From Detroit To The DRC: Global Victims Of Neoliberalism


The cold and lifeless streets contain a silence more powerful than the sounds of livelihood that used to pervade them. Places, where middle-class families used to dwell, are now nothing short of slums. Nobody steps here without some sinister business, which is usually conducted in the abandoned playgrounds where laughter once permeated the hopeful atmosphere.

Desolate apartment blocks stare down on those who walk these streets, their lifelessness accentuated by the drooping, boarded windows. They seem to be eternally staring into the abyss of a once vibrant hive of human productivity.

Welcome to Detroit.

Once a major automobile manufacturing hotspot, now a virtual war zone.

Its population, 1.85 million in 1950, dropped to 677,000 by 2016.

In 2013, it declared the largest municipal bankruptcy case in American history.

The U.S. Census Bureau calculated that Detroit ranks first among 71 U.S. cities measured for poverty rates. 36.4% of individuals and 31.3% of families live below the American poverty line.

As a result, Detroit has the highest crime rate in America, with 62.18 per 1000 residents experiencing property crimes and 16.73 per 1000 experiencing violent crimes annually. Officials have stated that approximately 70% of homicides in the city remain unsolved.

Urban decay reached a point where, in 2010, the mayor planned to bulldoze ¼ of the city in an attempt to consolidate its management and services.

Detroit is a conflict zone.

Usually, these reports discuss conflicts occurring in developing countries and places of the world that are very distant for most of us. However, I believe it is important to discuss the major conflicts that occur in parts of the world we wouldn’t expect.

The conflict zone that is Detroit did not develop because of a dictator, decolonization, or resource-based conflict, but because of Neoliberal practices that prefer to outsource jobs, prioritizing the desire for profits over people’s rights to income and work. This has led to a mass exodus of individuals and a draining of wealth.

Similar instances of crime and social conflict are currently occurring in Flint, another city in Michigan. The forces of Capitalism and the rejection of the human right to have a secure income have also been the catalyst for conflict and riots in this city.

Such instances bring to mind Karl Marx’s concept of a “Metabolic Rift,” in which there is an “irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism” whereby humanity, through its obsession with Capitalism and Neoliberalism, is becoming more and more separated from nature. Instead, we come to obsess over a series of numbers that is capital, and the “Invisible Hand” that controls our lives, society, and the world. Serious consequences of this are inevitable.

It is ironic that although “money makes the world go round,” it has no intrinsic value. Money is simply a number on a screen or a paper note. Because enough people believe in the value of money, ecosystems are ruined because of it, wars are fought over it, people starve, die, or become homeless without it, and relationships are destroyed in pursuit of it.

Often, the powerful and wealthy stand confident in rejecting other cultural beliefs as incorrect, without realizing that Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, Fascism, and every other political or economic system they adhere to are subjective values themselves. While many dismiss spiritualism, religion, and the existence of a God as a ‘figment of the imagination,’ they themselves create and obey their own ‘figments’ without question. While some pray at altars, others pray at stock markets. While some live in mountains or deserts without material desires, many conglomerates in the steel and glass catacombs of cities, bowing down to the numbers on their screens as if it is natural for humanity to do so.

Money talks. Those who don’t have it suffer at the hands of those who do. Historically, power imbalances have demonstrated the predominance of the wealthy over the poor. In this sense, poverty attracts conflict, with the forces of Colonialism and now Globalization – often dubbed ‘Neo-Colonialism’ – as the driving factors.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is another clear example.

During its colonial period, Belgium’s extraction of rubber and ivory from the DRC saw nearly half of the native population killed in conflict over resources. In the 1960s, the U.S. supported a coup in which Mobutu Sese Seko rose to power as a tyrannical dictator from 1965 – 1997, which allowed the U.S. to access the country’s cobalt supply.

Furthermore, 80% of coltan, a resource demanded by the mobile phone industry, resides in the DRC. The soaring price of this mineral since the tech-boom of the late 1990s has seen a huge surge in armed conflict over the control of this resource. As a result, between 1997 and 2007, five million people were killed in conflicts over who could control coltan deposits and supply it to global cellphone manufacturers.

Val Plumwood, a renowned academic, spoke of “shadow places” in which the impacts of global economics are out of sight and out of mind, yet nonetheless pertinent and devastating. When considering both the positive and negative impacts of Neoliberalism, it becomes clear that it is an invisible house of cards upon which so much rests, but which contains so much potential for horror and injustice.

Everyone needs to consider the broader impacts of their everyday lives, as simple choices often have far-reaching consequences. Furthermore, it is evident that these consequences are not just in terms of economic and social inequality or environmental damage, but violent conflict and the loss of human life.