TranscriptMADDOW: The Michigan house has already passed and the Michigan Senate is about to pass a bill that sounds like it is out of a dystopian, leftist novel from the future. If you think that Republican governors across the country are using fiscal crisis as a pretext to do stuff they otherwise want to do, this is something I don‘t think I ever would have believed Republicans even wanted to do.
But this is what they are proposing. It hasn't really gotten much national attention. But please, just check this out. Governor Rick Snyder‘s budget in Michigan is expected to cut aid to cities and towns so much that a lot of cities and towns in Michigan are expected to be in dire financial straights. Right now, Governor Snyder is pushing a bill that would give himself, Governor Snyder, and his administration, the power to declare any town or school district to be in a financial emergency.
If a town was declared by the governor and his administration to be in a financial emergency, they would get to put somebody in charge of that town, and they want to give that emergency manager they just put in charge of the town the power to, quote, “reject, modify, or terminate” any contract the town may have entered into, including any collective bargaining agreements.
So, this emergency person who gets put in charge of a town deemed to be in financial crisis by the governor‘s administration, this emergency person gets to strip the town of union rights, unilaterally, by their own personal authority. But this emergency person also gets the power under this bill to suspend or dismiss elected officials. Think about that for a second. It doesn't matter who you voted for in Michigan, it doesn't matter who you elected, your elected local government can be dismissed at will.
The emergency person sent in by the Rick Snyder administration could recommend that a school district be absorbed into another school district. That emergency person is also granted power specifically to disincorporate or dissolve entire city governments.
What year was your town founded? Does it say so like on the town border as you drive into town? Does it say what year your town was founded? What did your town‘s founding fathers and mothers have to go through in order to incorporate your town?
Republicans in Michigan want to be able to unilaterally abolish your town and disincorporate it, regardless of what you as a resident think about it. You don‘t have the right to express an opinion about it through your locally elected officials who represent you, because the Republicans in Michigan say they reserve the right to dismiss your measly elected officials and to do what they want instead because they know best.
The version of this bill that passed Republican-controlled Michigan house said it was fine for this emergency power to declare a fiscal emergency invoking all of these extreme powers. It was fine for that power to be held by a corporation.
So swaths of Michigan could, at the governor‘s disposal, be handed over to the discretion of a company. You still want your town to exist? Take it up with the board of directors of this corporation that will be overseeing your future now. Or rather don‘t take it up with them. Frankly, they are not interested.
Instead of thinking of Michigan as the Upper and Lower Peninsula, let‘s think about Amway-stan, right? The area between Pontiac and Flint could be a nice Dow Chemical-ville, maybe.
The power to overrule and suspend elected government justified by a financial emergency. Oh, and how do you know when you‘re in a financial emergency? Because the governor tells you you‘re in a financial emergency. Or a company he hires to do so does that instead.
The Senate version of the bill in Michigan says it has to be humans declaring the fiscal emergency. The house bill says a firm can do that just as well.
This is about a lot of things. This is not about a budget. This is using or fabricating crisis to push for an agenda you‘d never be able to sell under normal circumstances.
And so, you have to convince everyone that these are not normal circumstances. These are desperate circumstances. And your desperate measures are therefore somehow required.
What this is has a name. It is called shock doctrine.
Joining us now is Naomi Klein, columnist at “The Nation,” fellow at The Nation Institute, and author of the book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster, Capitalism,” which is in effect book-length warning of all this.
Naomi, thank you for being here.
NAOMI KLEIN, “THE SHOCK DOCTRINE”: Glad to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Do you see disaster capitalism at work in these state budget fights? Because I do.
KLEIN: Yes, I definitely do. And—but it‘s important to remember that these guys have been at this for 30 years. I mean, they‘re part of an ideological movement and they believe in a whole bunch of stuff that‘s not very popular.
You know, there are some policies in the ideological Republican playbook that a lot of people like: everyone likes a tax break. But if you talk about you‘re privatizing the local water system, busting unions, privatizing entire towns, things like this, if you run an election and say this is what I plan to do, you—chances are you will lose that election. And this is where crises come in. They are very, very handy, because you can say we have no choice.
You don‘t have to win the argument any more. You just have to say the sky is falling in. We have to do this. You can consolidate power.
We remember this from the Bush administration. They did this at the federal level. After 9/11, they said, we have a crisis, and we have to essentially rule by fiat.
So, the first stage is to consolidate power. But that‘s not the end goal. It‘s just to hoard the power. It‘s then to auction off the states because these guys really don‘t believe in the governments that they are running. I mean, this is a really old story.
But, you know, if you look at what‘s going on in Wisconsin, why are
why are they so desperate to tie the hands of unions? Why are 16 states facing similar battles?
Unions are the final line of defense against privatization of the public sector. Unions are the ones who fight privatization of the school system, of the water system, of the power system. That‘s where the real money is.
I mean, you got to keep our eye on the prize, because there‘s a lot of money to be made in the kinds of crony deals that could be rammed through when you have all of that power consolidated in the governor‘s office.
MADDOW: So, you think that this is about trying to achieve ideological aims that people wouldn‘t necessarily vote for, but also about changing the process, sort of putting our thumb on the scales so that the process is easier for them to keep making more decisions like this in the future?
KLEIN: Well, absolutely because unions are a political force. I mean, they represent their members, but they also give them a political voice. And you know, in that fake conversation with David Koch when Scott Walker thought he was talking to David Koch, there was something really revealing that he said. He said, “This is our moment to change the course of history.” That‘s what he said when he thought he was talking to David Koch.
MADDOW: And the reason he purports to have identified that moment is because Wisconsin has a budget deficit.
MADDOW: And so, therefore, that gives you a reason to change the course of history.
KLEIN: Change the course of history to lock in the whole wish list of policies, and he specifically compared himself to Ronald Reagan and the air traffic controller strike. This was his moment and he said that was the moment that ended communism.
And you know, what‘s the crusade that they‘re fighting here? And they really want a corporate monopoly state. They don‘t want any counter veiling force balancing out the power of corporations.
And so, unions are also a political force at the national level, at the state level. And we‘re in this bizarre situation where Citizens United has allowed corporations essentially to go nuclear on the political stage.
If you think of this as a kind of war, one side just got nukes. They are absolutely unconstrained. And now, they‘re going after the slingshots that the other side has.
MADDOW: Right. The one level—the one pseudo bit of competition they have got in terms of big money in politics. I mean, unions are able to pull the resources of their members in order to try to compete with these big guys. But they are the only ones who even crack the top 10 in terms of corporate giving.
KLEIN: Exactly, exactly. So, there are a few different things—different agendas going on.
MADDOW: Are you heartened by the way this worked out in Wisconsin? Protests in Wisconsin effectively stopping what was happening there, even as the national Republican Party decided to adopt Wisconsin as their signal fight for the country.
KLEIN: I mean, I‘m so heartened by it, Rachel.
KLEIN: I mean, it‘s extraordinary. And I mean, just listening to your opening commentary—you know, this very well may be the turning point. And what we‘re seeing is that when people do fight, they sometimes win, which is a really well-kept secret, that, you know, in all the sort of mocking of protests and glib post modern times, sometimes they win. Especially if you‘re willing to do more than, you know, just go to a march once. And just the tenacity of people in Madison, it‘s so inspiring.
MADDOW: But when you have traveled around the world documenting disaster capitalism and shock doctrine, when you have—and I know you traveled around speaking on this topic as well—what have you been able to find out about what makes more effective resistance?
MADDOW: I mean, people stand up against this stuff whenever it happens. Sometimes they do so in a way that works, and sometimes they do so in a way that doesn't work. What makes the difference whether or not people can win against this?
KLEIN: Well, the key is to name it while it‘s happening. And, you know, that‘s why—that‘s why I wrote this history, a history of how the right has won around the world by exploiting these moments of crisis, because this has been their signature tactic. But we have not been onto them.
If—the whole point of using a crisis, of using a shock is that in those moments of crisis, we‘re disoriented.
KLEIN: And—but if we made it while it is happening as people have been doing in Wisconsin, then the tactic doesn't work. But, in addition, to that, you also have to say—you also have to have your own story about what is really causing the crisis. And also, if you do have a budget deficit, and there are many states that genuinely are facing budget crisis because of a crisis that was created on Wall Street—
KLEIN: -- that was moved to Main Street, this crisis, as we know, was deepened by the policy decisions that were made, the decision to bail out banks that instead of bailing out homeowners, instead of bailing out workers. And what that means is that your tax base collapses.
So, your tax base collapsed. And now, we have to pay for the crisis again. First, we paid with a bailout. And now, people are paying with it, these budget cuts.
So, I think the really key part of their resistance is that people are saying, you know what, if you—if you really need some money, why don‘t you go where the money is? Why don‘t you go to the people who have all the money and putting their own proposals on the table? Whether that means Bank of America for not paying taxes, or whether that means defense contractors, whether that means oil and gas companies
And that is also deflating the strategy of we have no choice because, of course, there are all kinds of choices.
And what this fight is really about is not unions versus taxpayers, as we‘ve been told. It‘s a fight about who‘s going to pay for the crisis that was created by the wealthiest elite in this country.
KLEIN: Is it going to be regular working people or is it going to be the people who created the crisis? And that‘s the debate we need to have.
MADDOW: Understanding it and explaining it is—I mean, it‘s stupid to say that‘s half the battle, but, in this case, I think it really is and you are helping.
Naomi Klein, it‘s really nice to see you again. Thanks for coming in.
KLEIN: Thank you. Thanks, Rachel.