Thursday, October 18, 2007

The United States of Suburban Green Zones

If you want a glimpse into the future of the United States, claims Naomi Klein in the October issue of Harper's, look no further than present day Iraq. In Baghdad's Green Zone, what would normally be considered government-funded entities (the collection of sewage, sanitation systems, electrical grids) have all been replaced by the private sector. Because Iraq's government is essentially non-functioning, Iraq's wealthy have turned to private actors to fulfill their needs, while the poor in Iraq continue to live without hospitals, any basic services, and in a hail-storm of constant violence.

With more and more of the United States' government's responsibilities getting assigned to private contractors, thus resulting in more and more inaction on the government's part, the "market forces" are taking over. And how.

A perfect example of this is what happened in a wealthy, Republican suburb of Atlanta. Tired of seeing their taxpayer dollars subsidizing police and schools in poor and violent inner-city neighborhoods, the suburb voted to incorporate itself into its own city, Sandy Springs, but had no government infrastructure. Well, within months, a government was outsourced and created from scratch. It only cost the residents of Sandy Springs $27 million a year. This experiment was so successful, however, that all the wealthiest suburbs of Atlanta began to follow suit, eventually with the cities planning to form their own county. Obviously, this has met with fierce opposition in the Fulton County (where Atlanta resides) government, as the loss of tax revenue from all of those cities will eventually make the inner city collapse.

As the world continues to become more and more politically and ecologically unstable, and terrorist attacks and devastating natural disasters on par with Katrina and the Indonesian tsunami become more commonplace, the privatization of every goverment field will be routine, and we'll be the worse off for it. It's already happening: in New Orleans last summer as schools prepared to reopen, nearly half of the city's students were attending new charter schools with small classes, well-trained teachers, and bountiful resources. But students have to be admitted, and the rest of the city's students that were not admitted were stuck with their inner-city schools that were overcrowded, had more guards than teachers, and no money. Subsidized housing was bulldozed and the city's largest public-health hospital still remains closed. In the meantime, the city's wealthist neighborhoods have rebuilt and walled themselves off from the rest of the muck. Within weeks after Katrina, these wealhty neighborhoods had water and emergency generators, open private hospitals, and privatized security provided by a corporation called DynCorp. After Katrina, the companies that received the highest and best contracts to rebuild the Gulf Coast were the same companies receiving the highest and best contracts in Iraq: Halliburton, Fluor, Shaw, and CH2M Hill (who, incidentally, is also the same company that built Sandy Springs' new government from the ground up).

In 2006, the Red Cross signed a disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart, and Blackwater, with its own corporate overhead, has created its own army, literally. They have 20,000 soldiers and a military base in North Carolina, in addition to having the ability to respond to massive humanitarian operations faster and more efficiently than Red Cross. All through money it's received from government contracts in Iraq.

In 2002, CEO's from 30 of the world's largest corporations (includin Fluor and Chevron) came together to call themselves Partnership for Disaster Response, and view non-profits as well as the U.N. as direct competition for disaster resources.

This is where the "free-market" comes into play. When the government is no longer able to foot the bill for terrorist attacks and disasters, and it becomes stretched too thin, these private forces will step in to pick up the slack. But at what cost? Wealthy individuals and corporations will be the first to "bail out" of the current infrastructure, and security will become like health insurance is now: dependent upon where you live, who you work for, and how much you can afford. They will form suburban collectives (Sandy Springs), with their own private militias, walls, backup generators, and possibly economies. In other words, suburban Green Zones. While the poor and lower-middle class will be left to wither with no government support, basic resources, and crumbling, war-zone cities.

Ultimately, as disasters around the world continue to translate into bigger and bigger profits for the private sector, the United States will plunge into what I can only assume is a libertarian's wet dream. You can have anything, as long as you can buy it, and if you can't, well that's too bad for you. The government will no longer be relevant (at least as far as any kind of disaster relief or public works are concerned). Isn't that what the "free market" is all about? Natural disasters have increased by 560% since 1975 (and climate change isn't real??), while wars waged over natural resources will not only continue, but will increase terrorist attacks on a global scale (the number of attacks has increased sevenfold just since the start of the Iraq war).

I don't know about you, and maybe I'm just naive, but I'd rather live in a country where there was an occasional terrorist attack than in a country where the welathy voluntarily lock themselves up, cities become functionless wastelands, and the whole nation becomes a walled fortress to protect against the threat of jihadists and immigrants.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

I tagged you.