Friday, November 20, 2015

Slum-clearance on a massive scale

Huge fortunes are made out of slum-clearances. It’s an excellent way to make money, as long as it’s carefully planned. Think about what’s involved. The residents have to be moved out of their homes and into new accommodation, and fed and clothed until they have new jobs; schools have to be built and staffed for their children; social facilities have to be built and developed for the new communities.

All those things are fantastically expensive. Usually, it’s governments that order the clearances and relocations, which are usually farmed out to private contractors who – if they have their wits about them – will have bribed the politicians and bureaucrats for the privilege.

Security is a big factor, from start to finish. After all, evicted slum-dwellers aren’t moving to a new slum, but to a whole new community – designed by middle-class architects, and supervised by middle-class community-organisers. The new accommodation is not intended to be any kind of concentration-camps: quite the contrary. It's intended to upgrade the quality of life for the beneficiaries.

Of course it takes a lot of time – one generation, two, maybe longer – to persuade the newcomers to abandon their customary slum-habits. Until that happy day arrives, the inmates may pose a threat to their new neighbours and those neighbours’ possessions. So special policing is only common sense, employed either by the government or by experienced private security companies.

Progressively, the slums have to be physically destroyed, and that’s also costly. Specialised labour and equipment doesn’t come cheap. Special demolition machinery keeps specialist manufacturing companies paying generous dividends. When there’s no demolition in the offing, the companies’ dividends drop out of sight, and one wonders (a bit unkindly) if the companies don’t sometimes put political pressure on governments to hurry up and plan further demolitions. Or monetary pressure, in the form of bribery.

It crosses my mind, from time to time, that the gratuitous wars-of-choice waged against the people of the Middle East might be motivated for the specific purpose of making money. Apart from the obvious motive of access to the local nations’ oil revenues, there are boatloads of money to be made both in destroying the nations’ infrastructure and in replacing it when the dust clears. 

It’s slum-clearance on a massive scale. They may not have been slums before the bombs and drones hit them, but they certainly were afterwards.

Wars have always been fought for loot – land, persons, gold, and other assets with rich potential… What’s not to like about war, if you’re on the winning side? The soldiers – the cannon-fodder – don’t get all that much out of it. The pensions aren’t bad, although the medical care isn’t as good as advertised. But private contractors make out like bandits. The generals and colonels also do well, through consultancy deals with TV companies and the corporate members of the military-industrial complex.

Modern weapons cost billions of dollars, and so do security guards and caterers. There is only the faintest risk of being held accountable for unauthorised use, price-gouging and extortion. Families in defeated nations have always had to buy their freedom from imprisonment and torture; only rarely in history has that practice been frowned upon. It wasn’t supposed to happen in the enlightened age that began with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but human rights have never been held in respect outside the Goody-Two-Shoes brigade.

The latest wheeze is the mass trafficking of the newly homeless and the soon-to-become homeless from their bombed neighbourhoods in the villages and towns of the Middle East to safer refuges in the destroyers’ European domiciles. It doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to recognize the standard slum-clearance pattern, exercised on a larger-than standard scale.

Destruction of homes – check. Temporary accommodation of the homeless in tents in the deserts – check. Transport to the vicinity of the greenfield site reserved for them – check. Temporary accommodation there, with the necessary policing – check. Constructing permanent accommodation there – check. Reconstructing the originally destroyed homes – check. Rinse and repeat.

Have I missed anything? Paying off all the nominal principals, of course, but that’s routine. Slotting the generals and senior politicians into the remunerative lecture-circuits, and arranging lesser rewards for lesser personalities. New Toyotas for the local sub-agency, that sort of thing…

But all that goes without saying. After all, you’ve got to spend money to make money, right? Everybody knows that.