Image courtesy of The Shock Doctrine
When Naomi Klein came out with her second major book, The Shock Doctrine, I was skeptical. Klein had built her name through the publication of No Logo, a well-researched investigation into the impact of globalization. No Logo was excellent, and I wrote about it here. So, I just did not expect The Shock Doctrine to be as good since a lot of folks go on reputation alone to sell books…I was wrong. Once again, Klein has written a well-researched and deeply interesting book about a topic I think we need to spend more time caring about…disaster capitalism. Disaster capitalism is built on the teachings of Milton Friedman. Friedman believed in a truly free market. He felt that government should have a minimal role and just let the market act on its own. With many countries already entrenched in a political and economic system, Friedman’s dream of a “blank slate” to try out his completely free market was almost impossible. During political upheaval in Chile in the 1970’s, many people who studied under Friedman were given the chance to run this completely free market system with Chile in disarray. The idea was that while the people of the country were reeling from political uncertainty and questions of freedom, true capitalism could be installed and no one would question it.
Starting with Chile, Klein examines how installing a completely free market while the country is in a state of shock makes a select few people money and sends the rest of the poor and middle class into a time period of mass layoffs and financial uncertainty. Believers in the teachings of Friedman have received many chances over the years to try out this system during times of political chaos. Argentina, Poland, China, Russia, South Africa, and, most recently, Iraq have been laboratories for this type of free market. And while a select few make a ton of money, the poor and middle class are set in a tailspin. More often than not, the United States backs these markets because so many American corporations end up benefiting. Sadly, many of these policies are set in motion behind closed doors (often, the countries trying to “help” will only provide aid if the country in chaos agrees to a free market) while the politicians and media focus on the newly found freedom of the people. Klein contends
I feel that this is an important book because it sheds light on why the United States has such a bad reputation in the rest of the world. It has also made me think differently about what I saw in the media during the fall of Communism, the destruction of apartheid, and the student blocking all those tanks in Tiananmen Square. Even as we celebrated the triumph of freedom, the real story was taking place outside of the headlines…the establishment of a free market. While I agree with a lot of the reasons behind establishing a free market, I also believe there are some systems that should be taken care of by the government like health care and schools. And, I do not believe that you should ruin the livelihood of your own people just to make money. Klein relates a story about fisherman being displaced from their homes in Sri Lanka while huge tourist resorts were built after the tsunami. I think a lot of people in our government and in our corporations would like to privatize as much as possible and that is scary. It is even more scary that they try to install these free market rules and regulations while some people are just trying to survive.
I wish I could do a better job of encapsulating all that Klein writes about, but I guess that is hard to do in a couple paragraphs. I think it is awesome that she can take these seemingly heavy subjects and write it in a way that makes me not want to put it down.