"Modern warfare has tried to dehumanize people, to take out the sympathetic element. When you drop bombs from 50,000 feet, you don't see who they're landing on, you don't see the damage. It's the same thing in economics when you talk about statistics and don't think about the people that lie behind those statistics." - Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize Winner, former Chief Economist at the World Bank in The Big Sellout
The new hard-hitting documentary, The Big Sellout, challenges current economic orthodoxy in contending that the dogmatic claims of the international business establishment for neo-liberal development policies are not supported by modern economic science. More importantly, it dramatically demonstrates how the implementation of these policies is having disastrous consequences for millions of ordinary people around the globe.
Traveling throughout both the developing and industrialized world, The Big Sellout brings us face-to-face with the architects of the reigning world economic order, as well as with the people bearing the brunt of their policies. The film shows how international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, are demanding draconian cuts in public spending, the privatization of public services and market liberalization as the only path to economic development. Then it tests these claims against actual case studies.
The film takes us to the Philippines where we watch a desperate mother race against the clock to pay for her son's kidney dialysis, a weekly procedure he needs to live. Similarly, we encounter a patient whose relatives must continuously pump air manually into her lungs because they can't afford a ventilator. The film explains how the public health budget in the Philippines has undergone massive cuts since the 1980s, moving relentlessly towards a private health care system. As a result, those without resources are denied access to the vital procedures and medicines they need to survive.
South Africa and Bolivia have suffered similar traumas, as their most vulnerable populations have faced exclusion from such basic services as water and electricity. We watch as activists in Soweto, the sprawling black township near Johannesburg, regularly risk their lives reconnecting electricity for people, many of them elderly, unable to pay the rising prices resulting from the privatization of the formerly public owned electric company. Similarly, citizens in Cochabamba, Bolivia organized enormous protests in 2000, following the decision by the Bolivian government to sell the public water company to a private corporation, which would have made water cost-prohibitive to much of the population. The Big Sellout shows how ordinary people are fighting the neo-liberal commodification of basic public goods.
Industrialized countries, the film demonstrates, are not immune from the deleterious effects of these same neo-liberal policies. Great Britain's national railway system, privatized by the Tories in the 1990s, is today reeling from service disruptions, 19th century accident rates and crippling morale among its labor force. Simon Weller, a railway worker from Brighton, recalls that the British rail system used to be one of the most efficient in the world but since the government dismantled it and sold off its components to private corporations, conditions for both employees and customers have declined precipitously. Such evidence debunks the pervasive neo-liberal myth that private companies inevitably function more efficiently than public ones.
The United States too is suffering the effects of this largely unchallenged economic paradigm on the quality of our daily life. We tolerate a defunct private health insurance system where corporate profits trump the well-being of individuals and communities; the U.S. has the highest health care expenditures in the world but ranks only 30th in life expectancy. We have a failing public education system but the neo-liberal answer is vouchers to support private, often for-profit schools. Furthermore, everything from correctional facilities to the customs service to actual military operations are being out-sourced to private corporations. For example, recent Congressional hearings revealed that millions of tax-payers' dollars targeted for rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure have been squandered on outrageous overcharging, blatant corruption and abandoned projects, sub-contracted to politically well-connected corporations.
While national and international economic discourse is fixated on increasing efficiency and economic growth, The Big Sellout reminds us that there are faces behind the statistics. It raises serious questions about the neo-liberal credo that government best serves the public interest by becoming a servant to corporate interests. But brave individuals, like those showcased in this important new film, are standing up and demanding an alternative to the prevailing neo-liberal model, a model that the film shows to be as hollow as it is unsustainable.
"The Big Sellout shows the damage in the real lives of people that irresponsible privatization causes. It also shows how people resist- individually and collectively- all across the world. It shows us the injustices and the way we can combat the injustices. It is a truly educational film." - Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale "The Big Sellout shows how the fight is so cruelly one-sided it seems impossible. People in very bleak circumstances find themselves struggling to resist the economic encroachments of very powerful international financial institutions. Yet the people are resourceful and stubborn in their resistance. They find ways to push back and their small victories against the behemoths become an inspiring message for the world." - William Greider, author One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism
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