to change the rules of the game. He would surely be saddened to learn that nearly 160 years later we have still not learned this lesson—or rather, that we have forgotten it. The post-war welfare states in Europe and North America are (were?) a testament to the power of the people to shape the system, to control capitalism without crippling it (they were also testament to an unjust global economic order, but that is another story).
Today capital again has the upper hand. Disaster capitalism, with all of its affronts, is clear evidence of that, as Klein shows. Yet perhaps the greatest outrage of all is that things have gotten so bad that democracy does not even seem to be worth mentioning.

Michael Goodhart is Associate Professor of Political Science and Women’s Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. His research focuses on democratic theory and human rights, especially in the context of globalization. He has published on these subjects in Human Rights Quarterly, Perspectives on Politics, the Journal of Human Rights, Polity, and elsewhere. Goodhart’s first book, Democracy as Human Rights: Freedom and Equality in the Age of Globalization, was published by Routledge in 2005. He is book review editor at Polity and a past president of the APSA organized section on human rights. For more information visit


The Personal Side of Disaster Capitalism

by Susan E. Waltz

“A human rights approach has to ensure fullest accountability for public response where lives may hang in the balance, whether by slow rescue (an act of omission), or by use of lethal force (an act of commission).”

Two weeks ago a tornado ripped through my small hometown in rural Michigan (population 3,500), unexpectedly providing fresh perspective on the phenomenon Naomi Klein has called “Disaster Capitalism.” While I was writing this commentary, work crews were out with chainsaws and chippers, cutting up the remains of fallen trees and clearing mountains of debris from roads and sidewalks.

Klein draws attention to the spread of privatized disaster relief, using the two catastrophes of Iraq and New Orleans as her primary examples. Her essay exposes a reality that is only slowly sinking in: Functions once considered at the core of governance responsibilities are increasingly being performed by private companies. Within the U.S., the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was established in 1978 to provide direct disaster relief, but as Klein notes, Hurricane Katrina obliged FEMA to hire a contractor not simply to manage contracts, but to award them. Blackwater’s recent incident in Iraq, which left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, has at last focused attention on the expanding role of private military corporations. Klein’s article is threaded with alarm about the growing tendency to outsource disaster response or depend on private initiatives—but is this much ado about nothing?

As I reflect on Klein’s examples and look out on the clean-up efforts in my own disaster-struck community, I think the answer must be, “It depends” (it turns out that virtually all of the workmen who trampled through my backyard last week are employed by private industry under contract to utility companies or my little community. My town lives off of agriculture and light industry, and as a practical matter, it is hard to imagine how our tax dollars would be able to cover necessary services if all the equipment and personnel had to be on hand rather than on contract). Over the past two decades the U.S. has systematically privatized many erstwhile public services at every level of government—federal, state and local. In the interest of efficiency, and because private industry presumably does it “better,” government has been downsized and jobs that range from janitorial services to prison management have been outsourced. Klein’s account of this privatization focuses on the far edge of the phenomenon, where private contractors police the streets of New Orleans and perform military functions in Iraq. She leads us to, but never quite asks, the critical question: How far do we want this trend to go? Privatization and outsourcing attenuate the accountability of elected governance bodies. Are there some functions for which we do not want—and cannot ethically accept—reduced accountability?

Disaster preparations and decisions about disaster response inevitably involve utilitarian logic: What is feasible in view of available resources? What kinds of threats should receive priority preparations (and response)? Overall, how can the greatest good be achieved with the least expenditure of public resources?

From that starting point, a human rights perspective would weight the considerations in favor of fundamental human rights, beginning with the right to life itself. Even in the midst of disasters, every society—in proportion to its resources—has a rights-based duty to assure that everyone has access to basic, life-protecting emergency response, and above all, to see that no one is systematically excluded.

In addition, a human rights approach has to ensure fullest accountability for public response where lives may hang in the balance, whether by slow rescue (an act of omission), or by use of lethal force (an act of commission). It is one thing to outsource construction and maintenance. It is quite another to hire private police officers, or security guards, who may not in any substantial way be regulated by local authorities or even accountable to law and local ordinances. As an environmental contractor sent to remediate the effects of an electrical transformer that spilled its contents into my yard commented last week, “it all depends on who sets the rules, and who you’re ultimately working for.”

Susan Waltz is Professor at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. She has published extensively on the politics of human rights in North Africa and has recently completed a series of essays on small state participation in the negotiations of human rights standards. From 1996-1998 Dr. Waltz served as International Chairperson of Amnesty International.


The End(s) of the State(?)

by Daniel J. Whelan

“What is the oddest consequence of all of this? It is that the logic of free-market privatization has solved the problem of the War on Terrorism by destroying the public, without which there can be no such thing as a “war” (except of the Hobbesian kind).”

Last February, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed that anticipated Klein’s article, in part. In his view, the Bush administration has been engaged in an effort to “Green-Zone” the United States government by gutting the professional civil service—dubbed as “the enemy” by the American Enterprise Institute—and replacing its ranks with political appointees who have little interest or experience in running a state, but quite a bit of interest in enriching the private sector with public largesse. Klein’s “Disaster Capitalism” takes Krugman’s theme and pumps up the volume ten-fold.

Undoubtedly Klein’s article unsettles many liberal-minded Americans whose inclinations tend toward suspicion of the market and privatization, “just because.” They react to the enormous amounts of money being siphoned off from the public treasury to serve those who find themselves doubly-engrossed as investors in companies that now perform public functions, and due to their favorable treatment by the Bush administration as high-income taxpayers. I believe, nevertheless, that we have a much deeper problem than fat-cats feeding liberally at the public trough.

That deeper concern is a move toward private control over public life, justified within a powerful rhetoric of meeting public ends (national security, for example). Klein warns us that private corporations have created “a state within a state,” or worse, that they are replacing the state altogether. Eventually, Klein suggests, only those who can pay (privately) will benefit from that which we have always considered as “public goods.” Those who cannot pay will be left with little recourse. The fantasy of free-marketers, of course, is that those who do without will simply live with the situation.

How can we evaluate this state of affairs in a way that gets around simple knee-jerk reactions to the growing “power” of the market at the public’s expense? I think we need to clarify the appropriate means and ends of public and private institutions—the state and civil society (including the market). Let us assume that ensuring national security, “promoting the general welfare,” or the building and maintenance of infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, and water systems) are appropriate ends of the state. They are appropriate because they are public, universal goods. How about the means for meeting those ends? We can think of means in terms of resources (money—that is, public funding garnered by taxation). We can also think of means in terms of who “does the work” of meeting public ends. Does it matter if this work is done in civil society—by private corporations, non-profits, and so forth? There might be good public reasons for contracting with organizations and companies that specialize in some manufacture or providing some service—such as the building of F-14s or conducting a research study on diabetes. So, while those “doing the work” may be outside the state, the contracts they assume make them an extension of the state. The public is protected by the terms of contracts that protect the integrity of the ends those enterprises and organizations fulfill. As long as this is done, and our public ends are met properly, the fact that the work might be carried out by private groups should not overly concern us from the standpoint of our public life.

In civil society (especially the market), the means-ends principle is that we use private means (our own money) to secure private, particularized ends. A modern market economy is based on meeting the differentiated needs or wants of individuals. Because individuals are self-determining, their needs and wants are neither common nor predetermined. Writers from Adam Smith to Amartya Sen have pointed out how, in this way, the market is intrinsic to the very notion of human freedom and individuality.

The problem that Klein has uncovered here is complicated, but worth thinking about. In “Disaster Capitalism,” we understand that the contractor has its own ends, which is to make a profit or, in the case of a non-profit organization, to do “good works.” And those ends are appropriately private. However, when Erik Prince, the CEO of Blackwater, claims that his “soldiers” are not mercenaries (because they are not “foreign”) and wraps the ends of his corporation in the flag (“we are loyal Americans”), we should be suspicious. Blackwater’s ends are to make a profit. Their means are to provide security services. But the market principle is confused in this relationship: If the private corporation exists to meet differentiated ends, how can it meet ends that are universal, such as security?

The answer is, they cannot. What we are seeing here is a movement to privatize public ends so they are no longer public, but use public means to achieve private results. Clearly this has implications for public life: We need to restore the integrity of the state to ensure our public ends are guaranteed. But I should note that private corporations and non-profits should equally be concerned for the integrity of civil society. Once public ends disappear, the concepts of “security” or “education” or “infrastructure” lose their meaning. Once public ends are privatized, there is no public. Once there is no public, there is no largesse from which to feed. The market—the “buyer” of private services—shrinks considerably. The state, once able to command vast resources to meet once-public but now-private ends, is gone.

What is the oddest consequence of all of this? It is that the logic of free-market privatization has solved the problem of the War on Terrorism by destroying the public, without which there can be no such thing as a “war” (except of the Hobbesian kind). We are left with little more than private individuals with private money protected by private mercenaries. We will have collapsed into enclaves. Not only will we have destroyed the state, we also will have destroyed the “free market” that the state made possible.

Daniel J. Whelan (Ph.D., DU, 2006) is currently Assistant Professor of Politics and International Relations at Hendrix College. He was founding editor (with Laura A. Hebert) of HRHW from 2001-2004, and Senior Editor from 2004-2007. He now serves on the HRHW Editorial Review Board. His doctoral dissertation, "Interdependent, Interrelated, and Indivisible Human Rights: A Political and Historical Investigation," was awarded the 2006 Best Dissertation citation by the Human Rights Section of the American Political Science Association.


November 2007: Response

Iraqi Resettlement: Why Congress Will Act

by David A. Weinberg

“While it is regretful that Congressional wheels may at times turn slowly, it is not unreasonable to expect groundbreaking legislation to assist and resettle Iraqi refugees before the year’s end.”

I would like to commend Human Rights & Human Welfare for their recent roundtable on the Iraqi refugee crisis. The Roundtable rightly draws attention to the United States government’s woefully inadequate efforts thus far to address a major humanitarian crisis of its own making.

However, I do not agree with Professor Daniel Whelan’s assessment of “why Congress won’t act” on Iraqi resettlement. Dr. Whelan argues that the new Congress appears reluctant to resettle a reasonable number of Iraqi refugees in danger because Democrats fear that doing so would precipitate Iraqi state failure by means of “brain drain.” Instead, I would argue that Congress has been slow to act due to mitigating institutional and political factors.

Anecdotally, it is worth noting that I have actually met the brave Iraqi journalist Nour al-Khal and her remarkable American patron Lisa Ramaci-Vincent mentioned in the article by Joseph Huff-Hannon to which the HRHW Roundtable was responding. When Ms. al-Khal was finally admitted to the United States soon after the article was published, the two of them spoke at a Congressional staff briefing which I organized while working as a foreign policy staffer on Capitol Hill this past year.

This incident is illustrative of a broader point—the reason Congress has yet to act on the Iraqi refugee crisis is not out of some illusion that by plugging Iraq’s “brain drain” the country can somehow be packed back together. Indeed, there is a growing understanding on Capitol Hill of the dire urgency and humanitarian import of the Iraqi refugee crisis, and many Democratic members of Congress ran their campaigns in 2006 on the premise that the battle for a stable Iraq has already been lost.

Rather, the immediate challenge has been a matter of workload. When the Democrats assumed control of Congress at the start of 2007, all energy in the field of foreign policy was focused on trying to convince the President to change his overall Iraq strategy. Additionally, a panoply of other foreign policy issues (such as the Iranian nuclear question) made pressing demands on the remaining time and attention of the Democratic leadership. Thus, even though the new Congress was from its start more ideologically responsive to addressing the Iraqi refugee crisis than the Republican-dominated one that preceded it, it took until mid-way through the year before Iraqi refugee issues began to be addressed in earnest.

Those observing Congress finally witnessed a flurry of activity in May and June as Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY), and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) all introduced comprehensive Iraq refugee bills within a matter of weeks (Professor Susan Waltz briefly cited Kennedy’s Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act in her Roundtable contribution). Consequently, Senator Kennedy succeeded in tacking a modified version of his proposal as an amendment onto the Defense Authorization Act that passed the Senate on the 1st of October. This means that the Kennedy program will be debated when the House and Senate go to conference to reconcile their versions of the Authorization Act, after which the conference’s final document will go to the House and Senate floors for a quick up-or-down vote. It is also worth noting that the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), was somewhat ahead of this curve, calling for the assistance and resettlement of Iraqi refugees in a segment of his Iraq Reconstruction Improvement Act introduced in late March.

The Kennedy proposal is by no means perfect. The Senator was compelled to drop a number of important provisions from the bill, including scaling down the number of special immigrant visas from 15,000 per year—as Rep. Blumenauer had called for—to 5,000 and dropping a waiver provision on “material support” so that his Republican counterparts would agree not to obstruct his bill at the committee level.

However, the bill remains an enormous step forward from current U.S. policy on Iraqi refugees. As is, the Kennedy amendment would open the “priority two” category for humanitarian refugees to Iraqis under threat for their association with the United States; it would also make those Iraqis who have loyally served the Coalition effort either in the direct employ of the U.S. or through an affiliated contractor eligible for the special immigrant visas mentioned above. Finally, it would instruct the federal government to set up in-country refugee processing facilities to allow Iraqis under imminent threat to immediately seek asylum straight from Iraq instead of risking life-and-limb to get to Jordan in hopes of being processed there.

There are a number of other potential measures which policymakers would do well to consider. For example, the bill could grant Iraqis temporary protected status, which would prevent those already in the United States who may have overstayed their visas from being forcibly deported to a war zone. The NGO community would be very happy to see the material support provisions put back into Kennedy’s bill and his lesser requirement of 5,000 special immigrant visas rose back up to 15,000.

The bill could also call for the Administration to submit a comprehensive diplomatic strategy to address the crisis, including negotiating memoranda of understanding with host countries to leverage U.S. assistance into guarantees that they will treat refugees in accordance with established international standards of human rights. Such a strategy could also entail soliciting matching donations from European countries and oil-rich Gulf states, which thus far have largely opted-out of this crisis on the mistaken premise that the displacement of millions of Iraqis from their homes is somehow the United States’ problem alone.

While it is regretful that Congressional wheels may at times turn slowly, it is not unreasonable to expect groundbreaking legislation to assist and resettle Iraqi refugees before the year’s end. Then all eyes will be on the executive branch and the international community, in hopes that they match the dire nature of this crisis with the humanitarian response that is required. It is already too late for many unfortunate Iraqis; let us not sit idly on our hands while others perish.

David A. Weinberg is pursuing his doctorate in political science at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is an affiliate of the
Institute's Security Studies Program.