Disaster capitalism

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Volcanic ash, eh? What is it about disasters and capitalism? It seems that any event outside the daily norm exposes all the system's horrors and weaknesses.

Throughout the general election campaign, the consensus of the major parties remained that private enterprise, the free market, low taxes and a move away from "welfarism" are all good things. You would hardly think that a system founded on these principles was going through the worst economic chaos experienced by anyone not old enough to have lived through the 1930s.

Nor would you think that this chaos was in no small part created by the unfettered and unregulated behaviour of ultra-greedy bankers and capitalists.

Indeed all the warnings that politicians issued about tough times ahead are aimed at precisely those who had nothing to do with causing this crisis - the poor, those on benefits and public sector workers.

So, despite the mayhem that potentially awaits all those of us who don't own or control wealth, they all argue for the virtues of their system. Yet every time the system is put to the test it fails. The eradication of famine, starvation and drought should all be well within the means of the modern world, yet we repeatedly witness human tragedy on a colossal scale.

I heard a Haitian commentator on the radio explain that most of the problems faced by Haitians immediately following the earthquake still remain.

Nor is the system's inability to cope with disaster restricted to what are often dismissed as "obscure and backward" parts of Africa or Asia. One only has to think back to the devastation caused by Katrina, in a large city at the heart of the richest and most powerful country in the world, to remember just how utterly useless US capitalism was when coping with the crisis. Sadly, New Orleans remains a tarnished testament to such failure to this day.

So it is that in each and every disaster of this type the free market, the profit motive and the "shackling of the nanny state" have proved to be utterly useless weapons in dealing with the crisis. As a result of that uselessness, untold, and frequently unnecessary, human misery has ensued.

This shouldn't surprise us. Where is the profit in rehousing the homeless poor, feeding the penniless starving or taking care of the unemployable injured?

Indeed the profit motive and the free market, far from solving such problems, actually add to them. For free market capitalism, profit is far more important than providing human happiness - indeed, on many occasions, far more important than life itself.

One of the fascinating aspects of the economic crisis is that we are now told by many that concern for "green issues" must be put on the back burner. The very future of our planet and the air that we breathe must come below the drive for balanced budgets and profitability.

So to the recent crisis caused by Icelandic volcanic ash. The airline bosses apparently at first thought it was a good idea not to fly in conditions that might cause death and disaster. But, after a few days of not making profits, their tune rapidly changed. Suddenly this was just the ultra-caution of Eurocrats, the cowardice of aviation experts.

Enter the profoundly disgusting Willie Walsh. Up to now his CV has consisted of being responsible for transforming Aer Lingus into a no-frills (but ludicrously expensive) airline, attacking working conditions and doing everything he can to smash the unions at British Airways.

Unsurprisingly, he was swiftly demanding that the same staff whose livelihoods he is wrecking should have their lives endangered for his profits.

His pathetic stunt of going up in a flight was just that. The likelihood of one plane flying into the ash was indeed very small, but if the skyways were fully employed the likelihood would quickly change.

Ah, but we are losing massive amounts of money, whined Walsh and his ilk. And compared to that what do the lives of crew or passengers matter?

So every disaster or crisis, no matter how major or minor, is made worse by the priorities of the system.

None of this was aired by the party leaders in the election campaign. Of course, David Cameron would never question the system - his party is, after all, the party of the greedy, the free market obsessed, the rich and privileged.

There was a time when Labour would have at least been critical of aspects of the system and acknowledged that fetters had to be put on it. But now there are very few voices in Labour expressing such views - and Gordon Brown's certainly hasn't been one of them. As for Nick Clegg, and the freshness of what he had to say, when you scratch beneath the surface you find one more defender of the capitalist status quo.

All in all a bloody disastrous lack of choice!