Recently, I’ve started digging back through Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. It’s come up a few times.
Klein describes a level of corruption you’d expect to see in a dystopian novel, but she’s only narrating and documenting American economic policy over the last several decades, as the rich and powerful impose their free-market solutions for everything on everyone and take advantage of disasters and tragedies to do it. As she reveals in extensive detail, an entire shadow network of billion-dollar companies have consistently strongarmed world governments into privatizing all public goods and services, especially education and healthcare. As just one example, she explains how Milton Friedman’s final stroke of evil genius before his death was to kickstart the privatization of New Orleans public schools after Hurricane Katrina. A slew of firms also descended on the city in the aftermath of the disaster. They made a fortune by turning public housing into condos.
Katrina’s just the beginning.
Since the 1970s, billionaires and their goon squads have shown up with increasing regularity in the wake of catastrophes—hurricanes, tsunamis, wars. They use these horrible events as a pretext to turn fishing towns into beach resorts and hospitals into money machines. They jail protestors.
Sometimes, they torture them.
They especially love funding wars. They get to sell tanks and missiles to destroy infrastructure, and then they win lucrative contracts to rebuild it all. They want countries to constantly fight each other.
They despise peace.
In this context, it’s not hard at all to see how billionaires have coopted the public’s response to Covid and transformed it into an opportunity for insane profits. That became clear the minute our government granted patents for vaccines to major pharmaceutical companies. From that moment forward, vaccines ceased to become a way out of the pandemic. Corporations have turned out to be poor stewards of these medical technologies. They aren’t updating the shots as promised, and now they’re jacking up the price to unaffordable levels.
Governments around the world have adopted a number of catastrophic policies that only make sense from the perspective of greedy, sociopathic CEOs. First, health officials consistently decline to recommend basic protections like masks and air filters. If anything, they gently discourage the public from adopting these measures. Many school districts often refuse to provide accommodations like HEPA filters. They won’t even accept donations of N95 masks. Even more absurd, healthcare settings have abandoned masks and air purifiers. While largely white, affluent patients can gain access to Paxlovid, the rest of us are increasingly refused. We’re told to wait until our symptoms worsen, then go to the hospital. Once there, we find out that the latest variants have rendered almost every available antibody treatment useless. All the while, a handful of health influencers churn out a consistent stream of propaganda to convince everyone we’re safe.
That about sums it up.
As countless virologists and epidemiologists have said, the greatest threat Covid now poses isn’t immediate death. It’s chronic illness and permanent disability. The mainstream media has finally started to catch on, albeit too late to help millions of people who’ve already been suffering.
Disaster capitalists had a plan. Unfortunately, it’s blowing up in their face. They originally intended to make a killing off vaccines. They didn’t want to stop transmission of the virus. They didn’t want masks or clean air. They didn’t want to eliminate Covid. That wouldn’t be profitable.
Here’s what they wanted:
They wanted the coronavirus to continue circulating and mutating. They wanted more variants. More variants meant more sales. That’s how disaster capitalists think. They don’t see things like pandemics as tragic events that should be stopped. They see them as opportunities to build wealth.
Everyone from Bill Gates to Charles Koch thought this:
Why end a pandemic, when you can manage it?
That was the plan.
The ownership class would preside over the continued mass infection of every other class, while keeping themselves safe with the latest vaccines on top of masks and air cleaning technologies. We got a peak of that at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. Not only would they profit off vaccines, but the virus would guarantee them a steady stream of new patients to bill. As a bonus, insurance companies would benefit from a culling of the elderly.
The plan didn’t work quite as well as they hoped. While endemic Covid did generate massive profits over the last few years, their brilliant scheme is starting to backfire. The billionaires honestly didn’t anticipate the consequences of their actions. They thought Covid was a respiratory virus.
As the evidence shows now, Covid is a vascular disease that can infect every single organ in the human body. It causes immune system dysregulation and makes hosts vulnerable to opportunistic infections.
The billionaires normally wouldn’t care, except the virus is causing a ton of economic damage now. It’s having a major, unforeseen impact on the workforce. When I say “unforeseen,” I mean experts tried to warn them and they didn’t listen. They were far more concerned about the short term. If you happen to know any billionaires, that’s fairly typical behavior.
Big surprise, right?
The billionaires made another big miscalculation. They downplayed the pandemic so hard, the public also lost interest in boosters. Almost nobody’s getting them, and that’s really not what they had in mind. Worse, their total neglect of Long Covid has opened the floodgates for antivaxxer conspiracies.
The rich sabotaged their own plan.
Now the rich and powerful are starting to panic a little. They’re not used to their management of disasters blowing back on them with so much force. They don’t have an intellectual mechanism to grasp how things like public health and education can actually benefit them in the long run. After all, most of them are only capable of generating profits by laying off workers and depriving them of benefits, while taking advantage of consumers. They don’t know how to do anything productive. They can only deceive and plunder. They’ve burned compassion out of their brains, so they can’t conceive of it as an answer to their problems. Even now, their response to all this new information is to kick everyone off medicare and medicaid. That way, they don’t have to pay for their enormous mistake.
Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you apply the logic of disaster capitalism to a novel virus, and you have no idea what you’re dealing with. The greed of billionaires has turned a manageable problem into something else entirely. Now we need far more resources and investment to get it under control. Of course, they continue to offer only free market solutions. They only want to solve problems if they can somehow benefit from them in the process.
That won’t work.
This grim experiment has implications for the rest of this decade and the ones beyond. As we face new threats brought on by the overheating planet, disaster capitalism is going to result in spectacular failures that make the ones we’ve seen in the past look like cherry bombs. Even the rich won’t be able to insulate themselves from the fallout, as they’re accustomed.
I’m ambivalent about the future. On the one hand, I try to maintain hope that some of us can find a way forward through the fire and ashes. On the other hand, we know that the billionaires love managing disasters and building bunkers. They’ve got their doomsday fantasies all worked out. Many of them will continue doing everything they can to profit off the incoming doom, all while sipping champagne on their superyachts and making love to their day-use girlfriends.
(Yes, that’s a real term.)
If only there were a book or a film about the super rich playing with technologies they don’t understand, and unleashing forces they can’t control. Maybe if such cautionary tales existed, they would listen.
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One important note: while at this point there are “countless virologists and epidemiologists” who “have said, the greatest threat Covid now poses isn’t immediate death. It’s chronic illness and permanent disability,” that’s not who said it first and consistently -- it’s been chronically ill and disabled people OURSELVES. Because a bunch of us who have ME/CFS and other complex chronic conditions got it from other viruses. We saw this coming but no one listened to us. They still don’t.
And the first major study about Long COVID was released as a preprint in May of 2020 by Patient Led Research Collaborative (of which I am a member), where people with long COVID documented our own experiences. It later became a peer reviewed Lancet study.
That’s why we released the Pandemics Are Chronic pledge , vowing to center disabled and chronically ill people in pandemics instead of writing us off. https://longcovidjustice.org/pandemics-are-chronic__trashed/pandemics-are-chronic-a-statement-of-commitment-to-long-covid-justice/
"The ownership class would preside over the continued mass infection of every other class, while keeping themselves safe with the latest vaccines on top of masks and air cleaning technologies. [...] Not only would they profit off vaccines, but the virus would guarantee them a steady stream of new patients to bill. As a bonus, insurance companies would benefit from a culling of the elderly."
Of course, this sounds unbelievable and crazy. But Klein well documents this is the strategy used by our corporate overlords. Their amoral evaluation only cares about profits. The only "good" to them is what increases profits. If it's more profitable to feed orphans to the orphan crusher, that's what happens.
They are incapable of realizing the gravity of their error...because they don't see it as one.