Hayek: “Emergencies Have Always Been the Pretext on Which the Safeguards of Individual Liberty Have Eroded”

Well-known Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek wrote:

“Emergencies” have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have eroded.

Rahm Emanuel famously said:

Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.

Naomi Klein documented in the Shock Doctrine that the Neoliberals and Chicago school followers advocated a kind of “disaster capitalism”. Specifically, whenever a natural, economic, war-related, or other disaster strikes, these folks pounce and use the opportunity to quickly impose a brand of economic policy which benefits the elite at the cost of everyone else (by increasing unemployment, pushing the cost of essential goods through the roof, and otherwise increasing poverty), while people are still in shock and before they can react.

Publishers Weekly’s review of the Shock Doctrine puts it this way:

The neo-liberal economic policies—privatization, free trade, slashed social spending—that the Chicago School and the economist Milton Friedman have foisted on the world are catastrophic in two senses, argues this vigorous polemic. Because their results are disastrous—depressions, mass poverty, private corporations looting public wealth, by the author’s accounting—their means must be cataclysmic, dependent on political upheavals and natural disasters as coercive pretexts for free-market reforms the public would normally reject.

Amazon’s review of Klein’s book states:

“At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq” civil war, a new law is unveiled that will allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves… Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly outsources the running of the ‘War on Terror’ to Halliburton and Blackwater… After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts… New Orleans residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be re-opened.” Klein not only kicks butt, she names names, notably economist Milton Friedman and his radical Chicago School of the 1950s and 60s which she notes “produced many of the leading neo-conservative and neo-liberal thinkers whose influence is still profound in Washington today.”

And Pulitzer prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston provided an interesting example of disaster capitalism, noting that 2 days after 9/11, Congress was thinking about how to help the ultra-wealthy:

[Johnston]: Both parties are doing this. They’re doing it because they’re listening to a narrow group of very well to do people who do not want to pay taxes, who do not want to share in the expenses of the country that has made them rich. And they want you to pay their taxes. Those are the people who get access. Every politician will say you to, you can’t buy my vote. Generally, that’s true. The problem is that you and I don’t have the real access, and the proof that Congress is thinking about the super rich came two days after 9/11. The House Republican leadership introduced ten bills to address 9/11. One of them was a tax bill. What did it do? It gave estate tax relief, which did nothing for the firefighters and police officers and army sergeants at their desk and nurses and the busboy at the World Trade Center. All of those people that were killed. A tiny handful of people, but that’s what Congress thought these people needed, was estate tax relief even though 99% wouldn’t pay estate taxes.

[Interviewer:] It’s slipping it in as a very opportune time.

[Johnston]: That was just for this group of people. That was just for this group of people, but it’s indicative of what Congress is thinking about, what’s on the minds of Congress are not the concerns of ordinary Americans who want to educate their children, you know, who want to engage in enjoying life. Their concerns are about the super rich and within the super rich, those who are very anti-tax.

I am not passing judgment on whether estate taxes are good or bad. I am simply saying that emergencies and disasters are always used by the powerful to make the changes they want – even if wholly unrelated to the emergency.

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