THE SHOCK DOCTRINE
Author Noami Klien travels to the very edge of journalism
acceptable to the mainstream media (2007)
months after the 2004 tsunami, Canadian journalist Naomi
Klein traveled to Sri Lanka. There she found an unexpected
echo of a previous trip to Baghdad, where she investigated
the coalition’s failure to repair Iraqi infrastructure. In
Sri Lanka, "foreign investors and international lenders had
teamed up to use the atmosphere of panic to hand the entire
beautiful coastline over to entrepreneurs, who quickly
built large resorts, blocking hundreds of thousands of
fishing people from rebuilding their villages near the
In her meticulously researched new book,
The Shock Doctrine, Klein
cites many historically recent examples of policy-makers
and powerbrokers capitalizing – literally- on chaos. She
calls this high-level habit "disaster capitalism."
The high priest of disaster capitalism, says the author,
was the University of Chicago’s influential professor of
economics, Milton Friedman. Klein had her ‘aha’ moment when
she came across a 1982 essay from the professor: "Only a
crisis -- actual or perceived -- produces a real change.
When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend
on the ideas that are lying around. That I believe is our
basic function: to develop alternatives to existing
policies, to keep them alive and available until the
politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable."
This, Klein says, is the manifesto of disaster capitalism:
to exploit cataclysmic change and confusion, and use it to
loot the public sphere.
In 1976, Friedman won the Nobel Prize for economics, and
soon became the intellectual guru to Reagan and Thatcher.
Prior to this, he was something of the Rodney Dangerfield
of market theory. He couldn’t get any respect among
Kenyesian economists, and had little success convincing
President Richard Nixon to put his slash-and-burn theories
into practice on the domestic front. Instead, Tricky Dick
did Uncle Miltie a huge favour by giving Friedman an entire
nation to play with: Chile.
Klein’s exhaustive research unearthed the remarkable
efforts to change Chilean society from within, through a US
State department- backed foreign exchange student program
with the University of Chicago economics department.
Unfortunately for Friedman and the panjandrums in
Washington, the surgery didn’t take; the peoples’ movement
in Chile was simply too powerful. Hence the US –sponsored
coup that toppled President Salvador Allende on the
Chilean’s own epochal day of terrorism, September 11th,
After the coup, Friedmann arrived in Chile with advisors,
and set to work creating a society in which financial shock
treatment - deregulation, privatization, and cuts to social
programs - would create a favourable climate to investors.
Klein demolishes the argument that financial shock
treatment is distinct from the repressive measures of
western-endorsed dictators, like Chile strongman Augusto
Pinochet. Across the Third World, she shows how torture
accompanies such "reconstruction" with almost mathematical
Friedmann died last year, but not before penning an op-ed
piece for The
Wall Street Journal ,
shortly after Hurricane Katrina. He argued that the storm
was a marvelous opportunity to put his ideas into action –
specifically, replacing the public school system with
charter schools. The mad professor needn’t have bothered:
his brand of free market fundamentalism was by now deeply
ingrained into elite-level US policy-making. Just two weeks
after Katrina, The Heritage Foundation - "ground zero of
the counterrevolution against the welfare state" as Klein
calls it - made a list of over 300 free market solutions
for New Orleans: roll back labour standards and
environmental regulations, create a "free market enterprise
zone" with a tax holiday for corporations, and give parents
vouchers for charter schools, rather than rebuild public
In a talk last fall for the Canadian Centre for Policy
Alternatives, Klein insisted this Friedman-style ideology
is being imposed with ever-escalating levels of violence
across the world. "Reconstruction of Lebanon after the
Israeli attack is used and an opportunity by the IMF and
World Bank to demand they privatize water and electricity.
The reconstruction of Iraq is used as a cover to push
through oil laws that will continue to loot Iraq for the
next thirty years. "
The opportunistic response to Katrina brought disaster
capitalism to North American shores. It all sounds
desperately bad, but the author insists understanding
history will help make people"shock resistant."
"If we look at places that are becoming shock resistant,
like in Latin America, they understand where the current
attacks fit into a five hundred-year history of crisis, of
violent imposition of capitalism. And that’s what makes
social movements strong, having our eyes wide open, not