Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The perfect storm of peak oil and neoliberalism?

I found an interesting post over at Jim Kunstler's site (part of his occasionally updated "Daily Grunt" blog), in which a letter from a South African farmer is reproduced. Much of the letter details the worsening energy shortages, road conditions (apparently potholes have become quite a problem even in relatively affluent areas), and the social and economic strain resulting as consequences.

Although the letter does dovetail with Kunstler's main thesis regarding the future energy shortfalls expected globally as we get further into the post-peak oil era, there is one other factor to be considered.

The farmer seems quite critical of the ANC. After reading Naomi Klein's book, The Shock Doctrine, I can't say that I'm all that surprised. Although affluent white landowners have traditionally been hostile toward the ANC, the post-Apartheid ANC government has in actuality turned out to be a good friend to the Apartheid era's white business elites. One of the ANC's movers and shakers, Thabo Mbeki apparently managed some back room wheeling and dealing with members of DeKlerk's regime (along with the usual IMF crowd) in Apartheid's waning days that effectively left the ANC with little more than a hollow government - one that could pass all the laws it wanted, but in which the economic inequities of Apartheid would be locked in or made worse. In essence, the South Africa that emerged was a neoliberalism poster child during the roaring 1990s, and its economy "expanded" - at least for some; those impoverished during Apartheid largely remained impoverished, and often faced worse poverty. The grand promises the ANC made in the 1950s simply could not be kept, which is beginning to leading to increased disillusionment and unrest. Also, like just about anywhere else in which a Milton Friedman-style economy has been imposed, eventually the infrastructure falls apart, and no one who is supposedly in charge is there to fix it. Otherwise affluent areas in South Africa are dealing with more power outages, roads in disrepair, and so on. I would imagine that whatever middle class might exist there is also on the decrease.

Although I'm not discounting the very real possibility that declining reserves of nonrenewable energy sources are at least partially implicated in South Africa's current situation, I'd simply want to note that neoliberal capitalism is doing to South Africa what it has done everywhere else its policies have been practiced - essentially hollowing out the government, draining the nation's resources, and leaving a crumbling wreck littered with Red Zones and Green Zones in its wake. In the process, a few conglomerates made a killing. How nice.

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