Let Them Eat Lead

Black lives matter has been the refrain of millions around the country since the events in Ferguson in the fall of 2014.  Unfortunately it’s been ignored by most of those who run the country. In Flint, Michigan, it is apparent that the lives of black children don’t matter. Indeed, an estimated 9,000 children now have lead poisoning. The consequences of exposure to lead are many.  According to the World Health Organization:

More importantly, they note, “lead poisoning is entirely preventable.”

Continuing, they note that:

Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations.”

According to the Detroit News, significant percentages of children in other parts of Michigan have been exposed, such as the west side of Detroit where about 20% of the children had in their system. Dr. Hanna-Attisha, who broke this story with her discoveries, recently estimated that 8,000 children under 6 may have been exposed. As of the end of January, the water in Flint was 10 times more toxic that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows according to the Washington Post.

It’s not surprising that poverty and race play a key role.  In Flint, 57% are black and 40% live in poverty, according to the New York Times.

There’s no need for me to reiterate the facts of this tragedy, for plenty has already been written (for a good summary see this).  My intention here is to go deeper, for what had happened in Flint represents the result of a social and political movement that began several decades ago in what has been called “Neoliberalism.” 

This term refers to the resurgence of laissez-faire economics which, according to the Business Dictionary, is one of the fundamental principles of capitalism and “claims that an economic system should be free from government intervention or moderation, and be driven only by the market forces.”  It originated with the term invisible hand by the 18th century Scottish economist Adam Smith.  Smith argued that human beings are naturally motivated by self-interest and, when they are not interfered-with.

There are five major points that summarize Neoliberalism:

·         The free market is the best system to solve social problems rather than government programs..

·         Cutting public expenditures for social services, especially those directed at the poor.

·         Deregulation of the government (i.e., removing government regulation of business).

·         Privatization (e.g., prisons, health care, social security, etc.).

·         Elimination of the concepts of “public good” or “community” and replacing it with "individual responsibility." 

Neoliberalism become the dominant economic theory (known as “trickle-down economics”) and influenced the policies of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and the Republican Party and became the basis of the Tea Party’s anti-government stance.

According to Noam Chomsky (e-mail communication, 2/25/16):

Neoliberalism in practice is not committed to free markets: rather, free markets for the poor and vulnerable, and massive state intervention to protect wealth and privilege.  Take for example the IMF study showing that the profits of the major banks derive almost entirely from the implicit government insurance policy – cheap credit, etc., amounting to over $80 billion a year according to the business press.  Or the huge subsidies for fossil fuels, or agribusiness, and lots more.  In fact, this is just traditional imperial policy: free markets for the colonies, but powerful states intervening in the economy for the imperial power.

 

Today it still undergirds the beliefs of the Republican Party.  In states led by a Republican governor it has led to massive cutbacks in vital social services, revealing the lack of concern for the “common good,” especially minorities and the poor.  

This has been demonstrated in the policies of the governor of Michigan who, in an effort to save money, appointed an “emergency manager” to take over the city of Flint and use untested water from the Flint River instead of the Detroit River.  Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, in charge of insuring safe water, ignored protocol and did not “require the Flint water plant to use optimized corrosion control” and then telling the EPA that they did!

The water crisis in Flint and elsewhere represents one of the worst examples of the belief in the “free market.”  In short, it means illness and in too many cases death to children and a callous disregard for human life.  What has happened in Flint is criminal and arrests and prosecutions should follow, starting with the governor.