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Summary

Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres. Mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations are invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar.
Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, the cost of cheap clothing manufacturing and militarised private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it.

Endorsements for Profits of Doom:

'In Australia, so often bereft of voices of dissent and courage, Antony Loewenstein's tenacious work stands out. Profits of Doom is a journey into a world of mutated economics and corrupt politics that we ignore at our peril.' - John Pilger, independent investigative journalist, author and documentary film-maker

'A great exercise in joining the dots, on essential terrain that too often is ignored. At a time when rapacious private interests campaign to destroy government - so they can cash in on its absence - Loewenstein reports from the frontline in an insidious war.' - Paul McGeough, author of Kill Khalid and chief foreign correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald

'The competition for the most depraved example of the predatory state capitalism of the Reagan-Thatcher neoliberal era is fierce. In this chilling study, based on careful and courageous reporting, and illuminated with perceptive analysis, Antony Loewenstein presents many competitors for the prize, while also helping us understand all too well the saying that man is a wolf to man.' - Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor at MIT and Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy, political activist and author

'Profits of Doom nails the mad idea that the drive for profits will create global wellbeing. Antony Loewenstein delivers a spine-chilling account of the post 9/11 world taken over by vulture capitalism and its political cronies. And this is what we are voting for.' - Bob Brown, former leader of the Australian Greens and director of Sea Shepherd

'Antony Loewenstein's Profits of Doom is a powerful indictment of the corporations and governments across the globe whose unquenchable thirst for resources and power threaten the stability - perhaps even the very existence - of the planet. Loewenstein is no armchair academic or cubicle journalist. The stories in the book are the product of years embedded, in military and economic warzones, with the disempowered of the world, the people from Pakistan to Papua New Guinea and beyond who have the audacity and bravery to fight back against all odds. Loewenstein's keen sense of justice is evident on every page of this book as he gives voice to the voiceless and confronts the powerful. Profits of Doom is a devastating, incisive follow-up to Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine.' - Jeremy Scahill, international best-selling author of Dirty Wars and Blackwater

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PRAISE FOR PROFITS OF DOOM

‘The competition for the most depraved example of the predatory state capitalism of the Reagan-Thatcher neoliberal era is fierce. In this chilling study, based on careful and courageous reporting, and illuminated with perceptive analysis, Antony Loewenstein presents many competitors for the prize, while also helping us understand all too well the saying that man is a wolf to man.’ — NOAM CHOMSKY, Institute Professor at MIT and Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy, political activist and author

Profits of Doom nails the mad idea that the drive for profits will create global wellbeing. Antony Loewenstein delivers a spinechilling account of the post 9/11 world taken over by vulture capitalism and its political cronies. And this is what we are voting for.’ — BOB BROWN, former leader of the Australian Greens and director of Sea Shepherd

‘Antony Loewenstein’s Profits of Doom is a powerful indictment of the corporations and governments across the globe whose unquenchable thirst for resources and power threaten the stabilityperhaps even the very existenceof the planet. Loewenstein is no armchair academic or cubicle journalist. The stories in this book are the product of years embedded, in military and economic warzones, with the disempowered of the world, the people from Pakistan to Papua New Guinea and beyond who have the audacity and bravery to fight back against all odds. Loewenstein’s keen sense of justice is evident on every page of this book as he gives voice to the voiceless and confronts the powerful. Profits of Doom is a devastating, incisive follow-up to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.’ — JEREMY SCAHILL, international best-selling author of Dirty Wars and Blackwater

‘A great exercise in joining the dots, on essential terrain that too often is ignored. At a time when rapacious private interests campaign to destroy government— so they can cash in on its absence—Loewenstein reports from the frontline in an insidious war.’ — PAUL McGEOUGH, author of Kill Khalid and chief foreign correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald

‘In Australia, so often bereft of voices of dissent and courage, Antony Loewenstein’s tenacious work stands out. Profits of Doom is a journey into a world of mutated economics and corrupt politics that we ignore at our peril.’ — JOHN PILGER, independent, investigative journalist, author and documentary film-maker

PROFITS OF DOOM

MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY PRESS

An imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Limited

11–15 Argyle Place South, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia

mup-info@unimelb.edu.au

www.mup.com.au

First published 2013

Text © Antony Loewenstein, 2013

This edition published 2014

Design and typography © Melbourne University Publishing Limited, 2013

This book is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means or process whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Every attempt has been made to locate the copyright holders for material quoted in this book. Any person or organisation that may have been overlooked or misattributed may contact the publisher.

Text design by Megan Ellis

Cover design by Design by Committee

Typeset by Cannon Typesetting

Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:

Loewenstein, Antony, author.

Profits of doom / Antony Loewenstein.

9780522866827 (pback.)

9780522867237 (ebook.)

Capitalism.

Contracting out.

Globalization.

Non-governmental organizations.

International business enterprises.

Mines and mineral resources.

330.9

To those who resist injustice

CONTENTS

Author’s Note, 2014

Introduction

1   Curtin Immigration Detention Centre—Cash for Care

2   Christmas Island—Incarceration in the Indian Ocean

3   James Price Point—Boom or Bust?

4   Papua New Guinea—The Resource Curse

5   Afghanistan and Pakistan—The War Economy

6   Haiti—Open for Business

Postscript

Acknowledgements

Bibliography

Notes

Index

AUTHOR’S NOTE, 2014

The Wall Street Journal was ecstatic. ‘Australia and New Zealand rank among the global leaders in privatisations this year [2013],’ journalist Gillian Tan gushed, ‘raising billions of dollars as lawmakers seek to cut debt and plug budget deficits.’¹ The article continued with a quote from Marcus Fanning, head of Australian equities at Colonial First State Global Asset Management, who said, ‘The market is positively disposed to privatisations’.

The story, like so many others published in the last twelve months, positions privatisations as a necessary and healthy progression in society. No questions. No alternative opinions. No mention of the workers who lose their jobs in the process, nor the reduction in services for communities. No discussion of the human rights abuses, which result in systems that reward secrecy.

The market speaks and the market rules.

Except when it doesn’t. During the years I spent researching this book, first published in 2013, I aimed to investigate global and Australian cases where vulture capitalism had led to unaccountable deaths, security breaches, pollution, misplaced aid, destructive mining and assassinations. All this in the name of greater ‘efficiency’ and the apparent need for less state control of our lives. It’s a weird kind of freedom that enriches an ever-increasing elite at the expense of the majority.

It’s no wonder that the vast bulk of Americans said, in late 2013, according to the Pew Research Center, that there was a growing gulf between rich and poor.² The figures are startling: an unprecedented 49.7 million US citizens live below the poverty line³ (with a general population of around 320 million people). The November 2013 report said current economic policies, pursued by leaders across the globe, were contributing to the unease and disillusionment felt by citizens. As the Occupy movement rightly claims, the 1 per cent of US power brokers are doing very nicely, indeed.

A key aim of this book is to raise awareness of the incestuous links between multinationals and states and the guaranteed loss of accountability that comes with those links. Immigration detention is big business in Australia, Britain, America and beyond, and the last twelve months has seen increasing public outrage at the ways in which successive Australian governments, of both the Labor and Liberal parties, outsource their responsibilities to corporations with no financial incentive to take good care of staff and detainees. It’s a phenomenon that I document here. It is a warning against this policy.

The election of conservative Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013 saw an acceleration of sending refugees to remote and inaccessible Pacific islands away from the glare of media scrutiny. Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island and the country of Nauru have become prison camps for detainees: individuals are locked up for indefinite periods of time with poor conditions. At least five major companies are making huge profits in the process. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison initiated the Orwelliansounding Operation Sovereign Borders to ‘stop the boats’ from arriving on Australian shores. At the time of writing he had been successful in this mission but the human toll was high, including mental and physical trauma for the countless asylum seekers stuck in indefinite limbo in detention.

The worst example of this agony was when an Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Barati, was killed and dozens injured during unrest at the Manus camp in February 2014. The exact nature of his death is unclear but other refugees told an inquiry that he was thrown off a balcony and then beaten to death, possibly by a staff member from the British company G4S (contracted by the Australian Government to run the centre), or assaulted by the PNG police.

In May 2014 the Federal Government released an official report on the February Manus Island violence and death of Reza Berati but it largely exonerated the behaviour of G4S, partly blamed the Salvation Army and instructed the PNG legal system—a terribly flawed institution—to hold any perpetrators to account.

During a rare media tour of the facility in March 2014, ABC journalist Liam Fox detailed the horrific conditions: filthy and broken toilet and shower blocks, evidence of bullet holes, desperate refugees pleading for ‘freedom’ and shattered glass.⁴ Fox tweeted: ‘I’ve seen many shocking things as a journalist. The inside of the Manus detention centre is among the most confronting.’ Australian taxpayers fund these firms that provide the shoddiest services.

Instead of taking responsibility, Australia blamed PNG for the troubles, a classic tactic employed to deflect blame that is repeated in countless instances across the world. The buck never stops with those in charge. Vulture capitalism is a broken system that only works for those making a fortune.

Rare public outrage was voiced earlier this year when refugee activists and some artists exhibiting at the Biennale of Sydney protested at the organisation’s connection to Transfield, an Australian firm that received a $1.2 billion contract to run immigration centres on Manus and Nauru. The move generated media and political apoplexy with Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with connections to Transfield and key protagonists in the arts elite, condemning the ‘vicious ingratitude’ of the artists. But the protest led to a severing of Biennale ties to Transfield, an unexpected success that brought weeks of media coverage alerting the public to a key, corporate beneficiary of government money in warehousing asylum seekers.

As I document in this book, profits are opportunistic—soaring during moments of greatest trouble. G4S held a $244 million contract to run Manus (before Transfield took over) and yet paid no Australian tax in 2012, instead receiving a tax refund. It even paid no tax in Britain.⁵ This didn’t cause any serious media or political scandal, simply business as usual. Other companies, such as Serco and Toll, continued receiving billions of dollars in contracts to manage detention centres in remote locations. One example of this process, for reasons never explained, was the cost of $3.5 million by Toll Holdings to build kitchens on Manus and yet when the Abbott government wanted to upgrade the centre the old facilities were simply removed.⁶ The excessive cost of mandatory detention is an irrelevancy for governments and corporations that stand to benefit from a culture of secrecy and exclusion.

The trends I document in this book are on the march. I returned to Bougainville in Papua New Guinea in late 2013 to assess the state of the island since my visit two years before. I found heightened moves by mining multinational Rio Tinto to re-open the polluting mine there (with little serious engagement with affected communities). The local government, along with the PNG and Australian administrations, are aggressively advocating a resumption of copper mining but there’s been little proper discussion so far about cleaning up pollution. This could change, as in March 2014 the United Nations Environment Program announced it would assist the island in drawing up terms of reference for a clean-up, though Rio is legally responsible for the mess. A murky process of pushing through unaccountable mining laws is being advocated and funded by Canberra in a way guaranteed to instil resentment. The complicity of Rio, PNG and Canberra in war crimes during the civil war in the 1980s and 1990s over the mine still barely registers in the global press. It is a great, deliberate silence.

I spoke to countless men and women around the mine who said they wanted an independent future filled with thriving agriculture and tourism. A young woman, Bougainville-born and raised, Theonila Roka, told me as the sun set on the polluted Kavarong River, that mining isn’t necessary to bring Bougainville independence. ‘In many ways we’re already independent,’ she argued. ‘Most people are self-sufficient, growing their own food on their land.’

In Haiti the situation is little better. During a visit in early 2014 I saw a slight improvement since my last trip, including new roads and housing and a slick airport in the capital Port-au-Prince. But vast numbers of citizens remain mired in poverty, unable to find stable work and threatened by sexual violence. A major US-backed industrial park at Caracol, investigated in this book, was found by an NGO in late 2013 to have woefully under-paid staff.⁷ Cholera still kills far too many people, at least 9000 at the time of writing and spreading to neighbouring states, due to poor sanitation. The military is again expanding despite no known external threats. I listened to government rhetoric on placing the population still suffering after the 2010 earthquake into houses while witnessing expanding slums as far as the eye could see with desultory access to education, health and security.

Dissenting voices against the stifling and largely inefficient aid industry exists; the great, local Haitian graffiti artist, Jerry Rosembert Moïse, talks of the desire for a truly independent state away from Washington-instructed policies, but decades of viewing Haiti as a nation of cheap labour will take time to change.

The longest war in US history, in Afghanistan, continues to suck up lives and resources. Although the vast bulk of US forces will have departed by the end of 2014, their legacy is dark. The claims by Afghan ministers and many foreign powers that the nation’s vast mineral resources, including copper, gold and lithium, will sustain and stabilise the state after 2014 is delusional considering the record of other developing countries routinely cheated of their rights due to inadequate regulatory safeguards. Javed Noorani, researcher for the Kabul-based think-tank Integrity Watch Afghanistan, says that hundreds of millions of dollars of minerals are being shipped annually and illegally to Iran and Pakistan. He fears the worst: ‘We will be Congo.’

Corruption is still rife. In late 2013 the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, in a letter to the Pentagon, documented how Afghan companies with ties to militant groups continued to receive US contracts. Shoddy workmanship and providing bomb-making material for insurgents was no impediment to ongoing US backing. ‘It’s like we’re subsidising the people who are shooting at our soldiers,’ said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire.⁹ The same US report found nearly US$100 billion in investment was likely to fail due to poor oversight and worsening security. Many of the American companies featured in this book were found to have overcharged, not completed work or provided unsafe hospitals and schools.

Despite these profound global challenges, I remain cautiously optimistic that change is possible. The 2013 revelations by former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden, detailing the role of an out of control surveillance state outsourced to private contractors, caused public outrage and some reform, albeit minor, to stem the complete eradication of privacy in the modern age. Snowden made millions aware that his former employee, Booz Allen Hamilton, controlled huge amounts of personal information on us all and yet nobody gave them consent to do so.

Vulture capitalism thrives in both the light and dark yet it loathes public scrutiny. My book reveals a world that most people don’t know exists and shows many individuals fighting back against institutions that seem impenetrable. Some of the stories that you’ll read may hearten you while others will fill you with despair. Be outraged. Be empowered. Be sad. But most importantly recognise that a more equitable world is achievable.

We all need to get involved.

Antony Loewenstein

2014

INTRODUCTION

We can start by applying what I call ‘The Google Test’. If you can find a good or service on the internet, then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing it.

Tim Pawlenty, former Republican governor and business lobbyist, 2011¹

Today in the United States there are over six million people under some form of ‘correctional supervision’, including more black men than at the height of slavery in 1850. People of colour make up only 30 per cent of the American population, yet ethnic and racial minorities comprise 60 per cent of the prison population; one in three black men will end up behind bars in their lifetime. In 1936, the Gulag Archipelago under Joseph Stalin held fewer people in jail—five million—than currently exist in ‘correctional supervision’ in the US. Over five million Americans are denied the right to vote due to a criminal conviction in the country. Racial discrimination has not ended; it’s simply been refigured.²

There are a multitude of reasons for this, not least the ineffectual ‘war on drugs’ that disproportionally targets neighbourhoods and communities where people of colour predominantly reside. But possibly the key development has been the expansion of the prison– industrial complex. In the last three decades in the United States, six times more money has been spent on jailing citizens than on educating them.

There is a massive private industry that thrives on keeping prison beds occupied, and reflects how American for-profit companies lead the world in aggressively pursuing and achieving billion-dollar contracts. For example, the country’s largest private prison firm, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), recorded revenue in 2011 of US$1.7 billion. Such profits can be traced to the fact that between 1999 and 2010, the use of private prisons grew by 784 per cent in the US federal prison system and jumped by 40 per cent at the state level. Nearly half of all the prisons built between 2000 and 2005 were privately run, and nearly half of all immigrants detained by the US Government were sent to for-profit facilities.³

‘The interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum number of inmates’, writes staff writer Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, ‘but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible’.⁴ He exposes a 2005 CCA annual report detailing the millions spent annually to lobby for more contracts, and warning investors of the commercial consequences of a reduction in the number of convicted prisoners:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities … The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalisation of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

The CCA’s long-term priorities were underlined in a letter it sent to the governments of 48 US states offering to buy their prisons, conditional on a 20-year management contract and a guarantee that 90 per cent of inmate beds would remain occupied.

America has the dubious honour of leading a global push towards privatised prisons. Its corporations spin a web of influence to keep citizens incarcerated, including campaign contributions to political candidates, the lobbying of government, and relationships with former and current officials. This means that legislators pass tough-on-crime laws that guarantee the private prison operators large profits at US taxpayers’ expense. The extent to which private prisons have infiltrated all levels of American society was highlighted in 2013, when Florida Atlantic University renamed its football stadium after a for-profit prison firm, GEO Group. The university proudly announced that the corporation would also be funding scholarships.

Louisiana, which has a population of around four and a half million people, is the world’s prison capital. One in 86 of its citizens is behind bars, an incarceration figure five times greater than Iran’s, thirteen times greater than China’s and twenty times greater than Germany’s. The last two decades have seen an explosion in local sheriffs running the state’s institutions on the cheap, seduced by the idea of more ‘efficient’ private institutions, while less money has been spent on social programs to stop people ending up in trouble with the law.⁸ ‘The good old boys [judges, prosecutors and sheriffs] are all linked together in the punishment network’, says criminologist Burk Foster,⁹ a reality assisted by an intense and lucrative lobbying network. The American Civil Liberties Union documented in 2011 how privatised prisons impede the campaign for sentencing reform, the most necessary remedy to the issue of the large number of inmates (over 9 per cent of America’s prison population) who live in private jails.¹⁰ It also found that ‘Ohio’s two private prison facilities offer fewer rehabilitation and training courses than their public counterparts’. It’s a similar situation in Arizona, where CCA was intimately involved in the drafting of punitive immigration legislation in 2010.

The commonly voiced argument is that private prisons save money, but this is a fallacy. Often, they only house the most healthy and therefore least expensive prisoners, leaving the more troubled inmates, or the individuals who need more care, to the public prison network.¹¹

None of this would be possible without a political, economic and financial environment that encourages corporate vultures to swoop down upon the carcasses of weakened institutions and industries. It’s an unaccountable ideology that has taken root in America without most of the population even knowing about it. And it’s a cancer that is spreading, this systematic dismantling of transparent government in the name of ‘efficiency’ and a hefty bottom line. One city in America, California’s Maywood, has outsourced every public service to the private sector.¹² ‘Austerity’ is the catchword of the times, though in reality this often means cuts to government services that end up being run by the private sector.¹³ ‘It’s about using deficit panic as an excuse to dismantle social programs’, writes the economist Paul Krugman.¹⁴ The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank specialise in pushing this toxic agenda globally.

Why does any of this matter? Because there’s no evidence that selling off these assets brings either greater efficiency or service. ‘As more and more government functions get privatised’, argues Krugman, ‘states become pay-to-play paradises, in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become a quid pro quo for getting government business’.¹⁵

But it also goes to the heart of the question of what kind of community we all want to live in: one run by an unaccountable private sector whose primary aim is to make a profit, or one made up of individuals and groups striving to serve the common good.

Crowded, privately run prisons are a classic example of a manmade social disaster promoted as good public policy, and CCA, and companies like it, are the main beneficiaries of this ideology. So rarely challenged by major party politicians and mainstream journalists, it’s sold as inevitable and necessary progress in a capitalist society.

‹   ›

The term ‘disaster capitalism’ was coined by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein in her best-selling 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She observes that privatisation, government deregulation and deep cuts to social spending are often imposed after megadisasters, man-made or natural, ‘all before victims of war or natural disaster [are] able to regroup and stake their claims to what [is] theirs’.

The aim of privatising government itself has existed for decades, but the attacks of 11 September 2001 accelerated the process in the United States because the Bush administration saw its ‘war on terror’ as a boon for the private sector. ‘Now wars and disaster responses are so fully privatised’, Klein argues, ‘that they are themselves the new market: there is no need to wait until after the war for the boom—the medium is the message’.¹⁶ These forced changes are implemented despite populations across the world routinely opposing them—if they know about the policies at all, that is. Resistance occurs because inefficiency, abuse, corruption and death cloud the sunny rhetoric offered by privatisation’s loudest defenders.¹⁷ Still, all too often, corporate power wins. The social and environmental costs of this are what I document in these pages.

Predatory capitalism goes way beyond exploiting disaster. Many ongoing crises seem to have been sustained by businesses to fuel industries in which they have a financial stake. These corporations are like vultures feeding on the body of a weakened govern ment that must increasingly rely on the private sector to provide public services. It’s surely inarguable that the corporation is now fundamentally more powerful than the nation state, and that it is often the former that dictates terms to the latter—a profound shifting of authority that has taken place over the last half-century.

I’ve been reading Klein since her 1999 breakthrough book No Logo, which challenged the idea of uncontrolled global capitalism and documented the growing resistance to it. Klein spoke in Melbourne in the early 2000s, and her arguments resonated with me. She exposed global injustices, but instead of just attacking the individual or group at fault, she took her critique far deeper, into the economic system itself. Follow the money, she argued.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc in New York state in 2012, Klein wrote how the rich ‘would protect themselves from the less savoury effects of the economic model that made them so wealthy’.¹⁸ The ‘shock doctors’, she lamented, ‘are readying to exploit the climate crisis’. After Sandy ground up America’s east coast, The New York Times referred to the ‘Mad Max Economy, a multibillion-dollar a year collection of industries that thrive when things get really, really bad’.¹⁹

Calling out the corporations that are causing global environmental damage is vital, as I explore in this book, as is accepting leading American environmentalist Bill McKibben’s assertion that ‘we need to view the fossil fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth’.²⁰ However, I have expanded Klein’s thesis to focus not just on environmental catastrophe, war and the hidden costs of foreign aid, but also what happens when the resources sector and detention centres are privatised. These two industries are thriving in the twenty-first century and operate with an alarming disregard for human rights. Nothing less is required, in the words of Guardian columnist George Monbiot, than a ‘democratic mobilisation against plutocracy’.²¹

My definition of ‘disaster’ has been expanded to include companies that entrench a crisis and then sell themselves as the only ones who can resolve it. Resources and detention centres are just the latest in a long line of assets and institutions that are vulnerable to unaccountable private power. Whether we call this disaster capitalism or just a product of the unavoidable excesses and inequalities of capitalism itself, the end result is still a world ruled by markets.

It is not too fanciful to imagine the end point being the privatisation of the natural world itself. No good can come of all this.

‹   ›

The last ten years have found me in some of the more challenging places on earth, and the evidence before my eyes convinced me to undertake this project—to visit a range of countries and sites of rampant privatisation. I am proud to be an activist and a journalist. I believe that bearing witness to what I saw, and giving unequal players the right of reply, contributes balance to the privatisation debate, rather than the construct of ‘balance’. A constant theme in my previous books, My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, is uncovering the untold stories in the 24-hour news agenda. In this book, I scrutinise an economic system that thrives on ordered chaos and autocracy.

Far too few reporters demand transparency or challenge capitalism, preferring instead to operate comfortably within it. But so-called embedded journalism makes having insights close to impossible, and I’ve always opposed the concept. Heavily pushed by governments and the military after 9/11, it has led to a media that views business and political leaders as far more important than the individuals and societies affected by them. This work is an antidote to such thinking. It is my contribution to the ongoing fight against silence and complicity in our post-9/11 world. For beyond the shocking stories of torture, rendition, war, drone attacks and disappearances that occasionally flicker in the mainstream media, before disappearing to make room for news about the latest reality TV show, lie narratives that are routinely ignored. The effects of policies crafted in Western capitals have clear ramifications for citizens all around the world, but only if we care to look. This book considers the view from below, the experiences of people who are all-too-often invisible in the daily media cycle.

John Pilger writes in the introduction to his book Heroes that citizens in the developing world are mostly framed in the West as ‘demons or victims’, a characterisation that automatically excludes perhaps the dirtiest word in modern English: imperialism. There isn’t a country I visit in the context of this book where this legacy hasn’t scarred the landscape and its people, and the offence is worsened by its omission from Western media reportage. It’s comforting to imagine that this ideology disappeared along with the age of sepia-tinged film, but that’s not the case. The propaganda has simply become more sophisticated and its proponents more brazen.

Predatory capitalism doesn’t just infect the developing world. Far too often, policies that have been tried and failed in poor nations are equally applied in wealthier nations in a time of profound weakness. In the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it didn’t take long for commentators to call for ‘reform’, code for mass privatisation that would allow big business a free hand in redeveloping the devastated areas using generous tax breaks. Murray McLean, Australia’s former ambassador to Japan, argued that trade liberalisation was one viable solution, but he was worried that leaders would remain ‘bogged down in policymaking malaise’.²² His suggestions sounded benign, but they were remarkably similar to the prescriptions described by Klein in The Shock Doctrine in relation to the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. These included ‘public–private partnerships’, ‘flexible labour laws’ and the opening up of the economy to privatisation.²³ It should not be revolutionary to include moral