Accumulation by dispossession is a concept presented by the Marxist academic David Harvey, which defines the neoliberal changes in many western nations, from the 1970s and to the present day, as being guided mainly by four practices. These are privatization, financialization, management and manipulation of crises, and state redistributions.
Privatization and commodification of public assets have been among the most criticised and disputed aspects of neoliberalism. Summed up, they could be characterized by the process of transferring property from public ownership to private ownership. According to Marxist theory, this serves the interests of the capitalist class, or bourgeoisie, as it moves power from the nation's governments to private parties. At the same time, privatization generates a means for profit for the capitalist class; after a transaction they can then sell or rent to the public what used to be commonly owned.
The wave of financialization which set in the 1980s is allowed by governmental deregulation which has made the financial system one of the main centers of redistributive activity. Stock promotions, Ponzi schemes, structured asset destruction through inflation, asset stripping through mergers and acquisitions, dispossession of assets (raiding of pension funds and their decimation by stock and corporate collapses) by credit and stock manipulations, are, according to Harvey, central features of the post-1970s capitalist financial system.
The Management and Manipulation of Crises
By creating and manipulating crises, such as by suddenly raising interest rates, poorer nations can be forced into bankruptcy, and agreeing to such deals like that of the structural adjustment programs can yield more damages to those nations. Harvey reasoned that this is authorized by parties such as the U.S. Treasury and the International Monetary Fund.
The neoliberal nation-state is one of the most important agents/actors of such redistributive policies/system. Even when privatization or commodification appear to be profitable to the lower class, in the long run it can affect the economy negatively. The state seeks redistributions through a variety of things, like changing the tax code to profit returns on investment rather than incomes and wages (of the lower classes).
Margaret Thatcher's program for the privatization of social housing in Britain appeared in the first blush as a gift to the lower classes which could now convert from rental ownership at a relatively low cost, gain control over a valuable asset and augment their wealth. But once the transfer was accomplished, housing speculation took over (particularly in the prime central locations), eventually bribing or forcing low income populations out to the periphery. Contemporary examples include attempts to deprive people of land in places like Nandigram in India and eMacambini in South Africa.
Privatization is the process of transferring productive public assets from the state to the private companies. Productive assets include natural resources, such as earth, forest, water, air. These are assets that states have used to hold in trust for the people it represents. To privatize these away and sell them as stock to private companies is what Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession.
State redistributions can be in the form of Contracts given to power groups: for large infrastructures, services paid by the State and carried by private enterprise, defense developments, research projects. One would have to find out if those Contracts serve public good in a fair way or if they sustain a power structure. Also the granting of licences for all sorts of State sanctioned activities can turn out as unfair wealth distribution. Another important redistribution channel is by State supported financing of private enterprise activities.
Harvey links these practices to what Karl Marx called original or primitive accumulation, and ties these to examples from the real world. The neoliberal modernity is thus, according to Harvey, a modernity in which dispossession plays a large role, and where the capital class is gaining power at the expense of the labour class.
Contemporary Movements Against Accumulation by Dispossession