Friday, October 05, 2007

Naomi Klein on "The Shock Doctrine"

Klein and her critics on "Disaster Capitalism", Free Market Fundamentalism, and the concerted drive to hollow out the State

"Only a crisis actual or perceived produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend upon the ideas that are laying around."
-- Economist Milton Friedman

I've heard that Canadian journalist Naomi Klein has written a new book called The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Her central thesis is that over the years, economic policy-makers, lobbyists, and corporations influenced by the "Chicago School" of economics under Milton Friedman have taken advantage of the crises that surround natural and man-made disasters in order to pursue their agenda of advancing the most extreme forms of free-market economics, along with the conscious dismantling of the mixed-economy "welfare states" that arose democratically in the post-WWII consensus, regardless of whether such changes could ever be achieved democratically or not.

On the book's front flap it states:
At the most chaotic juncture of Iraq's Civil War, a new law is unveiled that will allow Shell and BP to claim the country's vast oil reserves.

Immediately following September 11, the Bush administration quietly outsources the "War on Terror" to Halliburton and Blackwater.

After a powerful tsunami devastates the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off as tourist resorts.

New Orleans residents, still scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals, and schools will never be reopened.

These events are examples of what Naomi Klein calls "The Shock Doctrine", The use of public disorientation following massive collective shocks - wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters - to push through highly unpopular economic shock therapy.

Klein is a journalist, not an economist, and several critics have taken her apart on that basis alone, but some acknowledged experts on globalization such as the economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia have taken her book seriously and reviewed it, although not without some criticism. Some critics fault her for being simplistic and for trying too hard to make a link between CIA Shock Therapy experiments in the 1950s and "economic shock therapy" policies and extra-juridicial use of torture and interrogation today. In the CIA experiments, the goal was to use the shock treatment to break a subject down to a "blank slate" before building him back up into something new again. What they found was that they could break someone down, but that they had essentially ruined him and couldn't build him back up again. Klein attempts to make a link between the CIA and the proponents of "Shock Doctrine" today, and essentially claims that the effects of both shock treatments are the same.

Still, from what I've seen and heard, Klein takes an impressive walk through history looking at the effects of Milton Friedman's direct and solicited advice to Pinochet's regime in Chile, the dislocation and disruption that was seen in Latin America after the implementation of the IMF's economic shock therapy privatization policies in the 1990s, the rise of unfettered laissez faire capitalism after the end of the Cold War, the subsequent rise of crony capitalism coupled with political repression in Russia and China, and the rise of cronyism and contempt for the law in the Republican Party during this current administration.

I urge everyone to listen to this NPR Here and Now program in which Klein is interviewed. I thought it was interesting listening. Does she have a point, or is she just a US-mistrusting Canadian of Socialist leanings?

I also found this review by Jane Smiley of the HuffingtonPost to be interesting:
John Dean laments the passing of the Republican Party as a positive, or, even, a non-damaging force in American life. The party he has known for forty years, and the party he says that his friends now know, is a hateful, entirely corrupt, and self-interested body composed of those who take revenge and those who fear having revenge taken upon them...

The Republican Party now seems to work like a gang, in which the most valued qualities in members are loyalty to the gang and the leader, obedience to authority, and violence toward outsiders...

As I've said before on the HuffPost, all of this is the necessary consequence of traditional Republican values, not an accidental byproduct. Or maybe I'll put it this way -- when you reject common humanity, value profits above people, practice sectarian religion, feel contempt for the choices of others, exalt wealth, conflate consumersim with citizenship, join exclusive clubs, daily practice unkindness rather than kindness, and develop theories, such as those of free market capitalism, that allow you to congratulate yourself morally for selfishness and short-sightedness, then being a gang member is in your future.

From the lively discussion in the comboxes:
The dems did not pull out of all of the world treaties that have taken 55 years (longer on some) to agree and ratify by bi-party congresses. The dems did not take the labor and environmental regulations out of the 'free trade' deals.The dems did not stop regulations of corporate labor, safety and environmental laws.The dems did not lock (literally) the minority out of their own conferences.The dems did not allow torture, openly and fight the passing of law against it.The dems did not expose covert CIA agents and then lie about it.The dems did not corrupt the Justice system.The dems didn't start preemptive perpetual wars based on lies.The dems did not sit back and watch thousands of Americans drown, starve, and become homeless without trying to save them, until it was too late.At the ethics hearings, representatives of repub and dem 'think tanks', stated that they had never in their 20-30 years in public life had they ever seen such corruption. People from both sides of the aisle are going public with the law breaking of this regime.

Naomi Klein debates Alan Greenspan.


cowboyangel said...

Thanks for the blurbs, Jeff. I'd like to read this at some point. Maybe when I finish George Gershwin, Celtic Christianity, etc.

At times, in the 1990s, I thought Klein was one of the few interesting new voices around. (Along with Subcomandante Marcos.) Then the No-Logo thing took off. I liked it, but... I don't know. The celebrity thing got so large. She came to Spain and met with one of my friends and his radical group. This was during some of the large protests over there - I think around hte time of the ATocha bombing.

I always thought she was more of an Anarchist than a Socialist. She at least gets both of those sides and has/had pretty good points about their strengths and weaknesses.

She may be 21st century. The socio-political idea we don't have a name for yet.

Jeff said...

Wow, you already know a lot about Naomi Klein. You must know a lot more about her views and political philosophy than I do. I’d never heard of her before hearing about this book. Do you recommend reading No-Logo?
Celebrity… Yeah, we are creatures prone to falling before vanity, aren’t we? With a little bit of attention and fame it’s so easy to make ourselves the message over what we originally wanted to put across.

joe said...

Hey Jeff,
another nice post (thought provoking). I also found cowboyangels comment enlightening. I am certainly drawn to read and discover more about Klein. Like I said over the summer, you and the circle of readers/bloggers I find each time I visit, are an amazingly well versed group... I couldn't keep up if my life depended on it.

Thanks, by the way, for the film out with your Godson.

un abrazo fuerte,

Jeff said...

Hey, Joseph!

Great to see you. Read Cowboy's 'Zone' and you'll learn a lot of cool stuff. Like Liam, he also lived in Spain for a few years.

Yeah, Kevin and I took AJ with us to see The Kingdom. Hope you and Paqui don't mind that it was essentially a propaganda film. Once you got past that fact, it was pretty entertaining. It was fun having him with us. Sort of reminded us of old times. :-D

cowboyangel said...


I'm a little late responding to your question. If you're going to write about globalization, then you should definitely read No-Logo. I actually prefer her articles. You might see if she has a collection of her pieces from the Toronto Globe and Mail, which is where she published a lot of good stuff. I haven't followed her work as closely over the last several years. Also, have you ever read anything by Marcos? He nails the Neo-Liberal thing better than most. And he's a great writer - very funny and poetic. Not a typical political writer at all.