A Review of "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein
by Lisa Stolarski
The Shock Doctrine is one of the most important books of our time. As a persuasive political writer, Naomi Klein is setting a new bar. Her angle is not that of the psychoanalyst, radical political economist or social philosopher, though she moves confidently through the terrain of these and all social sciences.
What makes Klein's book unique, and frankly so damn useful, is that she is an investigative journalist examining the acts of corporate-military-political players through the perspective of those affected by their brutality. Naomi Klein does not spend a moment on the notion that Halliburton is wrong, or argue the legalities of torture. She tells us exactly how Halliburton got their no-bid, cost-plus contracts, who was responsible, how they blatantly flouted the law, how they came to power, and where their sights are next fixed. She lists the individuals responsible for systematic terror and torture campaigns from the obscene regime of Pinochet in the early 1970's to the grotesque US-rationalized abuses at Abu Ghraib. She tells us how they tortured people, where their torture chambers were located and under whose influence these abuses occurred.
Klein revisits the history of our lifetime, the El Salvadorian death squads and the oppression of the democracies of the Southern Cone of the Americas. We finally learn what the hell happened to the Freedom Charter of South Africa that emboldened us in our youth, and the Solidarity Movement of Poland that once flooded the US media with heralds of freedom. We learn about the financial interests that encouraged the massacre at Tiananmen Square, and why no country or world financial institution came to the economic aid of the anti-Soviet revolution. That is, why the world powers rather let the burgeoning democratic movement languish. Klein also takes us to New Orleans and Sri Lanka where "disaster relief" is a code term for "corporate acquisition."
If you are wonder what it is that ties this contemporary history lesson together, I won't keep you in suspense. Klein lays it out in the second chapter - free markets, the laissez-faire economic philosophy of Milton Freidman. Klein traces the activities of Friedman's Chicago School disciples from their classroom incubators into the wildly profitable upheavals and disasters that defined their private and political careers. She gives us names, traces their associations and implicates both the men and the corporations responsible for various Friedmanite abuses and betrayals: Young Donald Rumsfeld, Thabo Mbeki, Jeffrey Sachs, Eric Prince, Ford, ITT, ExxonMobil, Gilead Sciences and on and on.
But the most chilling part of the book is not the 40 years of systematic terror and oppression of peoples in the name of the so called "free market." It is that this free market has adapted such that the world of disruption, violence, disaster and security has become not only a means by which the Freidmanite economic philosophy is implemented, but also the end to which it aspires. It turns the Keynesian argument for the welfare state on its head. Keynes says that in the service of peace, capital must work with the state to share economic prosperity with the poor so that upheavals become unnecessary. Friedman's theory has led his followers down a more sinister path: in the service of profit, capital must privatize the state and allow for sufficient poverty and upheaval so as to maximize the prosperity of the war, disaster and security based economy. When counting only profits, peace and equitable distribution are expensive; war and polarization are profitable. Palestinian "terrorists" rebelling against an apartheid system therefore are the best possible advertisers for the booming Israeli security and surveillance industry.
In the final chapter of The Shock Doctrine, "Shock Wears Off," Klein sows the hope of resistance, but I could not help thinking after reading it that it was incomplete. She talks about recent widespread refusals throughout Latin American of IMF and World Bank aid linked to proposed privatizations. She hails pockets of renewed democratic economy in Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil. People's efforts to rebuild without capitalist intervention have taken place in Lebanon, Thailand and New Orleans. But I could not help writing another half of that chapter in my mind, one that accounts for the good work of the World Social Forum and the civil-society building efforts of the Global Commons.
Within the US I am encouraged by the emergence of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the fair trade movement, the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, in general the networks we are coming to refer to as the solidarity economy. I like to think that Klein left the last chapter unfinished on purpose so that we who are reading her extraordinary book understand that this is the chapter we are meant to write.
Lisa Stolarski's home is in Pittsburgh where she is involved in cooperative education and development through Keystone Development Center, East End Food Co-op and Jane Street Housekeeping CC. She is a board member of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the publication coordinator of A Discussion Course on Cooperatives available at www.discussioncourse.coop.
When citing this article, please use the following format: Stolarski, Lisa (2009). A Review of "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter, Volume 2, Issue 3, http://www.geo.coop/node/367
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