Tuesday, December 30, 2008

THE SHOCK DOCTRINE: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

The Stonecutters Song

Who controls the British crown?

Who keeps the metric system down?

We do! We do!

Who leaves Atlantis off the maps?

Who keeps the Martians under wraps?

We do! We do!

Who holds back the electric car?

Who makes Steve Gutenberg a star?

We do! We do!

Who robs cavefish of their sight?

Who rigs every Oscar night?

We do! We do!

After I read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, I was charged with positive feeling for humanity. The example of Monsiegneur Bienvenu filled me with the desire to do good. Some years later I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. What a bunch of idiots I’m surrounded by, I thought. How could I have let Hugo manipulate me so? Young Milton Friedman, among a coterie of Chicago School economists, fell under Rand’s influence and it is the late Nobel laureate who is the villain of THE SHOCK DOCTRINE.

Roll call of nations: Chile, Argentina, U.K., Bolivia, Poland, China, S. Africa, Russia, S. Korea, Indonesia, Israel. Lists of cataclysms: political upheavals, 9/11, the Iraq war, Katrina, tsunami. Klein’s thesis states that societal shock is exploited by Chicago School economists and their students, who are invited by the governments to implement an economic program of low taxes for the rich, privatization of government functions, mass layoffs, sale of natural resources to foreigners, and loans from the IMF and World Bank that make even revolutionary governments pay off the debts of their former oppressors.

The current American mortgage and stock market crash happened after the book came out but we can see the antecedents in this book. One chilling passage refers to the bailout of the business associates of the Argentina junta in its final days. Big corporations supported the junta and were rewarded for their loyalty:

The remainder of the national debt was mostly spent on payments, as well as shady bailouts for private firms. In 1982, just before Argentina’s dictatorship collapsed, the junta did one last favor for the corporate sector…the state would absorb the debts of large multinational and domestic firms that had, like Chile’s pirhana’s, borrowed themselves to the verge of bankruptcy…[T]hese companies continued to own their assets and profits, but the public had to pay off between $15 and $20 billion of their debts; among the companies…were Ford Motor Argentina, Chase Manhattan, Citibank, IBM, and Mercedes-Benz.

Any of those names ring a bell?


For years I’ve been complaining about Timesman Thomas Friedman and his clever “don’t blame me” columns and Klein quotes him, “We are not doing nation-building in Iraq. We are doing nation creating.” This is the clean slate that (Milton) Friedmanites crave. Poor Friedman (Thomas). I used to see him on Charlie Rose, in the early years of the war claiming that the government didn’t take his advice in the months following the toppling of Saddam Hussein; now he claims that no one could have foreseen the disastrous results in post-victory nation-building in Iraq.

Physical torture in Argentina and Abu Ghraib, the near-complete privatization of New Orleans’ public school system, the lawless reign of Blackwater security forces and the profiteering of Cheney’s Halliburton in Iraq are not the result of natural forces or an invisible hand that will make things right, Klein posits, but part of a plan to exploit chaos. Why? Simple greed and power.

The real shock is that most of the reporting in the book is not from secret sources but from the public record—major dailies, weeklies, wire services, websites. The power grab after 9/11 and government incompetence happened in plain sight, promulgated by Republicans and abetted by Democrats. Either her book is true or this is the greatest conspiracy of the century, aiming to smear patriots like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush et al. who put Country First ahead of money and power. Read and decide.


America 2009 reminds me of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. In the 15 c., there were rich and poor. The middle class hadn’t been invented yet. No subject blamed the French king for his disastrous wars against England, for to blame the king would be to blame themselves for following him loyally and allowing him to rule. So they punished the king’s advisors for giving him bad advice. This is how my wife sees the eight years of Bush 43 (after we saw W.).

1 comment:

mwalker said...

I haven't read Klein's book, nor any Milton Friedman for that matter, but I would be interested in your opinion of some of Naomi’s critics. Here’s part of what Jonathan Chait had to say in the New Republic regarding the whole "shock" thing:

“Most American liberals today would admit that the sorry state of the American economy, foreign policy, and political life has created a golden opportunity for progressive reform. There is nothing odious about this. Yet Klein takes analogous observations from conservatives as proof that the right ‘prays for crisis the way drought-stricken farmers pray for rain.’”

You can read the whole review here: http://www.tnr.com/story_print.html?id=69067f1c-d089-474b-a8a0-945d1deb420b

There’s more criticism of the Shock Doctrine from the right side of the fence as well, but I didn’t want to inundate you. – MW