Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
“It is profitable to let the world go to hell,” wrote Jørgen Randers, professor of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, in 2015. “I believe that the tyranny of the short term will prevail over the decades to come. As a result, a number of long-term problems will not be solved, even if they could have been, and even as they cause gradually increasing difficulties.”
Journalist Antony Loewenstein opens his book Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe with these portentous words. Having crossed the globe, he has seen firsthand just how profitable disaster can be.
Loewenstein’s work is nothing short of virtuosic, having traveled to dozens of countries on multiple continents in recent years for his multifaceted reporting. Like his accomplished compatriot John Pilger, Loewenstein has tackled a dizzying array of topics, with the expertise of a scholar and the vigor of an explorer.
Disaster Capitalism, a 300-page tome that is more like seven books in one, is based on more than a decade of research and reporting. Loewenstein traveled to wartorn Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan to study how the defense industry and for-profit private military companies are turning one of the longest wars in U.S. history into a lucrative business opportunity. He also visited crowded refugee camps in Greece and fully privatized detention centers at Christmas Island, off the coast of his native Australia, to meet asylum-seekers fleeing the wars multinational corporations are profiting from.
Loewenstein continued his reporting in post-earthquake Haiti, where he got to witness disaster capitalism in real time. He also saw how international mining corporations are profiting from the extraction boom in Papua New Guinea. In addition to these expeditions, Loewenstein has spent time in Sudan, Mongolia, Kenya, and Israel.
At a public discussion of Disaster Capitalism at McNally Jackson Books in New York City recently, Loewenstein discussed the privatization of wars and detention facilities for refugees and migrants. He also examined the refugee crisis, and how Western wars and intervention have fueled this crisis, highlighting the links tying together war, detention, mass incarceration, the military-industrial complex, and the prison-industrial complex, and how private prison and security companies are profiting from it all.
The journalist also addressed the rise of far-right and neo-fascist movements around the world, from Donald Trump to France’s Marine Le Pen to Greece’s Golden Dawn, and how these forces will be incapable of solving the structural global problems exacerbated and reinforced by a profit-driven system.
“I believe that bearing witness to what I see, and giving unequal players the right of reply, gives balance to the privatization debate, rather than the false construct of ‘balance’ that permeates the corporate press, which merely pits one powerful interest against another,” Loewenstein explains in the book.
The concept behind Disaster Capitalism is loosely rooted in Naomi Klein’s 2007 opus, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Loewenstein picks up where Klein left off, analyzing not only how natural disasters and war can be vehicles for capitalist policies, but how corporations push their neoliberal agenda and rake in enormous sums of cash from immigration, refugee detention, prisons, and discoveries of natural resource reserves.
“This book is a product of the post-9/11 environment,” he notes. The explosion of the so-called war on terror, the rapid expansion of the surveillance state, the slew of never-ending wars, the privation of public institutions and services, and the militarization of police, the border, and all of society—this is the brave new world Loewenstein devotes himself to dissecting.
And there is even a movie! A Disaster Capitalism documentary has been several years in the making. Loewenstein says they are wrapping up the production process, and are in discussions for distribution of the film.
Loewenstein’s previous book, Profits of Doom, explores similar subjects, while 2008’s The Blogging Revolution presages the 2011 protests that swept the globe. And his book My Israel Question became a bestseller in 2007 and helped foment critical public debate about Israel-Palestine.
In the past several months, Loewenstein, who presently lives in Israel-Palestine, has come under attack for his critical reporting on the government’s violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinians. Since asking prominent Israeli politician Yair Lapid a frank question at a press conference, the government has moved to kick Loewenstein out of the country, citing his support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Loewenstein is the definition of a cosmopolitan. In a Guardian article about his Australian-German-Jewish identity, he wrote, “My identity is a conflicted and messy mix that incorporates Judaism, atheism, anti-Zionism, Germanic traditions and Anglo-Saxon-Australian beliefs. And yet I both routinely reject and embrace them all.”
He’s also a darn good writer.
While he boasts an impressive collection of bylines in prestigious publications, Loewenstein has largely been relegated to the sidelines of mainstream journalism, much like the muckrakers before him.
“Far too few reporters demand transparency or challenge capitalism, preferring instead to operate comfortably within it,” he observes in his book. “This work is an antidote to such thinking… This book considers the view from below, the experiences of people who are all too often invisible in the daily news cycle.”
Ben Norton is a reporter for AlterNet’s Grayzone Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.
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