‘Disaster Capitalism’ is as Old as Capitalism Itself

Scott Deshefy


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The idea crises can be used to disorient, manipulate history, and cultivate societal change is nothing new. “Disaster capitalism” is as old as capitalism itself. Baron Rothschild, 18th century British nobleman whose banking family loaned money (at huge interest) to warring factions, including Lincoln’s Federals and Davis’ Confederacy, put it bluntly. “The time to buy,” he said. “Is when there’s blood in the streets.” Taking the same robber baron approach, Wall Street, U.S. CEOs and industrialists routinely hedge bets by investing in crises and exploiting despair. In his last presidential address, Dwight Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial-political complex and risks of linking economic incentives to perpetual war and global instability. Sixty years later, spending more on militarism than the next 9 nations combined is still American business-as-usual. Big Pharma gluts itself on preventable illnesses, profiting from diabetes and cancer, obesity, hypertension and vaccine-averse spreaders of COVID and flu. As we allow rampant disinformation, twiddle our thumbs over climate change, and travel without need, mere suggestion of bad news drives oil and other prices high. 

Most revelatory about Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” is her segue between Milton Friedman’s economic ideologies and late 20th century opportunism and power broker syndications. Libertarians, corporate execs and political elites align in multinational cartels to promote their individual wealth and private interests at public expense. U.S. economic models and financial sectors base quarterly profits on exploiting and prolonging crises, ravaging the biosphere, and unyielding mythological foes. Anyone perceived as threats to those dividends, global or at home, is labeled an enemy. Permanent markets require permanent conflict and crises. So, as long as terrorists are deemed ubiquitous and unreasoning, wars can go on forever. If protecting rainforests and other ecosystems, species diversity and natural resources is antithetical to accumulating wealth, the finite is peddled as unlimited. America’s economy rests on never ending wars with life itself, and domestically, as each successive act of violence produces blowback, calls for “strongmen,” militarization and “law and order” harbor police states.

Fox News and the radical right Trump-cult repeat talking points to brainwash acolytes into thinking the southern border, Big Lies of election fraud and gunfire in cities will swing 2022 elections. Historically, though, immigration reform, xenophobia and street violence have been American constants. The game changer is global warming which, thanks to 40 years procrastination, remains fixed, deteriorating infrastructure. Eighty-three percent of the West is in severe drought; a million acres burned from LA to Montana last week; record-breaking temps killed hundreds in the Northwest and Canada; and Connecticut’s experiencing one of its wettest, crop-flooding Julys. Anthropogenic climate change is also contributing to worldwide mass extinctions. Meanwhile, America’s SARS-CoV-2 herd immunity has stalled. Politically-motivated resistances to COVID shots and mask wearing, combined with resurgences in indoor/outdoor activities and other relaxed restrictions, are causing delta variant infections, hospitalizations and deaths to rise.

Other mandates are clear. Before 2022, the Biden administration, in addition to combating voter suppression, should crackdown on militia groups dangerously miscasting criminality, insurrection and homicidal overthrow as patriotism. Recruitment of former police and military personnel for treasonous, delusional acts of terror has got to stop. Also, parents’ careers and childhood development can’t be optimized simultaneously with boosting the economy. With 1 million neural connections forming each second of an infant’s first year, it’s time for a resurgence of proficient employer/government-run childcare facilities like those which operated (≥ 3,100) during WWII.

Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.