|Ari Libsker |
Kalkalist (Yediot Aharonot economic supplement)
Septermber 27, 2011
This is the first Israeli interview since the beginning of the protest with the Naomi Klein, the arch-priestess of activism, the woman who initiated the anti-corporate struggle and predicted already a decade ago that people all over the world would come out to the streets
Ari Libsker Yediot Aharonot economic supplement Septermber 27, 2011
Last year Naomi Klein saw her dreams come true. `These demonstrations, occurring around the world, create a change in consciousness and thought,` she says excitedly in a Skype conversation which took place at six in the morning, Israel time. `In the past we concentrated on the hyper- individualism and greed, and now we concentrate on human values and solidarity`.
Klein (42) is a journalist and writer, but is mostly an activism celebrity, wandering between the points of conflict around the world. She wrote two bestsellers which are considered cornerstones of the anti-globalization movement of, and these days she is in ` writing quarantine` in Vancouver, where she is finishing her third book. Her first book, `No Logo`, defined crisply and clearly the corporate liability for the sweatshops in Asia and Central America. Her second book, `The Shock Doctrine`, released in 2007, argued that the Chicago School economists, headed by Milton Friedman, took advantage of natural disasters and political and economic crises to pass privatization reforms in many countries. Despite the conspiracy theory, the reviews praised. After the crisis, even skeptics could not remain indifferent.
`In 2008, there appeared a crisis of confidence in the economic system which dominated most of the world,` Klein explains. `When the stock markets fell people were angry, but this was still not the real crisis. What made the situation intolerable is that the debts of the private sector have become national debts, and in practice the public was asked to pay the bill. The government debts rose and countries like Chile, Greece, Spain and the United States were forced to announce budget cuts, but people would not accept this harsh decree and went out on the streets. In all of these countries there arose strong resistance movements. People are no longer willing to bear this situation of the elites creating in a manipulative way an economic crisis in order to push for more privatization and attack the social-democratic parties. It is something which they were doing anyway, even not in times of crisis, but this time it will not work in some of the places. `
Are the Greek riots an example of this?
`No doubt. The elites in Greece are trying to do it for a long time, and because of the debt crisis are trying to run the reform at enormous speed. The World Bank argues that the government of Greece should be more disciplined, but a state which has no independent control over its economy is not really a democracy. It`s no longer a crisis of confidence in capitalism or neo-liberalism, it is a crisis of confidence in democracy itself. People are beginning to understand that democracy is being hijacked by economic forces. `
Klein found the roots of the current protest in protest broke out in Argentina a decade ago, following the collapse of the local economy. `In Argentina the government has received an order from the World Bank to cut the budget, there was created an extreme inflation followed by a brutal cut in welfare and education. Students and teachers took to the streets, thousands of pupils left their classrooms. Their motto was `They should all go!` she says`, the protestors did not want a personal change, they demanded that a change in the system. In a street of Buenos Aires I got a leaflet: `We are now where all the world will be in a few years`. When I look at what is happening now in the world and in Israel I feel that Argentina was cloned. Even then I felt that Argentina is a warning sign for the world `.
Are the revolutions in the Arab world also a part of it?
`The Arab protests do not belong to this movement, because the way protests occur in democratic countries is different from how they occur in dictatorships. If we do want to compare, then the central relationship is the struggle against corruption. What prompted the protests in the Arab world was the desire to overthrow dictators, but the main question is what would happen next. If it gets to a kind of hollow and ultra-capitalist democracy, dominated by tycoons and oligarchs, it would be a very great disappointment to the people.
`In `The Shock Doctrine` I wrote about the case of South Africa, which was a liberation movement that acted intensively, but at the end the ruling elite found all sorts of ways to keep it from achieving economic liberation. What frightens me in this time of changes in regimes is that the really important things are happening behind the scenes. I am not sure that these days the large corporations of the world are not working on gaining control of the Egyptian economy. In Libya we see this clearly, it`s very transparent because of the gas and oil. We see history repeating itself. It hurts me to say it, but it happens `.
Santiago and Jerusalem First
In `The Shock Doctrine` Klein describes how in the mid-fifties the Ford Foundation began giving scholarships to Chilean students to study at the University of Chicago, Friedman`s home ground. The same group established the university branch in Santiago, helped the dictator Augusto Pinochet to seize power in a military coup, and began to practice the world`s first tryout of The Shock Doctrine. Pinochet, under whose leadership hundreds of thousands of citizens were murdered, consducted under the direct supervision of Friedman a neo-liberal economic policy. From 1977, he abolished the minimum wage and trade unions, began to privatize the pension funds, banks and government-owned industries, and reduced the tax on profits and on capital. As a result, Chile`s economy began to grow rapidly, a growth which mainly benefited the rich layers and hit hard the lower classes and the middle class.
It`s perhaps not really surprising, considering the obvious similarities, but Klein argues that the first, informal branch of the Chicago School was established in practice far away from Chile, in the Economics Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Its founder was Professor Don Patenkin, who later became president of the university.
`Patenkin gave the inspiration,` explains Klein, `many later economists refered themselves to him. It was not an official tie such as the relationship in Santiago with the Chicago Boys. Patenkin just studied in Chicago and arrived in Jerusalem to educate the next generation of economists in Israel according to the neo-liberal concepts, but the leaders in Chicago were very aware of what was happening in Jerusalem, and visited it. Jerusalem was in fact the prototype of `The Chicago Boys` shaping a local economy, which was afterwards spread throughout the world. `
Chile is today in a relatively good economic situation.
`There are large demonstrations in Chile today, and it is one of the best examples of inequality between rich and poor. The economy is in good condition, Chile is growing, but there is also great inequality. Chile once had a very strong middle class, which is almost gone today`.
The attitude of the Jewish Klein to Israel is rather complicated. She`s very up to date on everything that happens here, especially the social protest movement of the last summer, but is also not afraid to pass on us a harsh criticism. In 2009, during the Gaza War, she published an article in The Guardian, calling for a full economic boycott of Israel. Currently her main criticism about the protest movement - which in general supports - is that it does not include the issue of occupation. She believes that these two struggles must join hands, otherwise the protest has no future. In her opinion, the business elite emerged in the nineties during the peace process, to which it pushed Rabin in order to turn Israel into an international trading center. In the beginning of the 21st century, Israel realized that its main export area is high-tech, and within it the domain of security, and abandoned the peace efforts.
`Israeli security companies like Checkpoin and Nes earn a lot more money than fruit exporters,` she says. `Israel is considered as the start-up nation, and the security sector plays a very central role in this. Israel`s business sector is now saying: `We do not need peace in order to live comfortably, we need security, but we have all kinds of ways to make profit from our security situation.
`The Israeli Right wing found all sorts of creative ways to gain from the occupation, mainly through the export of defense techniques. You`re always reading new stories about such transactions. I live in Vancouver and recently I read that the airport here transferred moved its security system to an Israeli company. Israel also has a very extensive security tourism. Members of the military and security firms from all over the world to Israel, to learn from the best, which is how you market yourselves - as the number one expert in security matters. The entire field is very important to your economy, though this is not trumpeted aloud.
`I am writing now a book about this phenomenon, which I call `Disaster Capitalism`. We see this in the field of climate change: We face a very crucial climate challenges and believe that there is a will to solve the problems, but actually a very poor job is done in trying to find the solutions . At the same time, we see lots of creative ways developing to make money out of these climate troubles. The business sector does not think about solutions, but on ways to make a profit. It`s really the model of Israel and its defense industry `.
If there is someone who really annoys Klein, it is Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher. She writes about him in her book, and uses the interview to warn the Israelis of him. `When Stanley Fisher was at the World Bank he was one of the those who pushed the Shock Doctrine in Russia, and ultimately helped to create the rule of the oligarchs,` she says. `In the South Asia Crisis of 1997-1998, Fisher was the one who defined the World Bank policy. The strategy was to let these countries that suffer so that they would lower their trade barriers. The Asian countries no choice but to surrender, and created one of the largest liquidation sales saw the world ever saw. Fisher is one of the most devoted Shock Doctrine warriors, and this is the man you have to suffer as the leader of your economy. `
- It seems that the Israeli economy survived the crash of 2008, and economists attribute this to the success of Stanley Fisher as Governor of the Bank of Israel.
`It is always dangerous for a country to admire the Governor of its national bank. Look what happened to Alan Greenspan. In fact, in the American economic culture until the crisis he had a role quite similar to that of Fisher among you. Everybody looked at him with admiration, until it became clear that he had allowed banks to act as they did. I regard him as the one of those responsible for the collapse of 2008.
`People have great desire for an all-knowing, all-understanding father figure, but I have a feeling that if you continue with uncritically admiring Fisher, you might find yourselves in a similar situation to that of the United States in 2008. It is true that the Israeli economy is growing and developing, and people can see this wealth, but most of the public does not enjoy its fruits. It is the source of the protest, the injustice where the super-wealthy are taking all the wealth for themselves. It`s not enough to say `our economy thriving, we should be happy that the ship is not rocking`. Also in Israel, people want to change the system `.