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New book: Licensed Larceny: Infrastructure, Financial Extraction and the global South

This new 144-page book, just published by Manchester University Press, argues that the current push worldwide for Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) is not about building infrastructure — roads, bridges, hospitals, ports and railways – for the benefit of society but about constructing new subsidies to benefit the already wealthy. It is less about financing
development than developing finance.

By Nicholas Hildyard

Global, July 22, 2016

The Corner House

This new 144-page book, just published by Manchester University Press, argues that the current push worldwide for Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) is not about building infrastructure — roads, bridges, hospitals, ports and railways – for the benefit of society but about constructing new subsidies to benefit the already wealthy. It is less about financing
development than developing finance.

Understanding and exposing these processes is essential to challenge growing inequality. But equally important is critical reflection on how the wealthy are getting away with it. What does the wealth gap suggest about the need for new forms of organizing by those who would resist elite power? What oppositional strategies unsettle elite power instead of making it stronger?

Chapter 1 summarises ‘the injustices of wealth’, inequality and wealth extraction.

The case study in Chapter 2 traces the flows of money into and out of a PPP project in one of the world’s poorest countries, Lesotho’s national referral hospital, highlighting who benefits from them in an entirely lawful process.

Chapter 3 describes the ways in which ‘finance’ views infrastructure: a road, hospital or oil pipeline is not ‘infrastructure’ unless it provides a stable, contracted cash flow for the long-term.

For investors, ‘infrastructure’ has become an ‘asset class’, as Chapter 4 explores further. What started off with investments in economic infrastructure (utilities, roads, ports, airports) now include investments in resource/commodity infrastructure (oil and gas facilities, mining, forests), social infrastructure (hospitals, public housing, schools, prisons, law courts, military bases), information infrastructure (big data harvesting) and, still in its infancy, natural infrastructure (payments for so-called environmental services).

The trajectory is profoundly undemocratic, elitist and unstable — infrastructure-as-asset class is a bubble set to burst.

Chapter 5 takes a global tour of massive infrastructure corridors planned to enable further economies of scale in the extraction, transportation and production of resources and consumer goods by compressing space by time.

Chapter 6 raises questions about how resistance might more effectively challenge the trajectory of contemporary infrastructure finance – and the inequalities and injustices to which it gives rise. It is likely to be more fruitful when part of wider efforts to foster and support commons-focused resistance to accumulation.

Copies of ‘Licensed Larceny’ can be ordered from Manchester University Press: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781784994273/

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