Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Shock Doctrine already

Here we go. As surely as night follows day, the Herald's Fran O'Sullivan is using the Christchurch earthquake as an excuse for cuts and privatisation. Recalling Solid Energy's invocation of force majeure clauses in its contracts after the September earthquake, O'Sullivan goes on:

Key should do the same. This is the opportune time for him to review the extent of his Government's tax-cuts, which are being funded through borrowing and not healthy surpluses, and the extent of the interest-free student loans and Working for Families tax credits bequeathed by the previous Government.

But it goes further than sacrifices Key might be able to exact at national level through a snap financial package to help the traumatised people of Christchurch.

This tragic event should also be the spur for Auckland's leadership to get on to its own feet and stop being a drain on the nation's finances. And for businesses to show the way by committing to reinvest in the city.

Put frankly, Auckland can no longer be the priority for the national infrastructure spend. It has had lots of Government cash spent there for the Rugby World Cup.

It's now time for Len Brown to flick a few of the Auckland Council's gold-plated assets to fund his pet infrastructure project instead of asking for tax funds.

Obviously, this disaster is going to mean a reprioritisation of government spending, both in terms of policy and geography. Equally obviously, it is going to mean that Auckland is not going to be the centre of financial attention for a while, and will have to come up with more money itself. What's not obvious is why this should mean local body asset-sales rather than deferred projects or rate-rises, cuts to services and going back on promises rather than a disaster levy and keeping them.

Well, OK, there is an obvious reason: because O'Sullivan is a diehard NeoLiberal who espouses these solutions no matter what the problem. Fiscal surplus? Cut services! Privatise assets. Recession? Better cut some stuff, and sell SOEs. RWC loss? Sell everything! In ordinary times, she's just another of the right's broken records, a higher-rent Lindsay Mitchell. In the present context, it looks suspiciously like the shock doctrine - cynically using a disaster to impose policies which people never voted for and would reject if given a democratic choice.

Fortunately, we have exactly such a choice later in the year. In nine month's time, we will get a chance to judge the government on its response. And while I think there will be an acceptance of shared sacrifice, the opportunistic imposition of a radical right-wing agenda that O'Sullivan espouses is unlikely to be a hit with the electorate.