Shock Doctrine: 'Emergency Finance Managers' and the Right-Wing's Power Grab
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“A 'doomsday' proposal like the one put forth by Senator Piccola, where the state takes over management of the city if the Act 47 plan is not adopted, has not been considered before -- and reflects a distinct departure from previous state policy regarding helping out distressed communities. The plan seems likely to be restricted to only the City of Harrisburg, due to some of the specifics in the bill."
Piccola is the senator who represents Harrisburg, and, Wood noted, is a main supporter of school voucher programs. Pennsylvania's public education is already suffering budget cuts of roughly $1 billion—around $8 million in Harrisburg alone.
Wood, who grew up not far from Benton Harbor, Michigan, noted that the push for emergency control over Harrisburg looks much like what's happening there, particularly in demographics. “ The cuts of state aid for schools is felt most directly by the state's poor urban and some rural schools,” he said, “State aid is based on district wealth (or lack of wealth), so the poorest schools get the most state aid. When the cuts are handed down, these same districts take the biggest share.”
As in Michigan, it's notable as well that the budget cuts handed down by the governor actually increase the likelihood that Harrisburg, and other cities around the state, will require further financial help, thus pushing them further into dependence on the state government and whatever requirements it—and the conservatives at the helm—dish out.
A story about right-wing power grabs just wouldn't be complete without an appearance by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Walker's become the poster boy for conservative overreach, and rumors have been swirling that he's planning his own emergency financial manager plan.
Walker denied it, but Rick Ungar at Forbes wrote in April that Wisconsin progressive activists were reporting a plan to be introduced in the legislature that would give the governor the ability to appoint a financial manager if a municipality failed a financial stress test. The bill, they said, would be very similar to Snyder's in Michigan.
“Walker’s plans give further credence to the notion that the efforts of the GOP governors with Republican majorities in their state legislative bodies are part of a coordinated plan to enforce a right-wing agenda designed to not only destroy state, county and municipal employee unions, but to take control of local governments by replacing elected officials with appointees, both corporate and individual, of the state’s highest executive officer.”
Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine , explained the way radical right-wing economists have used the shock created by an emergency, natural disaster, or coup d'etat to impose their preferred policies of privatization, deregulation, and slashing social services on countries around the world. Those economists, of course, came from right here in the USA—starting with the University of Chicago's Milton Friedman.
She opens the book with New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where a natural disaster somehow became an excuse to privatize the schools and bulldoze public housing.
The hurricane that's hit Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida is the same hurricane that's hit the world—financial crisis, ongoing recession, debt and a lack of tax revenue. The response, of course, has differed in different places, but Klein's point is that the Friedmanites were ideologues in search of a crisis they could exploit to put in their preferred policies—and if that required working with dictators, so be it.
We shouldn't be surprised, then, to see those policies being imposed here at home in the name of financial emergency. Klein notes that it's not always war or natural disaster that creates crisis: