Book Review: Profits of Doom by Antony Loewenstein

Profits of Doom book cover

Antony Loewenstein’s book “Profits of Doom – How Vulture Capitalism is Swallowing the World” is an apt extension of the investigations conducted in Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” and Jeremy Scahill’s “Blackwater – Rise of the Words Most Powerful Mercenary Army”.

What does the book promise/offer?

Antony’s focus on giving a voice to those directly impacted by vulture capitalism makes for a refreshingly honest and compelling read. There is no false pretext of neutrality in this book. Antony’s purpose is clear from the get go – to pick up where Klein & Scahill left off exposing massive international industries which profit from the perpetuation of human misery – and there is no doubt he achieves this goal.

Naomi Klein exposed the history of vulture-like multinational corporations and their exploitation of disasters both natural and man-made to reap massive private profits. Jeremy Scahill examined how unaccountable privatised military organisations grew to be the favoured tool of exploitative governments and corporations, used to enforce unpopular policy and redistribute military spending to achieve maximum private profit from the public purse.

In Profits of Doom Antony expands this research to include a variety of other contexts, including how disaster capitalism has made itself at home in Australia.

How does the book deliver on it’s promise?

Disaster capitalism is given an Australian context in two ways; through exploring the ‘profitisation’ of immigration detention and seeking asylum in Australia, and through an examination of the insatiable quest for profit-via-resource-extraction in Western Australia.

Antony travels to Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea exposing the role played by international NGO’s in perpetuating human misery and channelling billions of dollars in international ‘aid’ funding into the pockets of private corporations.

He also examines the brutal ‘profit at all costs’ nature of international resource extraction companies who have little care for the destruction of ecosystems and local economies, and who resort to bullying tactics – or worse outright warfare – when they encounter resistance from local populations.

Why is the author uniquely capable of writing on these issues?

It is Antony’s dedication to putting the stories and views of the ordinary people who are impacted by disaster capitalism at the centre of his investigation which makes him uniquely capable of writing on these issues. Antony is an Australian Jew (at least by heritage) who has no inherently stronger connection with these stories from Papua New Guinea, Haiti or Afghanistan than I do. But what he does have is commitment. Commitment to conducting thorough investigative journalism while keeping his sources safe from harm. Commitment to exposing and opposing injustice, even if it means putting himself in situations others deem too ‘dangerous’ or ‘disruptive’ to even consider in their own lives. That is why Antony is uniquely capable of writing this book.

Favourite part of the book?

My favourite part of the book is most definitely the time spent in Papua New Guinea. PNG is a nation whose sovereignty is undermined by a complicated relationship with Australia and a dependency on international aid. This relationship has seen, in the last 10 years, more than $3 billion worth of Australian taxpayer dollars distributed via AusAID in PNG with virtually no discernible positive impact.

Poverty and exploitation has not been alleviated. Access to quality education has not improved even where new facilities have been built, as children are often left begging day-to-day in order to survive. Meanwhile, private contractors and security firms like G4S are reaping significant profits from AusAID contracts and paying handsome wages to Fly-In Fly Out (FIFO) workers to the exclusion of PNG locals.

It is very rare to hear about Australia’s contemporary role in Papua New Guinea. In fact it’s very rare to hear about Australia’s role in PNG at all. The stories in this book are the first I have read which detail first-hand accounts of the war in Bougainville, in which resources giant Rio Tinto, in co-operation with the PNG and Australian Governments, attempted to crush local opposition to the environmentally destructive Panguna mine through military force.

It is even more rare to hear a story of localised resistance defeating the combined forces of a national government , a power benefactor nation and the forces of multinational capitalism all at once. For similar reasons, the chapter on James Price Point is also one of my favourite sections of the book.

Least favourite part of the book?

My least favourite part of the book was the chapter on Curtin Immigration Detention Centre. While revealing and informative, this chapter made me feel disgusted to be an Australian. The injustice in how refugees seeking asylum in this nation are treated like criminals – or worse terrorists – is literally sickening. There were moments in this chapter where I felt rage boil inside me and others where I felt helpless. Unlike in the chapters about Haiti, Afghanistan and Papua New Guinea – this chapter leaves no lingering feeling of hope that these peoples lives may be improved through self-determination. Unfortunately, the fate of refugees in Australia is subject to the whim of a conservative government who has little care for their humanity or suffering.

What could/should the author have done differently?

Profits of Doom gives us specific insight into the ongoing nature of vulture capitalism in the 21st century, but intentionally does not delve into the history of disaster capitalism and the privatisation agenda which has allowed it to thrive.

It does not talk about the role played by Milton Friedman’s ‘Chicago Boys’ and ‘Washington Consensus’ economics in bringing down democratically elected governments in Latin America and replacing them with hardened military dictators like Chile’s Augusto Pinochet. It does not talk about the profit motive behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

But nor does it need to.

Instead Profits of Doom provides us with a bibliography listing over 40 books from which the context of this world-view can be obtained, in addition to more than 30 pages of notes and references to news articles, blog posts and other forms of media.

To fully understand the world-view being presented in Profits of Doom, I would suggest a detailed reading of the aforementioned books by Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill, which set the historical scene. Without this context is will be difficult to truly comprehend the extent to which proponents of unfettered market capitalism are willing go to make a profit.

Would you recommend this book?

Yes. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a genuine interest in understanding the challenges facing disempowered peoples and progressive movements in the 21st century. But let me warn you upfront: this is not the book to read if you want to walk away full of misplaced optimism about bringing a peaceful end to wealth inequality, environmental degradation or social injustice in the near future.

Rather, this is the book to read if you want to walk away with a strong feeling of responsibility and a need to do more.

Because that is exactly how I feel right now.

Thanks Antony.

(No, seriously, thanks.)



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