“Fear City” Explores How Donald Trump Exploited the New York Debt Crisis To Boost His Own Fortune
When I published “The Shock Doctrine” a decade ago, a few people told me that it was missing a key chapter in the evolution of the tactic I was reporting on. That tactic involved using periods of crisis to impose a radical pro-corporate agenda. They said that in the United States that story doesn’t start with Reagan in the 1980s, as I had told it, but rather in New York City in the mid-1970s. That’s when the city’s very near brush with all-out bankruptcy was used to dramatically remake the metropolis. Massive and brutal austerity, sweetheart deals for the rich, privatizations. In classic Shock Doctrine style, under cover of crisis, New York changed from being a place with some of the most generous public services in the country, engaged in some cutting-edge attempts at racial and economic integration, to the temple of nonstop commerce and gentrification that we all know and still love today.
New York’s debt crisis is an incredibly important and little understood chapter in the evolution of what Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz calls market fundamentalism, a process the Trump administration is in the process of rapidly accelerating, which is why I was so happy to receive Kim Phillips-Fein’s remarkable new book “Fear City.” In it, she meticulously documents how the remaking of New York City in the ‘70s was a prelude to what would become a global ideological tidal wave, one that has left the world brutally divided between the one percent and the rest. She helps us to understand many of the forces that Trump exploited to win the White House, from economic insecurity to crumbling public infrastructure to fear-mongering about black crime, all amidst previously unimaginable private wealth.
But one of the things that really stood out for me in the book is what it reveals about Trump himself. “Fear City” tells the story of how a brash 29-year-old real estate developer seized on the city’s misfortune to boost his own fortune, extracting predatory terms from a community in crisis.
Reading this, it struck me how Trump’s entire career has been shaped by the exploitation of crisis. And that’s relevant stuff for what it tells us about what we can expect from his administration in the months and years to come.
Read the rest at The Intercept.