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Imposing Capitalism on Iraq
By: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND

Baghdad Year Zero
Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia

Posted September 24, 2004

Originally from Harper's Magazine, September 2004.

By Naomi Klein.

To summarize the article, Bush, Bremmer, Rumsfeld, have tried to turn Iraq into a Capitalistic paradise by establishing laws which would open up Iraq for sale of its publicly held companies (e.g. cement, vegetable oil, textiles, etc.). The corporate world would take over the job of rebuilding Iraq as they pursue the newly opened opportunity to make a profit, buy up these various outlets of production, and then market their wares to the new more prosperous working class.

But, the problem was that the people who were to be (or were) displaced by this new corporate state were enrolled by the insurgency and thus arose a distributed armed resistance to the corporatization of Iraq. This was not anticipated by the Administration, and the forces of capitalism could not be harnessed in producing the desired self-regenerating infrastructure. And, even in the face of the retreat of the private sector from Iraq, the Administration continues to pursue this method of restructuring the economy and government of Iraq.

Commentary on the Soul of Capitalism in Iraq and the United States
By Thomas Lee Abshier, ND

The article presented a plausible unflattering account of the attempt by the Administration to rebuild Iraq by harnessing the power of the Free Market to establish an infrastructure and appropriate resources in the most efficient manner. The Bush Administration and Republicans in general are committed to less government intervention. Capitalism tames the human passions of greed, pride, and fear by enrolling them for the benefit of self and service of others. But, Capitalism has no heart; it is the marketplace equivalent of "Survival of the Fitest" and "The Law of the Jungle." It will produce a strong machine of production in a far more efficient manner than a command economy like socialism, fascism, or communism. But, to function well it must have a stable environment with property laws, enforceable contracts, and a known and minimal level of risk from social unrest. Obviously Iraq after the war was unable to fulfill the criteria of providing the necessary stable environment for investment, risk, and law. Thus, the dream of establishing a economic utopia in Iraq was premature. The article presents a condemning perspective of the motives for going to war, the greed that drove the investors, and the foolishness of those who continue to follow that policy. The purpose of the Harpers article was not to critique capitalism so as to make it more humane, but rather to highlight the fact that lots of Big Business was involved in the reconstruction, which could be framed as the "purpose of the war", and as a "political-business insider payoff."

In a partisan world, a primary tool of battle for the hearts of a constituency is to present the opposing party as morally inferior. The Republicans paint the Democrats as morally depraved in their stand on social issues such as Abortion, Euthanasia, Cloning, and Separation of Church and State. The Democrats attempt to paint the Republican party as a pawn of the Industrialists and facilitators of the bottom line of those Big Business interests who seek favorable legislation through the mechanism of party politics.

This is no doubt that lobbyists for industry have influenced government, and probably have exerted inordinate influence. The very nature of the campaign and election process make influence by various groups unavoidable. To imagine otherwise is unreasonable. But, to categorize this factor as the only, or the primary, motive for war and economic policy sounds simplistic. A more satisfying and complex perspective is the simple realization that the Republican Administration has a bias toward attempting to solve the market problem in Iraq by using the Free Market theory and philosophy. The approach an Administration takes toward economic theory is morally neutral in itself, but the economic structure of a country does have a great effect on the group psychology.

We cannot say for sure whether or not the war, and reconstruction, was done for economic purposes. There are strong accusers and defenders for both positions. It is clear that the Administration initiated, facilitated, and cooperated with executing these economic adventures. Clearly the intervention was unsuccessful; and it did not work because capitalism cannot function well in a high risk environment. We didn't count on the Iraqi Army turning into guerilla insurgents.

I will not focus on the wisdom of intervention and the (so far) failed attempt to initiate a strong investor-based rebuilding of Iraq. Instead I will focus on an examination of the heartless and impersonal aspects of Capitalism. We all know that in the American implementation of the free market provides very little job security and that perversions of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" by monopolistic walls and legal requirements distort the market. The perfected market depends on a free flow of information, people, energy, and resources on every level from individual to global. Movement of resources should be fluid and dependent upon the needs of the individuals and groups. And, while capitalism can be a brutal task master that creates an impersonal world of slavery to money and production, it can also be the vehicle by which political and social freedom manifest the true spirit of service and mutually assured survival. The key to walking on the bright side of this polarity is a commitment by the individuals, groups, and government of each nation-state to operate under a Godly rule-set. And, this will happen most perfectly, most expeditiously when we simply overtly acknowledge we are trying to establishing a Christian nation.

The article presented what sounds like a realistic examination and recount of recent Iraqi history. But I suspect, given the Left-leaning bias of Harpers, that the accomplishments of the Coalition were underplayed to emphasize the incompetence and corruption of the Republicans and Bush Administration. In fact, I think that was the point of the article to submit the efforts and intents of the Conservative philosophy and its proponents to shame. But that aside, I believe the article illuminates some of the unpleasant realities of the economic-governmental philosophy that dominates our lives in the 21st century capitalistic/free-market West.

The article gave an inside view of the methods and strategies used by capitalism to create prosperity and overcome the problem of survival and pain. But, the failures illustrated poignantly the fact that capitalism has no intelligent head driving its actions, and its heart is driven by the passions of greed, pleasure, and power. And while the article was about the horrors of trying to impose a system of engineered and imposed capitalism on Iraq, it is actually an indictment on the entire capitalistic system of creating wealth, and illuminates one aspect of the moral weakness that underlies the United States economy.

Market forces attempt to instill us with a desire to satisfy base urges by consuming addictive substances (trans fatty acids, caffeine, sweets, narcotics, drugs, steroids, and junk-food entertainment powered by sex drugs and rock and roll). This flesh worship is the enemy that we must all oppose. Capitalism has been worshiped as one of the co-gods in our society. And while an excellent principle and system of distributing the tools of production to meet unseen needs, if unregulated by Godliness it destroys the lives of those ruled by their passions.

The opportunity for profit by satisfying addictive drives fuels the Western world’s economies. The only boundaries to establishing a new market for exploitation and profits are the moral lines we have established as a society between the prohibited and acceptable. When we sufficiently degrade out social mores, we will establish profit centers for soylent green, THC, and cloned-parts. Capitalism is not a moral system, rather it is a method of allocating resources. I am saddened that Christianity has been peripherally associated with a capitalistic expansion of markets and profits at the expense of quality of life and environment.

My opposition to the Harpers’ article and the Left is not with their criticism of Capitalistic greed and the resultant carnage of mankind’s health and welfare wrecked by this impersonal juggernaut attempting to increase quarterly profits. Rather, my concern is that the Left has been likewise seduced by another religion of Faith, an anti-God, Marxist belief in a humanist state. The Harper’s article was essentially an indictment of the religion/faith of the Capitalist and the power of greed to produce a utopia of commerce and the material successes. But, the directed government and economy have strong failings that result in disappointment of many needs and desires of its subjects.

The Left has embraced a kinder gentler socialistic dream, a supportive and nurturing world where no need is unmet by the group-support system. Such a world is ideal, but the limited nature of resources and the unlimited nature of needs will prove that those producing wealth can never fully satisfy the ever-expanding desires of the dependent classes. Thus, some method of limiting benefits must be instituted. Compassionate capitalism, which is simply the market ruled by Godly legislation and populated by people who care, can provide a proper level of care for the unfortunate. Private donations, individual volunteerism, and a respect for the needs and contribution of each person will take care of the medicare, welfare, unemployment, and disability issue. An underlying spirit of caring and human intervention is the key to a successful system of Compassionate Capitalism. In other words, if people care, and the government has not taken exorbitantly of their resources, then the local group structures provide for the poor and unfortunate. This practice is the heart of the Judeo-Christian moral fabric.

Rather, I criticize the Left for attributing the failures of humanity (greed, power, intolerance, suppression…) to the Christian moral system. There is only one truth, and the current political Right is attempting to manifest it through the medium of capitalism and free market forces. Thus, Christianity and capitalism can function well together, but capitalism must be tamed. This moderation of the raw greed and power of Capitalism will happen when a Christian populace governs the marketplace with righteous law. The system becomes perverted when the Left biases the system to a socialistic implementation of economy with votes influenced by giving welfare, medicaid, and social security to everyone at the expense of those few who are left healthy and working. The socialist, nanny-state Left is a caricature of the Christ like ideal of caring for your brother out of a spirit of mutual care and relationship. Attempting to impose a market economy on a government-based Iraqi economy without proper transition proved disastrous because the hearts of the people had not embraced freedom. Change takes time, and people must have a hunger for creating their own personal transformation internally. But, without confronting a standard of truth, there may be change, but there will be no transformation.

Capitalism has become so refined in the West that we no longer see the naked forces of greed and addictive seduction by products and services that tickle the senses. We have clothed this shameful pandering of the the market to our base desires as a noble expression of our opportunities and freedom. In fact, such an implementation of Capitalism is simply succumbing to and promoting flesh slavery. This is the exact opposite of the Freedom promised in following Christ.

The Republican Party supports moral issues, but it appears from the Harpers article as though they have an excessive faith in the ability of the free market to produce the best possible outcome, even in an extremely unfriendly environment. A lesson from nature would do well here; a barren landscape will go through a number of phases of plant and animal life before it can support the diversity and lushness of the mature forest.. To imagine that a high level system like capitalism could spring overnight from the barren wastelands of the Islamic deserts is unrealistic. A graded introduction of this market system is appropriate. A belief in the market is understandably seductive; it motivates people to work and consume as they please. But, without an internal or external regulation of their inner drives they will work and consume even to their own detriment and potentially their destruction. The short term seduction of pleasure, and the long feedback cycle required to identify pain and degradation may obscure deadly habits.

The major problem with the capitalistic catering to the wants and needs of the people, is that the people will ask for bread and circuses, porn shops and twinkies. If the social standards permit the satisfaction of a need, that need will be met. Given the ever-new and naïve youth that spring from the fertile wombs of mankind, we will probably continue to need a societal codification of rules to direct the uninitiated in the Godly standards of public and private relationships. Ideally a righteous, truthful, and complete education in the ways of civil society would be adequate to bring the next generation into full righteousness. But, given the failings of the parental and public/private education, we will continue to need a combination of individual responsibility and corporate legislation to maintain proper order in the affairs of economy and deportment.

Promoting and adopting a common Christian worldview is the only solution I see as able to solve the problems of Iraq's market and societal unrest. In the West we have gone to sleep to the failings of Capitalism because the economy and culture in America are working well for most of the population. But, for the dropouts and handicapped, the misfits of the Capitalistic system have little voice, and their testimony of complaints is not credible. Thus, rather than seeing the welfare mother as a symptom of a larger moral failure, we try to establish safety nets of assistance with food, housing, and daycare. We have established well-meaning social programs but do not deal effectively with the underlying problem – the failure to embed the righteousness of God inside each individual.

The Harper's article presents an excellent indictment of a capitalistic system poorly implemented. But, I fear that without proper qualification, that the criticism of the capitalistic method can be used as an apology for establishing a state-run business environment. I believe a more centrist approach (endorsing righteousness) should be emphasized as the final solution. I have no problem with accepting a transitional quasi-socialist market system; it is certainly familiar to the current population of workers and government. By continuing with a somewhat commanded economy and government, while making gradual changes to release the markets to greater freedom over the years, the economy can deliver uninterrupted productivity. Such a graded approach is certainly a better solution to transitioning to free markets and peace than the current attempts at uniformly imposing law-required divestiture.

Capitalism thrives on pandering to desire, and the Iraq experiment has illuminated a disease that permeates all capitalistic systems. In America we have removed overt debate about the application of Godly standards to public issues of economy and government. Thus we have allowed a system of economics which preys on desire to go unchecked by a higher moral code. We have depended upon man’s laws to prevent us from hurting each other, from using mental/emotional intoxicants, and from engaging in self-depreciating moral behavior. And to the extent those laws are Godly and enforced, they are good and produce beneficial social outcomes. But the necessary granularity and specificity of judgment required to create a truly good and righteous society cannot be created by a top-down governmental system. The responsibility for right thought, speech, and action must be distributed and owned by the individual, whether in group activities, economic endeavors or personal relationships. And to the extent that our individual standard of judgment and compliance reflects Godly perfection, the manifested results will mirror the joy and peace found in the Kingdom of Heaven.