Sunday, May 04, 2008

Naomi Klein -- The Shock Doctrine (Updated)

(This is another Naomi, readers. Don't confuse Naomi Klein with Naomi Wolf. But don't think for a moment that these two unrelated writers are not telling the same story. The inciteful reader sees that at different levels both make many of the same points.)

In a Huffpo column, My Unrequited Love for the Business Press, Naomi Klein responds to some of her critics, most of whom are financial specialists trying to marginalize her in the same way that the chemical industry marginalized Rachel Carson when she wrote Silent Spring. She's fighting the good fight, though, and I stick with my original conclusion that when the dust settles her insights will outlive their critics. The comments thread is instructive.

September 16, 2007

No, I haven't read it yet, but I already got the point. From the many passing references I am coming across I predict that by this time next year a majority of readers will also have got the point. That is not to say they like or agree with the point, incidentally...just that The Shock Doctrine is fast becoming a household word. It's not there yet, but it will be.

I came across the trailer last week and almost grabbed it for the blog. But it struck me as a bit over the top, a passing meme that makes sense at some level but not likely to get any traction. I'm starting to change my mind. It's getting traction and getting it fast.

It's a simple idea that will in the end be deeply offensive to true believers in what is reverentially called capitalism. But this is not a snapshot of your Daddy's capitalism, folks. This is capitalism at its most manipulative best. This is capitalism with a conspiracy twist. This is a reincarnation of what once was known as class warfare. But this time there is a new and improved model with all the bells and whistles that technology, information science, smart bombs and covert operations can provide.

Not since Toffler's Future Shock as the word been applied so effectively. And in the same way that that book became a touchstone for the Sixties and Seventies, Klein's book will be an anchorpoint for the next few years. Wait and see.

There will be more to talk about later. Much more. But for the moment, here is the post that inspired mine. Crawford Kilian knows something about how viral transmission operates. It is no accident that the blogmaster of the truly excellent and always on task H5N1 blog should notice this book and meme. Here is a snip from a book review he submitted.

The birth of the Chicago Boys

In effect, Klein argues, we are living with the results of a decision of the U.S. government in the 1950s. Its original intent was to import Chilean students to the University of Chicago, pay their way through studies with the "Chicago School" of economics led by Milton Friedman, and then send them home to change Chile's mixed economy with its high tariffs and expensive social programs.

Scores if not hundreds of "Chicago Boys" went home to Chile but had zero impact on their country's politics and economy. Then Salvador Allende was democratically elected, and the U.S-funded the coup that killed him and put Augusto Pinochet in power. On the day he took over, the Chicago Boys gave Pinochet a 500-page "brick" of plans to establish a free-market utopia in Chile.

By now, Milton Friedman had been a voice in the wilderness for a generation, evangelizing against the mixed economy that Keynes had promoted in the 1920s and '30s. Friedman's ideas were politically impossible to establish in democratic countries, but a great many conservatives loved him. Even Richard Nixon, while he publicly endorsed Keynes in the U.S., authorized the coup that put Pinochet and the Chicago Boys in power.

Killing chickens to scare monkeys

Klein makes her narrative a kind of Bildungsroman, the story of the education of the Chicago School and its political allies. Chile (and then Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Bolivia) taught Friedman and his students that nothing changes until a crisis -- an economic or political shock -- throws a society off balance. Disoriented, the society accepts whatever solution is presented to it -- or forced upon it.

They quickly learned that brutality was key to free-market success. The persons and groups benefiting from the old order had to be suppressed, suddenly and violently. When the Brazilian generals tried to run a "gentlemen's coup," they nearly lost power. Not until they began to imprison and "disappear" their opponents did they re-establish themselves. Conspicuous kidnappings and public murders added more shocks; as the old Chinese saying goes, "Kill the chicken to scare the monkeys."


Followup May 4, 2008:

3Quarks links a review of Klein's book in Left Business Observer #117.

The shock of 9/11 had little effect on U.S. economic policy; sure, military contractors have made a bundle of Bush’s buildup, but that’s a story at least as old as Eisenhower’s military–industrial complex speech, and it’s hardly become the driving force of the U.S. economy. She cites contracts of $150 billion handed out over five years, but at $30 billion a year that’s the equivalent of three or four days worth of retail sales.

Klein explains Thatcher’s re-election in 1983 as a result of a nationalist mania after the Falklands War, but that was only a small part of the reason. As Stuart Hall wrote during the early days of Thatcherism, she was able to tap into genuine popular resentment of union “excesses” and gain support for a huge anti-working class offensive. (If you doubt that a critique of the intrusiveness and tedium of the welfare state had popular resonance in Britain, listen to some
Kinks songs from the 1970s.) Ditto talk about crime, standards, national prestige, discipline, family values—many of them irrelevant or even antithetical to her radical market agenda—the standard fare of what Hall called “authoritarian populism.”

Neoliberalism, a word that Klein uses a lot, has consistently gained electoral victories in the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India. Not all the practitioners belonged to right-wing parties: names like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Paul Keating, and Roger Douglas come to mind. Clinton and Blair barely appear in the book, and Keating and Douglas not at all.

More criticisms at the link.

In retrospect my initial excitement has cooled but I still think she makes good points.

►* * *◄

May 21, 2008


Looks like her thesis is not holding up well.

Pejman Yousefzadeh has a string of links to negative reviews.


This is a favorable review of Naomi Klein's latest thing-resembling-a-book. If the author of the review had read this or this or this or this or this or this or this or this, then the review may not have been so favorable.


Methinks the critics doth protest too much. But hey, what do I know?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Guardian's special section on The Shock Doctrine - excerpts, blogs, video, discussion:

I especially recommend this 6:46 film - The Shock Doctrine by Alfonso CuarĂ³n and Naomi Klein:

Naomi Klein answers Guardian readers' questions about The Shock Doctrine: