Privatization & Gentrification: Milton Friedman's Shock Troops

by Abigail DeRoberts
Special to iVoryTowerz

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the country mourned, recognizing tragedy. It was only the most ardent of capitalists among us who saw opportunity instead of ruin. Milton Friedman, the father of the modern market, has famously said, “only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change.” Friedman saw disaster-ridden New Orleans as a blank slate, a place to start over again, particularly in the areas of housing and education, and the city’s oligarchs took his words to heart. Amply funded by the Bush administration, the public school system in New Orleans was quickly privatized: its 123 public schools shrank to 25 schools, compared to 31 charter schools.* New Orleans is now the only major city in the U.S. where a majority of students are enrolled in charter schools, which essentially are private schools subsidized with tax dollars and granted wide latitude from government oversight.

Though not as drastic as in New Orleans, Washington, D.C. is in the midst of similar mass school closings. For twenty-three schools in the District, their final classes met in mid-June. Slightly different from the privatization of New Orleans’ public schools, D.C. school closings are largely a symptom of crisis rather than enabled by crisis. One of the most prominent of these crises is rapid, widespread gentrification. Gentrification is happening at a breakneck pace and spreading like a virus throughout the city. Many of the District’s low-income residents have nowhere to go, and are being pushed out to places like Prince George’s County in Maryland. Low-income families are being pushed out of the city and replaced by young professionals. These young professionals are largely childless, so schools suffer under-enrollment, the major impetus for the school closings. Many D.C. residents who do have children tend to take advantage of the city’s voucher system and send their children to private schools.

In a city shocked by intense and unstoppable gentrification, families are being pushed out, schools are being closed, and communities inside the city are being broken. Public schools are closing, and charter schools are expanding. Friedman’s followers are provided with another blank slate, and if it continues, the result will continue to be ethnic cleansing through economic violence.

*Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine from 2007 has more on this topic.

(Graphic from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)

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