Having read no end of reports praising Naomi Klein’s ideas and active engagement in the global oxidation lagoon into which humanity is being dragged by latter-day capitalism, I decided it was time to read something she had written. I ordered her two most recent books and opted first to read the shorter of the two, which also happened to be the latest, ‘NO is not enough.’ In an heroic feat of authorship, this book was produced in the short interval since Trump’s triumph over Hillary.
Published in 2014, Naomi’s ‘This Changes Everything’ will be the next book on my reading list. It deals specifically with capitalism versus the climate and is considerably longer. Skimming it, I was drawn to a quote on the front page that Naomi has taken from science fiction writer, Kim Stanley Robinson “In my books I’ve imagined people salting the Gulf Stream, damming the glaciers sliding off the Greenland ice-cap, pumping ocean water into the dry basins of the Sahara and Asia to create salt seas, pumping melted ice from Antarctica north to provide freshwater, genetically engineering bacteria to sequester more carbon dioxide in the roots of trees, raising Florida 30 feet to get it back above water, and (hardest of all) comprehensively changing capitalism.”
‘NO is not enough’ is the best plan I have yet heard for ‘comprehensively changing capitalism’ and an urgent and radical rethink of the headlong rush to extinction into which latter-day capitalism’s ‘democracy’ is headed.
The book starts with Naomi’s and her fellow liberal activists’ despair on hearing that Trump had beaten Hillary in the election. Those, who have read my previous blogs on the subject, will realise that my view on the matter was different. I viewed Hillary as the harbinger of nothing but a steroid-infused continuation of the same disastrous and aggressive foreign policies, which the USA has been inflicting on the world since the early 1980s – and before. Trump was promising a break in the chain which, through his unique combination of ignorance and incompetence, could only hasten the demise of the current global power structure and empower the forces of radical change. Naomi’s book is one of the indicators that this is indeed likely to happen. As she puts it “With this election of the basest of figures to the most exalted of positions, the culture of maximum extraction, of endless grabbing and disposing, has reached some kind of breaking point.”
To give Naomi due credit, she infinitely preferred the failed Bernie Sanders candidacy over that of Hillary. In trying to explain the Trump victory she reveals far more about Trump and his entourage than I had previously been aware of. Having concentrated on US foreign policy and living so far away from US domestic politics, I have to admit that I was unaware of the full extent Trump’s cynicism and the disaster he is about to inflict on the American and other populations.
Klein’s analysis is drawn from a much closer observation of Trump’s background and history than anything that I had based my views on. While I had taken Trump at face value – that he would at least try (and almost certainly fail) to better the working conditions of those who voted for him, Klein suffers from no such illusion. Her conclusion is that Trump’s assurances to the working class electorate, that he had their best interests at heart, were simply a false façade. On the contrary, she argues that he intends, and has always intended, to use the position they awarded him for no other purpose than to accelerate the lining of the Trump family nest.
Her argument is based on his track record. In Klein’s view, Trump is nothing more than a ‘hollow’ brand that has become mega-rich through never making anything, but publicity for itself. She fails to point to a single instance in which Trump has indicated a concern for the workers’ welfare.
In support of this, she quotes Trump’s signature TV series ‘The Apprentice’ as an example of how Trump’s world view is of winners (Trump and his ilk) and losers (struggling American, “you’re fired” workers.) As an indicator of the profiteering of the Trump brand from his rising to the highest office in the USA comes the fact that, on his inauguration, Trump promptly raised the annual membership of his Mar-a-Lago country club (the ‘Winter White House’) from $100,000 to $200,000. As the global elites rush to profit from putting the ‘Trump’ brand on their golf courses and hotel buildings, it is Trump’s intention that the price of such licenses will mount. Meanwhile Ivanka gains fresh licenses to export her fashion line into the wealthy malls of China, while, like other such hollow brands, all responsibility for its manufacture will be contracted out to the owners of Asian sweat-shops.
Klein sees the Trump presidency as the logical conclusion of the neo-liberal movement that started under Reagan. The American plutocracy, representing less than one percent of the population, has corrupted the constitution and seized power. With its monopoly of the nation’s assets, it is now able to elect the national leadership and implement the legislation and the policies that it deems to be in its best interests.
What it seeks above all else, is the ability to increase its wealth at the expense of its fellow Americans and the citizens of other countries, untrammeled by government regulation and freed of the burden of having to share that wealth with other members of society. To be enforced not just in America, but through the American controlled global economic system, the programme envisages yet more tax-cuts for the wealthy, dis-empowerment and austerity for the poor and privatisation of their state-owned assets into the hands of exploitative private companies (be they banks, agri- conglomerates, charter schools, prison operators, defence & security contractors, etc.)
The selfishness of this ultimate phase of capitalism becomes all too visible in the attitude of the Trump administration towards climate change. Scientific truth, ostensibly at any rate, is denied. All mitigation and adaptation measures designed to meet the climate crisis that faces all of humanity, are officially abandoned. I have always understood this response could be explained by the inescapable fact that the acceptance of the scientific reality of climate change has to go hand-in hand with acceptance of the need for government leadership and intervention. Given that empowerment of government is so utterly inimical to the neo-liberal ethos, the existence of such a crisis has to be denied – at least officially, if not privately.
Meanwhile, privately, other provisions can be made. Klein details this other strand to the argument. The plutocrat elite believe that their money will make them immune from the developing crisis. The armed forces of the government they control and its ability to legislate against immigration, will keep the external consequences of the climate catastrophe away from their doors, while internally, their wealth allows them to buy impunity and make their personal preparations.
Peter Thiel, another billionaire member of Trump’s inner circle, has bought himself a mansion and citizenship in New Zealand – likely to be one of the last places on Earth to suffer seriously from the gathering catastrophe. No doubt multiple other members of the American elite are buying safe havens in Canada, Scandinavia and elsewhere, on the polar sides of the two fortieth parallels. Meanwhile back in the USA there is a boom in insurance company start-ups offering to fly helicopters over your forest fire-threatened country seat and douse it in fire-retardant. When your seafront property is threatened by flooding, for a sufficient premium, beyond the reach of other Americans, they will pick you and your family up in a limo and drive you to a safely hidden, inland retreat, complete with armed private security company mercenaries to protect you from any disgruntled mobs of hoi polloi that might be on the rampage. And all the while, the government will be starved of the tax revenue that could be used to protect the other 99% from the same hazards.
In what Klein calls ‘Shock Politics,’ climate change, is seen as a rich source of further shocks to add to the pattern of other elite-inflicted financial, security, military, terrorist shocks. Each one of such shocks has the potential to be used for increases in military and police control over the majority of the population and decreases in the financial security and services provided to their citizens by both the US government and the governments of those other unfortunate nations, such as Greece, Argentina, Venezuela, Ukraine, Libya, Syria and Iraq.
These latter victims of the USA’s shock politics, as soon as some form of stable government finally emerges from the dis-orienting shock of disaster, regain consciousness only to find that, while in their crisis-induced coma, by some magical process, together with the loss of many of their former rights and entitlements, many of their assets, formerly held in common by all the citizens, have now passed into the ownership of an elite of overseas owned corporations. Each shock, be it Katrina, 9/11, or the global financial crisis of 2008, is followed by a feeding frenzy of private corporates eating up government assets, services and infrastructure and the security, liberty and welfare of the individual citizens dependent on them.
As Klein points out, the stakes in this game of climate brinkmanship, being played out under the Trump administration, are unbelievably high. The big oil companies and the governments, which are dependent for much of their national income on maximising the extraction of fossil fuels from the reservoirs in which carbon has been sequestered for so many millions of years, are jeopardising the continuation of the human and multiple other species. However, the risks involved are not immediately apparent to the average citizen and are unlikely to become so, until further tipping-points and points-of-no-return have been reached.
Climate change, if, as envisaged by the Trump administration, left to run its course, will ultimately result in the disappearance of contemporary neo-liberal, greed-is-good, capitalism and its corollary of unsustainable consumerism. So too, will disappear the rest of Human civilisation and most other species on this planet unless urgent remedial action is taken. If humanity is to avoid this fate, it has to ensure that today’s generally accepted neo-liberal economic and social matrix doesn’t.
Klein’s answer to our dilemma is that, for those wishing to avoid the ultimate climate crisis, the only solution is not to sit back and wait for alarmed pluto-philanthropists to come to the planet’s rescue. She doesn’t believe sufficient of them will overcome the selfish-gene, which made such as Trump so wealthy. Instead, she argues that an all-embracing ‘NO’ movement, based on values rather than policies, must enter the current political fray – not as a party, but as a platform that political parties can decide to adopt. She points to inspiration from the huge surge in resistance movements and mutual solidarity within the USA since Trump’s election and the enormous slump in his popularity.
She tells the story of the ‘Leap’ movement that she has been involved in in Canada and, of which, chapters are opening in other countries. The thought is there are so many political activists motivated to resist one aspect or another of the neo-liberal power grab and the shock politics currently being implemented by the global elites, that the conditions are ripe for a critical mass to be obtained and a revolution in political thought and social attitudes achieved.
Extractivism and consumerism could be replaced by social solidarity and mutual care for all of society’s members. If an umbrella resistance organisation could be formed that subsumes all these causes, even climate change, though not yet at the top of most citizens’ resistance organisations’ wish list, would be effectively dealt to in the fallout from the solution to the less pressing, but more obvious problems facing our societies. It is a valiant thought and a valiant endeavour. How successful it will ultimately be, will be determined by how fast awareness of impending disaster spreads through the population and the extent to which alarm can dissolve the bonds of indebtedness that hold so much of the population in thrall to the shibboleths of current mainstream politics. It is a race against time.
One obvious question is “How could society find the working capital required to stop and get off the express train to annihilation in which it is currently constrained?”
I was impressed by Klein’s argument that the lucre would not the problem. Under the sub-title ‘Yes, we can afford to save ourselves,’ Klein’s economist advisors suggest drawing an annual $775 billion dollars from ending global fossil fuel subsidies; imposing an international financial transactions tax that could raise $650 billion annually; raising taxes on corporations and the super-rich individuals (a 1% tax on billionaires’ incomes alone would raise $45 billion); a $50 tax per metric tonne of Carbon emissions in wealthy countries could raise $450 billion per year; a 25% cut in the defence expenditure of the world’s top ten spenders would release $325 billion and then the jack-pot; closing down overseas tax havens, which, according to Forbes Magazine in 2012 were holding approx. $21 trillion dollars.
Until someone has the courage displayed by Corbyn’s UK Labour Party, in both domestic and foreign policy, New Zealand is doomed to head ever further into the social and geophysical disasters that are the inevitable accompaniment of the present, well-financed, right wing neo-liberal ideology. Why bother to vote if all that is on offer against neo-liberalism full-cream is neo-liberalism lite? (This was written before publication of the NZ Green Party’s latest policy announcement on addressing poverty. This, at first sight, has the appearance of a move to step outside the current dead-end, divisive matrix in which NZ politics appear to have become entombed.)
Will New Zealanders brace themselves to take Klein’s Leap and unite against the passive acceptance of social inequality that enables the ‘divide and rule’ policies so effectively used by the elites to maintain their power? Just this week and quite unnecessarily, Winston Peters, head of the New Zealand First Party and potential King-maker after the impending election, is raising the most socially divisive issue of Maori ‘special treatment’ as a major factor in the coming campaign. He is ardently supported in this by Don Brash, a former leader of the extreme right. Divide and rule!
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