I will soon return to writing my book on Dispossession. This subject has been a frequent theme of my blog posts over the last few years. You can see a list of relevant posts here:
I will start supplementing my Fukushima posts with news illustrating dispossession themes.
Here is the first part of my prospectus for my Dispossession project:
Dispossessed Book Prospectus
Majia Holmer Nadesan
Government under liberal, democratic capitalism gains its legitimacy from the assumption that it reflects the will of the people. Human security is therefore generally considered to be one of the top priorities of liberal democracies since it represents one of citizens’ most basic needs. This book challenges the widespread assumption that liberal democracies in economically developed countries are organized to protect human security by demonstrating empirically how citizens have been abandoned by powerful states, forcing them to face massive environmental and economic disasters without adequate remediation and support, using three case analyses: the 2007 to present U.S. financial crisis, the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster
The idea that contemporary (neoliberal) capitalism extracts value through a process of dispossession has been explored by a variety of influential thinkers. Formulations of dispossession by David Harvey and Naomi Klein are particularly relevant for this project. David Harvey has described how contemporary financial capitalism reduces entire populations to “debt peonage” through stock promotions and structured asset destruction, among other practices.[i] Naomi Klein has looked at how natural and human wrought disasters – ranging from the financial crisis to the Asian earthquake and tsunami – have provided opportunities for financial elites to impose structural adjustment programs that shift wealth from the many to the few, thereby dispossessing entire populaces.[ii] These formulations of dispossession, conceived as both tool and effect, inform the theoretical framework used to examine the three case studies analyzed in this book project. Analysis reveals that contemporary financial and energy industries are particularly noteworthy for their careless disregard of citizens’ welfare. The practices and logics of dispossession embraced by these industries can be studied empirically in the context of the three significant crises addressed in this book.
Each case analysis stands alone as a separate chapter in the proposed book, Dispossessed. Chapter One introduces the book and explains the rationale for the title and provides an introduction to theoretical investigations of the idea of dispossession. Chapter Two introduces the dominant logic of neoliberal government that has led to this dispossession by producing the conditions of possibility for financial and environmental crises. Chapters Three through Five provide detailed analyses of the three case studies: the U.S. financial crisis, the BP Gulf Oil crisis, and the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis. Chapter Six concludes the project, explaining the dangers of the evolving logic of dispossession for the sustainability of human civilization, while offering specific strategies for change.
The first case analysis of the dispossession of human security is found in Western governments’ handling of the 2007 financial crisis, focusing in particular upon the U.S. government response and the widespread strategy of structural adjustment within Europe and the US. Emerging in the aftermath of the global financial crisis that began in late 2007 is a world order dominated by a few governments and corporations that have unprecedented control over global resources and appear to have little-to-no-regard for the welfare of the vast majority of the world’s populace, even within developed economies such as the U.S. and Japan. Within the U.S., government prioritization of corporate interests over public welfare during the financial crisis was reflected in the lopsided allocation of funds to banks, including the bailout of investment banks that should not have been eligible for relief, and the unlimited backstopping of AIG’s credit default swaps while average Americans, who saw work hours and income collapse, received little-to-no support. During the height of the great financial crisis, secret Federal Reserve loans to the biggest banks totaling $7.7 trillion enabled them to reap $13 billion in profits.[iii] U.S homeowners, who faced around $6.5 million in delinquent and foreclosed mortgages, saw little to no relief.”[iv] In 2009, Graham Bowley reported in The New York Times that the federal financial “bailout helps fuel a new era of Wall Street wealth” enabling “hefty bonuses” to corporate Wall Street executives.[v] Goldman Sachs alone received $70 billion in combined funds from TARP, the Federal Reserve, AIG, and the FDIC.[vi] As of 2010, six U.S. banks, held assets in excess of 63 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic.[vii] Perhaps most telling, the US government largely declined to prosecute those financial agents responsible for the crisis within these monopolists, many of which profited from rampant foreclosure fraud in the wake of the crisis. Reflecting on these data, Economist Simon Johnson observed: "The US increasingly displays characteristics that we have seen many times in middle-income “emerging markets” – new dimensions of vast inequality, forms of financial instability that benefit the best connected, and consistently easy credit for the privileged."[viii]
Monopolies by large corporations are not restricted to finance: carbon-based and nuclear energy industries are also consolidated. Nuclear and carbon energy industries are extraordinarily consolidated internationally and exert undue influence on regulators, leading to severe accidents threatening human health. Despite the considerable lobbying of the global nuclear industry, six countries generate 73 percent (in 2009) of the world’s nuclear power.[ix] The largest privately held players in nuclear engineering include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, General Electric, Hitachi, Toshiba, Alstom, USEC, Cameco, and Shanghai Electric. State owned groups include Areva, Rosatom, AECL, and Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO).[x] Six companies - GE and Westinghouse of America, Areva of France, and Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – have dominated the industry for decades.[xi] Often times, as in the case in Japan, national regulatory agencies both promote and regulate the nuclear industry.[xii] In the US the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is technically separate from the Department of Energy, which promotes nuclear power; although empirical analysis suggests that the NRC also promotes nuclear energy. The US nuclear industry was de-regulated in the 1990s, resulting in market consolidation. Davis and Wolfram reported in 2011 that the three largest nuclear energy companies control more than one third of all US nuclear capacity.[xiii] Operations of nuclear power plants are also highly consolidated. Exelon, formed in 2011, is the largest nuclear power operator in the USA and the third largest in the world.[xiv] Nuclear energy is extraordinarily expensive to run and the aging infrastructure of most of the world’s nuclear plants will cause costs to rise still farther.[xv] However, this powerful industry has launched international public relations and sales campaigns aimed at promoting expansion of nuclear power globally as a “green” source of energy despite the intensive carbon expenditures required to mine, process and decommission nuclear fuel. The lack of regulatory oversight by Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency contributed directly to the ongoing Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.
The oil and gas industry are also highly consolidated and extraordinarily powerful. In 2009, five oil companies topped the list of the top 25 global energy companies: Exxon Mobil Corp Chevron Corp, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and Total SA.[xvi] The oil supermajors’ annual profits exceed the Gross Domestic Product of many nations and their influence is seemingly unlimited. The oil “supermajors” power is limited more by the rise of national oil companies that assert rights to control many of the world’s largest oil reserves than it is limited by national regulations. In the U.S., the supermajors have essentially corrupted the government’s extractive industries’ regulatory arm, the Minerals Management Service (MMS).[xvii] These industries have pushed for more access to offshore oil and gas deposits, sidelining concerns by environmentalists and citizens concerned about impacts on their communities. The lack of regulatory oversight and cost-cutting practices by the supermajors were directly responsible for major oil environmental disasters in the US, including the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and the BP oil spill in 2010.[xviii]
The global influence of the nuclear and carbon industries is perhaps unprecedented, approached only by the influence of banking and arms’ producers. Decades of unbridled power have shaped the worldview of those in these industries. They are prone to disregard the externalities of their operations on publics globally and have historically fought aggressively against any new technologies seen as limiting their future influence. Infrastructures built in the post-World War II era in developed economies, particularly the U.S., ensure public dependence upon oil for transportation while the consumer culture fostered during that seem period requires ever-larger amounts of electricity generation to feed consumer machines and automated production. Dependence upon ceaseless energy production is an important component of the crux of these industries’ influence. Yet, the effluents from these industries are steadily making the world unfit for human habitation. Despite increasingly apocalyptic accidents, such as the Fukushima nuclear and BP oil accidents, these industries remain hegemonic in large part because of their strategic influence and the vested interests benefitting from ownership. The five largest oil companies generated profits in 2011 of $375 million per day, or $137 billion a year.[xix] Over 50 percent of profits were dedicated to stock re-purchases benefitting board members, senior managers, and the largest shareholders. The oil and gas industry spent $150 million on lobbying in the US in 2011.
Ownership of the world’s resources, including stock in the powerful industries of banking and energy, tends to be very consolidated. Globally, in 2006, prior to the Great Recession, one percent of the world’s population was believed to control forty percent of the world’s wealth.[xx] One analysis of 43,000 global corporations revealed a core group of 1318 corporations with interlocking ownerships.[xxi] The study, conducted by Stefania Vitali, James B. Glattfelder, and Stefano Battiston, used network analysis to explicate the degree of consolidation of corporate control. Their findings revealed unprecedented global consolidation of corporate ownership and control. Each of the core 1318 corporations had ownership links to two or more other companies, although most were linked to twenty other corporations. The 1318 corporations owned through their shares the majority of blue chip and manufacturing companies, controlling sixty percent of global revenues. Further analysis revealed a tightly linked “super entity” of 147 corporations, mainly in finance, with interconnected ownership. Consequently, less than one percent of corporations essentially controlled forty percent of the entire network. Furthermore, the study found that 734 “top holders of stock accumulate 80% of the control over the value of all TNCs.” The authors conclude: “this means that network control is much more unequally distributed than wealth. In particular, the top ranked actors hold a control ten times bigger than what could be expected based on their wealth.”[xxii]
Household ownership of wealth in the U.S. echoes the consolidation found in the network study. The top 20 percent of U.S. households owns 89% of all equities.[xxiii] The top .1% of the U.S. population, about 315,000 individuals, receives half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property and these gains constitute sixty percent of the total income made by the Forbes 400.[xxiv] U.S. wealth consolidation grew during the Great Recession as most households lost, on average, 40 percent of their wealth from 2007 to 2010, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve.[xxv] Yet the assets of the wealthiest Americans were less affected and even grew for the wealthiest individuals. In the “recovery” of 2009-2010, the top 1% of US income earners captured 93% of the income growth.
“Janine R. Wedel argues in Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market that elite groups are deliberately “upending rules and authority” in order “to wield high-level power and influence.”[xxvi] In other words, monopolization of wealth and power has been a deliberate strategy pursued by elite groups. Elite groups have particularly benefited from “austerity” and “structural adjustment” programs as they have served as efficacious macro-economic policies for shifting wealth upwards since the late 1980s. Structural adjustment programs, not unlike those that were imposed upon the developing world in the 1980s, are now being imposed upon advanced western economies, such as the U.S., Ireland, Greece, Spain, and countries within Eastern Europe as politicians call for austerity in the wake of spiking government deficits caused by bailouts to the financial sector. Structural adjustment programs – including privatization, cuts in social spending, and de-regulation – effectively consolidate assets as wealthy interests are able to purchase assets at fire sales as a result of privatization and foreclosures.
The financial crisis has essentially been transformed into a business opportunity for acquisitions by wealthy companies and individuals. Naomi Kline has described how natural or human-wrought disasters enable neoliberal opportunism and predatory capitalism, shifting wealth from the many to the few, through government reconstruction policies and austerity programs. The policy playbooks used by many western governments in the wake of the shock of the financial crisis echo the neoliberal reforms described by Klein as occurring in the wake of natural disasters such as the Indonesian tsunami. For instance, the financial crisis opened the door for disaster capitalism in Eastern and Baltic European nations, including Hungary, Estonia and Latvia, as capital flight from these nations precipitated by the crisis forced reliance on IMF loans with structural adjustment contingencies.[xxvii] Eastern European nations were also denied the ability to engage in counter-cycle stimulus spending by creditors and lenders to combat recessionary deflation. Moreover, the current financial crisis in Greece illustrates how financial firms can deliberately cripple a nation, forcing it to privatize holdings and cuts social spending: In the early part of 2010, the country of Greece was subject to assault by investment banks and hedge funds that (naked) shorted Greek bonds, causing credit default swaps on Greek debt to skyrocket. Skyrocketing credit default swaps caused Greek interest rates to rise, which compromised the nation’s ability to roll over its bonds.[xxviii] The subsequent Euro-zone bailout was conditional upon severe Greek austerity, exacerbating economic contraction.[xxix]
The U.S. has also been subject to disaster capitalism and it has not been spared from austerity measures. U.S. states, counties and cities experienced significant declines in sales, corporate, and income tax revenues across 2008 through 2010. Although federal stimulus helped states plug education and health care spending in 2008 and 2009, states began massive public sector cuts to education, social-welfare and health spending, and infrastructural maintenance in 2010.[xxx] Additionally, it appears that states’ vulnerability has set them up for the same types of attacks launched against Greece. U.S. banks are currently being investigated by the SEC for deliberately short-selling and/or purchasing credit default swaps on municipal bonds sold to those banks’ investors.[xxxi]
Growing inequality stifles post-recession recovery. While U.S. corporate profits reached unprecedented levels by 2012, both in absolute dollars and as a share of the economy, unemployment is at its highest level since the Great Depression.[xxxii] Over one half (fifty-five percent) of Americans’ wages were affected in the forms of job layoffs, wage and hour cut backs, and unpaid furloughs during the recession years of 2007 to 2009. Thirty-two percent of Americans reported unemployment during that period. On average, U.S. citizens lost twenty percent of their household wealth from 2007 to 2009 (Pew Research Center, 2010).[xxxiii] Data published in 2011 indicate that fourteen percent, or one in six Americans, lives below the official poverty threshold.[xxxiv] The losses of household wealth, wages, and benefits are ongoing and point to the growing impoverishment of the nation at the same time that the federal government is proposing widespread cuts in social spending, particularly in the area of health (but not military spending or financial bailouts).[xxxv]
The consolidation of wealth in a few corporations and the lopsided US government response to the financial crisis are symptomatic of a political-economic regime within the country that has little regard for the welfare of the vast majority of population. Globalization, automation, financialization and growing inequality have lessened elite dependence upon the labor and consumption power of western, industrial populations. Globalization enables corporations to outsource production abroad wherever labor costs are lowest. Automation replaces workers in all industrial sectors. Financialization allows the creation of value outside of manufacturing and services through rent-seeking activities and high-frequency trading. Inequality reduces consumption power. For instance, in 2011, Citigroup estimated that luxury shoppers in the US earn 50 percent of the total income and make 48 percent of total expenditures[xxxvi]
The consolidation of wealth and power in elite groups and the growing irrelevance of the rest of the populace can be illustrated by examining government priorities in advanced (purportedly) democratic economies. The power of contemporary corporations to adversely impact human welfare is not limited to economic profiteering and exploitation. Advances in environmental health science document the adverse health effects of corporate emissions and byproducts on the biosphere. However, vast wealth and power have enabled some of the worst polluters to disregard the environmental effects of their industry practices.This blatant disregard was demonstrated by the negligence that brought on the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and the devaluation of life evidenced in BP’s handling of the crisis. Similarly, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which represents the worst industrial “accident,” in human history was an almost inevitable outcome of poor safety design and maintenance.[xxxvii] Tepco, the owner of the plant, has demonstrated a singular disregard for the consequences of the disaster by failing to acknowledge the scale of radiation emissions and their ongoing status, resulting in radiological contamination of the entire northern hemisphere. In each of these cases, the mission of national governments to protect the welfare of their populations was suborned to the economic integrity of the polluting corporation. This project uses these two examples to demonstrate that the autocratic reign of energy corporations, acting in concert with subordinate national governments, is destroying the very future viability of human life on earth.
[i] David Harvey. The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 147.
[ii] Naomi Klein. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007.
[iii] Bob Ivry, Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz “Secret Fed Loans Helped Banks Net $13B,” Bloomberg.com (2011, November 27): http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-28/secret-fed-loans-undisclosed-to-congress-gave-banks-13-billion-in-income.html.
Bradlye Keoun and Phil Kuntz “Wall Street Aristocracy Got $1.2 Trillion from Fed,” Bloomberg (2011, August 22): http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-21/wall-street-aristocracy-got-1-2-trillion-in-fed-s-secret-loans.html
Graham Bowley “Bailout Helps Fuel a New Era of Wall Street Wealth,” The New York Times (2009, October 17): http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/17/business/economy/17wall.html?_r=1&th&emc=th
Dylan Ratigan “Goldman Sachs' Black Magic, Here's How They Did It,” The Huffington Post (2009, October 16): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dylan-ratigan/goldman-sachs-black-magic_b_324095.html
[vii] Bill Moyers, Simon Johnson and James Kwak Bill Moyers Journal [on-line] (2010, April 16): http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04162010/profile.html
Simon Johnson “Who is Carlos Slim,” Baseline Scenario (2009, October 17): http://baselinescenario.com/2009/10/17/who-is-carlos-slim/.
[ix] Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt, and Steve Thomas. Nuclear Power in a Post-Fukushima World: 25 YEARS AFTER THE CHERNOBYL ACCIDENT (2011, April) http://www.worldwatch.org/system/files/WorldNuclearIndustryStatusReport2011_%20FINAL.pdf.
[x] Xerfi Global. World Nuclear Power Companies (2010, June) http://www.xerfi.fr/emailing/0xche10_world-nuclear-power-companies.pdf and Unexpected Reaction; The nuclear industry. The Economist 394.8668 (2010, February 6), 69-70.
[xi] Unexpected Reaction; The nuclear industry. The Economist 394.8668 (2010, February 6), 69-70.
[xii] Yuka Hayashi. Disaster in Japan: Nuclear Regulator Tied to Industry. The Wall Street Journal (2011, May 28), A6.
[xiii] Lucas W. Davis and Catherine Wolfram. Deregulation, Consolidation, and Efficiency: Evidence from U.S. Nuclear Power NBER Working Paper No. 17341 ( 2011, August): http://www.nber.org/papers/w17341.
[xiv] World Nuclear Association. Nuclear Power in the US (2012, August 14), http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf41.html.
[xv] See Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt & Steve Thomas. Nuclear Power in a Post-Fukushima World. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010-2011. Worldwatch Institute.
[xvi] David Hunkar. The Top 25 Global Energy Companies According to Platts. Seeking Alpha (2009, November 23), http://seekingalpha.com/article/174820-the-top-25-global-energy-companies-according-to-platts
[xvii] See Anthony E. Ladd. Pandora’s Well: Hubris, Deregulation, Fossil Fuels, and the BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf. American Behavioral Scientist, 56 (2012), 104-127 and Robert Kennedy. Sex, Lies and Oil Spills, Huffington Post (2010, May 5), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-f-kennedy-jr/sex-lies-and-oil-spills_b_564163.html.
[xviii] See Steve Coll. Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012 and Ladd “Pandora’s Well” and Kennedy “Sex, Lies, and Oil Spills.”
[xix] Rebecca Leber. What Oil Companies Do With Their $375 Million a Day Profits. Think Progress. (2012 26 July), http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/320-80/12617-what-oil-companies-do-with-their-375-million-a-day-profits.
[xx] 40% of world's wealth owned by 1% of population. CBCNews (December 5, 2006), http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2006/12/05/globalwealth.html and James Randerson. World's richest 1% own 40% of all wealth, UN report discovers. The Guardian (December 6, 2006),http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2006/dec/06/business.internationalnews.
[xxi] S. Vitali, J.B. Glattfelder, and S. Battiston, “The Network of Global Corporate Control,” Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (arXiv:1107.5728v1 [q-fin.GN], 28 Jul 2011), available http://www.scribd.com/doc/72201631/Network-of-Global-Corporate-Control-Swiss-Federal-Institute-of-Technology-in-Zurich.
[xxii] S. Vitali, J.B. Glattfelder, and S. Battiston Page 36.
[xxiii] Ellen Byron and Karen Talley "Luxury Sales at Risk," The Wall Street Journal (2011, August 10): B1.
[xxiv] Robert Lezner. “Capital Gains: Top .1% Earn ½ Capital Gains. Forbes (2011, Nov 20):
[xxv] Ylan Q. Mui. Americans saw wealth plummet 40 percent from 2007 to 2010, Federal Reserve says. The Washington Post (2012, June 11), http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/fed-americans-wealth-dropped-40-percent/2012/06/11/gJQAlIsCVV_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines_Tue.
[xxvi] Janine R. Wedel p. ix.
[xxvii] Michael Hudson “Europe’s Fiscal Dystopia,” Economic Perspectives from Kansas City [on-line] (2010a, June): http://neweconomicperspectives.blogspot.com/2010/06/europes-fiscal-dystopia-new-austerity.html And Michael Hudson “Latvia’s Cruel Neoliberal Experiment,” Michael Hudson homepage (2010b, April 8): http://michael-hudson.com/2010/04/latvia%e2%80%99s-cruel-neoliberal-experiment/.
[xxviii] N. D. Schwartz and E. Dash “Banks Bet Greece Defaults on Debt They Helped Hide,” The New York Times (2010, February 25): p. A1.
[xxix] O. Besancenot and P. Grond “The Greek People Are the Victims of a Carefully Engineered Financial Extortion Racket,” Originally published May 14 Le Monde by Richard Fidler. Published in English by socialistproject.ca at Global Research [on-line] (2010, May 19): http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=19226.
[xxx] Paul Krugman “America Goes Dark,” The New York Times (2010, August 8): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/09/opinion/09krugman.html?th&emc=th and R. Miller and A. Feld “Economy in U.S. Slows as States Lose Federal Stimulus Funds,” Bloomberg (2010, June 13): http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-06-13/economy-in-u-s-slows-as-states-lose-federal-stimulus-funds.html.
[xxxi] J. I Dugan “Scrutiny for Bets on Municipal Deals,” The Wall Street Journal (2010, May 14): C1, C3 AND Matt Taibbi “The Great American Bubble Machine,” The Rolling Stone (2009a, July 30): http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/29127316/the_great_american_bubble_machine/print.
[xxxii] Henry Blodget. “Here Are Four Charts That Explain What the Protesters Are Angry About...,”Business Insider (2011, Oct 15): http://www.businessinsider.com/here-are-the-four-charts-that-explain-what-the-protesters-are-angry-about-2011-10?utm_source=twbutton&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=bi#ixzz1b3DqeIBh.
[xxxiii] Pew Research Center. “The Great Recession at 30 Months.” Pew Research Center [on-line] (2010, June 30). Available: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1643/recession-reactions-at-30-months-extensive-job-loss-new-frugality-lower-expectations.
[xxxiv] Frances Fox Piven. “The War Against the Poor.” TomDispatch.Com (2011, Nov 6): http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175463/tomgram%3A_frances_fox_piven%2C_the_war_on_the_home_front/#more).
[xxxv] McKinnon, J. D. (Deficit panel stresses spending cuts. The Wall Street Journal (2010, July 1): A6.
[xxxvi] Ellen Byron and Karen Talley "Luxury Sales at Risk," The Wall Street Journal (2011, August 10): B1.