Monday, 17 February 2014
The UK floods and capitalism in crisis
I don’t live in a flooded area I’d like to make clear but I do think the recent devastating flooding in many areas of the Uk with the South West of England being worst hit it would seem do deserve some reflection I think. Allot of people’s homes have been damaged possibly even permanently with flood waters still peaking in many places. My sympathies and solidarity do go out to all affected by these storms. A transfer of foreign aid to the flood victims is not the answer in my opinion though as many reactionaries will have you think it is the answer. Those foreigners don’t need out money we need it here. This misses the point of foreign aid and the good it does and automatically assumes it is "too high" in the first place which I’d contest. In the last week David Cameron has tried to do his savior of the people hero act by turning up with wellies and a helping hand but this symbolic gesture politics standing for photographs while cutting funding for flood defenses will do little to ease peoples anger I’d say. In fact it wills b interesting to see how much this recent storms and floods and a lack of a proper reply from the government will affect their votes in these areas. The UK has been hit by a series of strong storms throughout January and into February, with no end in sight. This offers a case study of capitalism under climate change. The current string of back-to-back storms has been described as "an almost unprecedented natural crisis". It hasn't escaped notice that the response to the storms in the south west was rather lackluster, but when severe flood warnings were issued for the Thames in the Home Counties, it was suddenly announced that "money is no object". It should come as no surprise that some peoples' misery is worth more than others. The sight of land reclaimed by the sea is also something we'll be seeing more of; as both sea levels and storm strengths continue to rise (managed retreat is proposed as an alternative to increasing reliance on sea defences). It’s probably too early to draw conclusions about the state response, as it’s likely to be still in-formation in response to emerging crises.2 However, we shouldn’t assume that destruction is automatically bad for capital. A moderate amount of destruction can be seized upon as an opportunity for restructuring, reconstruction and investment (so-called 'disaster capitalism'). As the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said, "You get a hit to GDP [Gross Domestic Product] as it's going on and then you get a recovery, you get that back later on with the repair." On a system-level, rates of profit are boosted by the destruction of capital value.3 This wasn’t allowed to happen to any great extent in the economic crisis, as state intervention propped up banks and the housing bubble. In the absence of a world war to destroy capital and make room for growth (the 1940s ‘fix’), might climate change destruction contribute to a recovery of the rate of profit, amidst secular stagnation? Clearly, if this conjecture is true, this would happen in a hugely unequal, exploitative, and potentially cataclysmic manner. But how much climate destruction is best for capital? Probably more than none. Extreme weather events will start to have an increasing disruptive impact. That might result in shifts in climate policy. But damaging the capitalist economy shouldn't be mistaken for damaging capitalist social relations. Rather, capitalist relations ensure that climate change impacts tend to reinforce existing inequalities.