The Corner House July 2016
Licensed Larceny: Infrastructure, Financial Extraction and the global South
by Nicholas Hildyard
This new 144-page book, just published by Manchester University Press,
argues that the current push worldwide for Public-Private Partnerships
(PPPs) is not about building infrastructure -- roads, bridges, hospitals,
ports and railways -- for the benefit of society but about constructing
new subsidies to benefit the already wealthy. It is less about financing
development than developing finance.
Understanding and exposing these processes is essential to challenge
growing inequality. But equally important is critical reflection on how
the wealthy are getting away with it. What does the wealth gap suggest
about the need for new forms of organizing by those who would resist elite
power? What oppositional strategies unsettle elite power instead of making
Chapter 1 summarises 'the injustices of wealth', inequality and wealth
The case study in Chapter 2 traces the flows of money into and out of a
PPP project in one of the world's poorest countries, Lesotho's national
referral hospital, highlighting who benefits from them in an entirely
Chapter 3 describes the ways in which 'finance' views infrastructure: a
road, hospital or oil pipeline is not 'infrastructure' unless it provides
a stable, contracted cash flow for the long-term.
For investors, 'infrastructure' has become an 'asset class', as Chapter 4
explores further. What started off with investments in economic
infrastructure (utilities, roads, ports, airports) now include investments
in resource/commodity infrastructure (oil and gas facilities, mining,
forests), social infrastructure (hospitals, public housing, schools,
prisons, law courts, military bases), information infrastructure (big data
harvesting) and, still in its infancy, natural infrastructure (payments
for so-called environmental services).
The trajectory is profoundly undemocratic, elitist and unstable --
infrastructure-as-asset class is a bubble set to burst.
Chapter 5 takes a global tour of massive infrastructure corridors planned
to enable further economies of scale in the extraction, transportation and
production of resources and consumer goods by compressing space by time.
Chapter 6 raises questions about how resistance might more effectively
challenge the trajectory of contemporary infrastructure finance – and the
inequalities and injustices to which it gives rise. It is likely to be
more fruitful when part of wider efforts to foster and support
commons-focused resistance to accumulation.
Copies of 'Licensed Larceny' can be ordered from Manchester University Press:
Other recent posts on The Corner House website
1) 'Nigger' and 'Nature': Expanding the Concept of Environmental Racism
by Larry Lohmann, 6 May 2016
Environmental racism is usually defined in terms of the racialised
distribution of pollution. But it's also about the ways people, ethnic
groups, nature and pollution are co-defined in the first place. This
aspect of environmental racism is perhaps even more visible in forests
2) What is the 'Green' in 'Green Growth'?
by Larry Lohmann, April 2016
'Green growth' promises to:
--respond to economic crisis by developing new environmental assets that
can become profitable investments;
--address ecological crises – climate change, water shortages,
biodiversity depletion, deforestation – without imposing constraints; and
--relieve the state of the increasing expense of environmental protection.
Can this implausible triple promise ever be fulfilled? There are reasons
for scepticism. This book chapter asserts that green growth is not about
solving ecological crises but reinterpreting them, creating new
opportunities that business can take advantage of while diffusing
responsibility for them. It is full of contradictions and resistances to
it are inevitable.
3) 'Energy and Climate as Labour Issues'
by Nicholas Hildyard, April 2016
Recognising that energy is a labour issue is critical if the shift away
from fossil fuels is to do more than just help elites find new, greener
tools for exploiting the majority world.
This presentation at a seminar held at the Austrian Federal Chamber of
Labour asserted that coping with and resisting capitalist exploitation of
labour means questioning just what ‘energy’ is: energy as the abstract
'stuff' that keeps factories working, consumers consuming, trains and cars
running, the economy rolling and capital accumulating is very different
from the actual energies that are part of living well.
4) 'Energy Transitions: Some Questions from the Netherworld'
by Nicholas Hildyard, April 2016
The term 'energy transition' usually signifies a shift away from fossil
fuels and the technologies that require them. The question that then
follows is: how is this shift to be paid for?
But there are pitfalls in looking at climate and energy like this. This
public lecture raises questions about the direction of mainstream
discussions on energy, technology, finance, accumulation, and organising.
5) Mausam 6
by India Climate Justice Collective
The sixth issue of the new Mausam, a magazine connecting climate debates
to local struggles over land, livelihood and food rights, highlights the
acidification of the oceans caused by high emissions of carbon dioxide and
other greenhouse gases; analyses the December 2015 Paris climate
agreement; and reports on a WTO judgment against India’s solar power plans.
We hope you find these posts interesting and useful, and welcome any
comments you may have.
best wishes from all at The Corner House.
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