… Argentina, circa 2001. The economy was in freefall and thousands of people living in rough neighbourhoods (which had been thriving manufacturing zones before the neoliberal era) stormed foreign-owned superstores. They came out pushing shopping carts overflowing with the goods they could no longer afford – clothes, electronics, meat. The government called a “state of siege” to restore order; the people didn’t like that and overthrew the government.
Argentina’s mass looting was called el saqueo – the sacking. That was politically significant because it was the very same word used to describe what that country’s elites had done by selling off the country’s national assets in flagrantly corrupt privatisation deals, hiding their money offshore, then passing on the bill to the people with a brutal austerity package. Argentines understood that the saqueo of the shopping centres would not have happened without the bigger saqueo of the country, and that the real gangsters were the ones in charge. But England is not Latin America, and its riots are not political, or so we keep hearing. They are just about lawless kids taking advantage of a situation to take what isn’t theirs. And British society, Cameron tells us, abhors that kind of behaviour.
This is said in all seriousness. As if the massive bank bailouts never happened, followed by the defiant record bonuses. Followed by the emergency G8 and G20 meetings, when the leaders decided, collectively, not to do anything to punish the bankers for any of this, nor to do anything serious to prevent a similar crisis from happening again. Instead they would all go home to their respective countries and force sacrifices on the most vulnerable. They would do this by firing public sector workers, scapegoating teachers, closing libraries, upping tuition fees, rolling back union contracts, creating rush privatisations of public assets and decreasing pensions – mix the cocktail for where you live. And who is on television lecturing about the need to give up these “entitlements”? The bankers and hedge-fund managers, of course.
This is the global saqueo, a time of great taking. Fuelled by a pathological sense of entitlement, this looting has all been done with the lights on, as if there was nothing at all to hide. There are some nagging fears, however. In early July, the Wall Street Journal, citing a new poll, reported that 94% of millionaires were afraid of “violence in the streets”. This, it turns out, was a reasonable fear…
Until I skimmed the Guardian comments, I hadn’t realized that the Bullingdon Club was still in existence… or that Prime Minister Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson had been BC members during their youth. They were careless people…