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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Attend the Tale of Sweeney Todd 

Remember the neocon plan to subject Iraq's economy to Russian-style "shock therapy," thereby turning the country into a free-market paradise uncontaminated by "meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists"? Naomi Klein described it thus in the September 2004 issue of Harper's:
In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.
Well, guess what? The plan worked! -- albeit in ways that such noted critics of capitalism as Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things), or for that matter George Romero (Dawn of the Dead), might have anticipated:
Ali Hameed quit his job as a taxi driver because he no longer felt safe on Baghdad's streets. Increasingly desperate for money to help him get married, he hit on a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity - selling one of his kidneys.

Last week, in a shabby ward in the city's Al Karama hospital, he lay bandaged on a bed, one kidney lighter and $1,400 (about £765) richer after a three-hour operation.

In a nearby room, his body similarly bandaged, lay the man who had paid for it - the other player in a grim new black market trade in organs that is one of Iraq's few growth industries.

"I abandoned my taxi driving job because of the security situation," Mr Hameed, 22, told The Sunday Telegraph. "I thought about joining the police or the army, but that is even more dangerous. There were no more options, so I decided to sell my kidney. I am still a young man, so I want to marry and begin a business" . . . .

With unemployment in Iraq at about 60 per cent, the chance to earn money by touting body parts is a more calculated risk than, say, becoming a $150-a-month rookie policeman at the mercy of suicide attackers.

In the main their customers are other Iraqis, for whom kidney problems are common thanks to decades of poor diet, water and medical care.

As news of the black market trade has spread, however, wealthier transplant "tourists" from around the Arab world have started flocking to Baghdad, attracted by the rock-bottom prices.

If car bombs, kidnappings and robberies are a deterrent, the price compares favourably to the $5,000 cost of a kidney on the black market in Turkey, or $3,000 in India. In Iraq, the operation itself typically costs $2,000. Even so, the risks are considerable. Baghdad's hospitals are filthy and under-resourced.

If a patient succumbs to post-operative infection or other complications, high-quality care cannot be guaranteed. The expertise needed to carry out what is a relatively simple surgical procedure is in abundance, however - the legacy of an era 15 years ago when Saddam Hussein's national health service met First World standards.

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