Sunday, November 04, 2007

Death Is Progress

Heard a sad story on NPR this morning about the city of Port Arthur, Texas.

The city is surrounded by billions of dollars' worth of oil infrastructure that enriches several large, very familiar-sounding corporations. Yet the city itself is declining badly, and has been in decline for quite some time. Some residents are so badly off, blue tarp distributed in the wake of Hurricane Rita in 2005 is still the only roof for some houses. Downtown is boarded up and neglected. The residents have suffered the fallout from industrial accidents.

One of the people interviewed for the story suggested this imbalance was an example of racism, yet it appears to be an example of a much wider indifference. Our large industries do not care for small places, even the small places that supply them with their goods and materials.

A spokesman for Valero protests that the company pays taxes, obeys federal regulations (such as they are!), and donates to local charities. He feels, therefore, that Valero is a good corporate citizen. We have paid for our redemption, now hand it over. These protests are easy to utter in an office and perhaps, by now, they are even easy to say in a ghost town surrounded by pipes and refineries.

What makes it so easy for a Valero spokesman to stand in Port Arthur and say, "We have done enough?"

It is the determination, the manifest destiny, the heavily-fortified optimism about a global economy that requires victory over regional economies and their communities. In order for the global economy to progress, resources cannot remain under the control of the communities living on them. Loss of jobs and subsequent migrations of working people and the dissolution of communities is required for "progress." Read a chilling apologetic for it here. This really is the logic of global neoliberalism.

The suffering of Port Arthur is, therefore, to be considered a merely a correction, as "microeconomic" loss leads to "macroeconomic progress." People are "resources." Livelihoods are "jobs." Suffering is a "cost" easily written off - by those who benefit from it.

And the death of a community? That's "progress."

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