The term ‘disaster capitalism,’ was popularly and formally examined by climate justice professor, author and journalist Naomi Klein, her definition of the phenomenon can be described as an “extreme [form of] capitalism that advocated [for the] privatization and deregulation in the wake of war or natural catastrophe.”
The book Klein published on her analysis of disaster capitalism, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, investigates the earliest example of the ‘disaster capitalism complex in Chile during 1973. Under a coup, the country went from a democratic, socialist president to a military-led dictatorship that ultimately dismantled socialist policies, reinstated the free-market economy and additional initiatives that enforced the liberalization and privatization of Chilean resources.
Exactly 50 years later, headlines around the world report on a global society that is rife with international/intergovernmental conflicts and climate disasters that suggest a recurring cycle of disaster capitalism.
Louisiana is no stranger to fierce storms or the entities that swoop down to further eradicate day-to-day life. In a sit down interview with People over Plastic Assistant Professor of City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design Dr. Justin Hoseby, spoke about his work on post-Katrina New Orleans and what he remembers about that era.
Dr. Hosbey said he was a sophomore in college when he first “caught wind” of Katrina. While attending the American Educational Research Association conference in New Orleans, where a teacher displaced by Katrina lectured.
“She spoke about how in many ways it [the aftermath of Katrina] was a combination of the history of slavery, of colorism, of elite Black folks in the city, but also collaboration with white elite actors that led to the total destruction of the school system in New Orleans.”
Dr. Hosbey would then embark on an ethnographic project that studied public schools (elementary to high schools) in New Orleans that are now charter schools. He says it's erases a hard won fights for the education of Black children while, “bringing in teachers who are not from Louisiana to New Orleans after the storm, kids who are traumatized by the storm, have been displaced by the storm, missing a year out of school, and now you have teachers who are well intentioned, many of them, but not prepared to deal with the structural issues beyond The mental health issues, but also the educational gap that existed, but also being literally in fear of their students.”
The public school system wasn’t the only public service that went private. Privatizing Public Health a project from Columbia University's Temple Hoyne Buell Center found that: “during the event [Hurricane Katrina], most of the city's hospitals were evacuated and were either permanently closed or acquired by larger private corporate entities (such as Ochsner Health Services, which operates multiple hospitals and clinics in the New Orleans area).”
Housing took a big hit as well. In a 2019 paper called, Gentrification in the wake of a hurricane: New Orleans after Katrina authors Joseph van Holm of Arizona State University and Christopher Wyczalkowski of Georgia State University compared maps of damage after Katrina and maps of gentrified neighborhoods after Katina. They found, “that damage is positively associated with the likelihood of a neighbourhood gentrifying in New Orleans after one decade, which drives our recommendations for policy makers to take greater concern for their communities during the process of rebuilding from storm damage.”
We are approaching 20 years since Hurricane Katrina yet we are reminded of its aftermath as disaster capitalism strikes in Hawai’i. Fights for water between locals who have been impacted by the wildfires and developers of luxury properties continue while folks fight off more developers looking to purchase their home after the fire.
These events cast Dr. Hosbey’s position on Naomi Klein’s definition of disaster capitalism in an intriguing light, “ the disaster is capitalism,” he says.
“Capitalism is a disaster.”