Licensed larceny

Infrastructure, financial extraction and the global South

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Nicholas Hildyard
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No struggle for social justice that lacks a grounded understanding of how wealth is accumulated within society, and by whom, is ever likely to make more than a marginal dent in the status quo. Much work has been done over the years by academics and activists to illuminate the broad processes of wealth extraction. But a constantly watchful eye is essential if new forms of financial extraction are to be blocked, short-circuited, deflected or unsettled. So when the World Bank and other well-known enablers of wealth extraction start to organise to promote greater private-sector involvement in ‘infrastructure’, for example through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), alarm bells should start to ring. How are roads, bridges, hospitals, ports and railways being eyed up by finance? What bevels and polishes the lens through which they are viewed? How is infrastructure being transformed into an ‘asset class’ that will yield the returns now demanded by investors? Why now? What does the reconfiguration of infrastructure tell us about the vulnerabilities of capital? The challenge is not only to understand the mechanisms through which infrastructure is being reconfigured to extract wealth: equally important is to think through how activists might best respond. What oppositional strategies genuinely unsettle elite power instead of making it stronger?

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