Moving to

I'm moving to Mostly.

I plan to use that site as a "self-marketing website" of sorts and to manage content in a way that I would otherwise not be able to do on blogger alone.

This blog will stay, ostensibly for more provisional ideas prior to refinement. I'll be gradually moving content (I still like) over to the other website. =)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

In Defence of Opportunism

Yesterday, I was picking up a book at Kinokunia and as I was waiting to check my book out, I picked up "The Shock Doctrine" (by Naomi Klein) and read the blurb. The book claimed to expose the evils of crisis capitalism, which is taking advantage of a crisis situation to make tons of money and possibly push into place political policies that advance the goals of the great free market conspiracy. I checked my book out, met a friend to collect another book, and went home, and googled "The Shock Doctrine".

An review says "Klein's assertions are coherent, comprehensively researched and footnoted, and she makes a very credible case," which probably makes this a worthwhile read if one has time and wants to get angry at something real. Books in this mould are a dime a dozen. That is books condemning the "evil" agendas of the "right" or the "left". Centrists like myself get to read both sorts and by angry at everything. If only we got to run everything. (… only to later discover the gross tradeoffs that have to be made and start drifting towards some ideological extreme)

While I have gotten upset at the opportunistic "reconstruction" after the tsunamis and wars in recent years, I cannot reasonably agree with my visceral gut feeling against opportunistic profiting from ruin and rubble of disaster and upheaval. I feel it is right to defend opportunism unhappy as I am to see the said profiteering.

The site of any disaster, crisis, or upheaval of sorts needs to recover in order for normalcy to return. By normalcy, I mean a state of things whereby people going about their lives do not feel elevated levels of stress due to uncertainty about basic needs. (While I'm aware that "basic needs" differ, this is about as much detail as is needed in this definition.) In order for the return of normalcy, resources have to be pushed to the site whether to directly meet needs or to set up infrastructure such that the community (in the general sense of the term) will be able to meet their own needs through engaging in "normal" economic activity. Clearly an urgent demand for aid and reconstruction is present, demand that is usually ineffective in the sense of the community being able to offer payment for the services, but is essential for the well being of the community in question. In a nutshell, it is obvious that aid money goes to the firms contracted to reconstruct and these firms often have non-official ties to government officials in charge of allocating reconstruction contracts. (This is similar in theme to the material in "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" where it is explained that loans to developing nations are funneled to select firms for "infrastructural development" and the country taking the loans fall into debt, become unable to pay up and fall into the thrall of the great Satan.) While it is a shame that the free market is not acting to efficiently allocate resources, it can't because it does not exist. We have to make do with some cronyism and corruption in order for speedy recovery. Is there a better solution? That is, is there a solution that works better as judged the victims of thousands upon thousands of personal disasters?

Far more sketchy is the promotion of "positive" reform, doing what up to that point would be regarded as politically impossible. For instance, recessions allow corporate restructuring "out of necessity". The book does contend that crisis may be stoked to grease the wheels of change — a "pseudo-crisis" that serves the positive functions of crisis without the costs of a real crisis. (yay for the internets, and all things that allow one to talk about a book without actually having read it) But to be somewhat unconscionably cruel, each man has to take care of his own house. Organizations and institutions have to restructure from time to time, and that means dislocation. If time and resources permit, lightening the impact of dislocation would be nice, but is strictly not obligatory, unless niceness is an organizational goal or some reciprocal obligation in kind is desired. This is cruel, it saddens me, but it is how the world works. And opportunities have to be acted upon, otherwise one ends up with stagnation or possibly collapse.

There is one relatively serious problem though. To state is simply, you can do whatever the hell you want because people are too disoriented to argue. There are just no checks and balances. Perhaps this is the greatest indictment against crisis capitalism, but is it dangerous enough in a practical sense to justify preventing crisis capitalism? At least on scene at a disaster like an earthquake or tsunami, I do not think the victims would agree.

I do not think I've put forth an effective defence of crisis capitalism. Perhaps there is no effective defence. But the coin is not one sided. It is not all evil. And to be sure, it can be improved upon. Perhaps some nuggets of wisdom on improving crisis capitalism can be found in that book "The Shock Doctrine". Hopefully.