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5.0 out of 5 stars A Stunning and Well-Researched Indictment of Friedmanian Neoliberalism, September 25, 2007
This review is from: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Hardcover)
Naomi Klein's THE SHOCK DOCTRINE is a stunning indictment of American corporatism and institutionalized globalization, on a par with such groundbreaking works as Harrington's THE OTHER AMERICA and Chomsky's HEGEMONY OR SURVIVAL. Comprehensive in its breadth and remarkable for its well-researched depth, Klein's book is a highly readable but disturbing look at how the neoliberal economic tenets of Milton Friedman have been implemented across the world over the last thirty-plus years.

The author's thesis is simply stated: that neoliberal economic programs have repeatedly been implemented without the consent of the governed by creating and/or taking advantage of various forms of national shock therapy. Ms. Klein asserts that in country after country, Friedman and his Chicago School followers have foisted their tripartite economic prescription - privatization, deregulation, and cutbacks in social welfare spending - on an unsuspecting populace through decidedly non-democratic means. In the early years, the primary vehicle was dictatorial military force and accompanying fear of arrest, torture, disappearance, or death. Over time, new organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank were employed instead, using or creating impossible debt burdens to force governments to accept privatization of state-owned industries and services, complete removal of trade barriers and tariffs, forced acceptance of private foreign investment, and widespread layoffs. In more recent years, terrroism and its response as well as natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis have wiped clean enough of the slate to impose these Friedmanite policies on people too shocked and focused on recovering to realize what was happening until it was too late.

According to Ms. Klein's thesis, these revolutionary economic programs were the "medicine" deemed necessary by neoliberal, anti-Keynesian economists to bring underdeveloped countries into the global trading community. Ms. Klein argues her case in convincing detail a long chronological line of historical cases. Each chapter in her book surveys one such situation, from Chile under Pinochet and Argentina under military junta through Nicaragua and Honduras, Bolivia under Goni, post-apartheid South Africa, post-Solidarity Poland, Russia under Yeltsin, China since Tiananmen, reconstruction of Iraq after the U.S. invasion, Sri Lanka after the tsunami, Israel after 9/11, and New Orleans post-Katrina. Along the way, she lets various neoliberal economists and Chicago School practitioners speak for themselves - we hear their "shock therapy" views in their own words. As just one example, this arrogant and self-righteous proclamation from the late Professor Friedman: "Only a crisis - actual or perceived - producs real change...our basic function, to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable."

What the author makes inescapably clear is that the world economic order has been largely remade in Milton Friedman's image in the last few decades by adopting programs that would never have been democratically accepted by the common people. Military coups, violence and force, wars, induced hyperinflation, terrorism, preemptive war, climate disasters - these have been the disruptive vehicles that allowed such drastic economic packages to be imposed. Nearly always, they are developed in secrecy and implemented too rapidly for citizens to respond. The end results, as Ms.Klein again makes clear, are massive (and too often, continuing) unemployment, large price increases for essential goods, closing of factories, enormous increases in people living in poverty, explosive concentration of wealth among a small elite, and extraordinary opportunity for rapacious capitalism from American and European corporations.

Ms. Klein argues that from its humble beginnings as an economic philosophy, the neoliberal program has evolved (or perhaps devolved) into a form of corporatism. Particularly in America, government under mostly Republican adminstrations has hollowed itself out, using private sector contractors for nearly every conceivable task. Companies ranging from Lockheed and Halliburton to ChoicePoint, Blackwater, CH2M Hill, and DynCorp exist almost entirely to secure lucrative government contracts to perform work formerly done by government. They now operate in a world the author describes as "disaster capitalism," waiting and salivating over the profits to be made in the next slate-wiping war or disaster, regardless of the human cost. In an ominous closing discussion, Ms. Klein describes the privatization of government in wealthy Atlanta suburbs, a further step in self-serving and preemptive corporatism guaranteed to hollow out whatever is left of major American cities if it becomes a widespread practice.

THE SHOCK DOCTRINE is truly a head-shaking read. One can only marvel at the imperiousness of past (mostly) American governmental behavior, the grievous callousness of it all, the massive human despair and suffering created for no other reason than economic imperialism, and the nauseating greed of (mostly Republican) politicians, former political operatives, and corporate executives who prey like pack wolves on people's powerlessness and insecurity. Reading this book, one can no longer ask the question, "Why do they hate us?" The answer is obvious, and no amount of hyperventilation from Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, or Fox News can erase the facts and consequences of behavior that we as a country have implicitly or explicitly endorsed.

THE SHOCK DOCTRINE proves itself as shaming of modern American governmental policy as Dee Brown's epic of 19th Century America, BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE. It is an essential read for intelligent citizens who want to understand the roots of globalization and its blowback effects on our lives.
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Showing 1-10 of 71 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 26, 2007 8:20:32 AM PDT
Regnal says:
I commend your review. However I must defend a bit Lou Dobbs. He has changed IMO.

Posted on Sep 27, 2007 11:55:13 PM PDT
Tim Johnson says:
I purchased Klein's book several days ago and it has yet to arrive so these thoughts are about what I hope to glean within her book. I am primarily interested in knowing why Friedman and his students want the world to adapt this ridiculous economic plan that even a light-weight like me can see is a disaster for the world's population. Why do all of this? Why subject the world's people, except for a tiny bit of hugely rich people, to so much trauma? Sure, I can understand capitalism and the profit motive but I can't believe in the total malevolency of America in order to drive such a shameful course to its ultimate fruition. But it is happening and I must continue to search for an answer as to why?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2007 12:04:40 PM PDT
John says:
Socialism is the real terror, not market capitalism. Ever see the movie 'The Lives of Others', about East German socialism ? THAT is what real terror looks like. That is what poverty and repression look like.

In contrast, the countries that have truly embraced market capitalism (U.S., Switzerland, Britain (to an extent), Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. have seen unprecedented rises not just in wealth, but also in human rights and individual rights. The record speaks for itself.

Ms. Klein is just on the wrong side of history. Even the French and Swedes now are finding out that socialism and welfarism are too inefficient and costly. Even Hillary and Bill admit that capitalism is good. Remember the stock market under Clinton ?

I can't understand how someone can say that the private schools in America are worse than the public schools. Ever been in or near a public school, in say Los Angeles, Detroit, D.C, or Chicago ? Poor parents fight to get their kids out of those Democrat-run schools.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2007 1:25:30 AM PDT
toddpw says:
Perhaps if the USA actually implemented market capitalism, instead of manipulating interest rates to sucker people into debt, and routing ever-larger amounts of government pork into the pockets of private companies, normal people would actually get to keep the fruits of their labor long enough to eliminate any interest in socialism, communism, or any of the utopian ism's.

It is my belief that no "ism" works properly if those at the top are not held accountable for their mistakes. American "capitalism" is completely failing that test as of Enron and GWB.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2007 8:39:46 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 29, 2007 9:18:15 PM PDT
John says:
You mean all those illegal immigrants from Mexico, that Bank of America gives mortgages to, at the "ask no questions ["sub-prime"] rate" ? Yep, the U.S. is "exploiting the poor" all right. Can you think of another country that gives preferential mortgages to illegal immigrants ? Please name those countries.

By the way, who owns "private companies" ? Everyone who has stock. And who is that ? Almost everyone in the U.S.

Bush and Enron not 'held accountable' ? Where are the Enron managers ? Answer: in prison, or totally disgraced.

BTW, Bush does not speak for American free market capitalism.

BTW, I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984, and I thus voted for free market capitalism. That refutes the notion that Milton Friedman's economics were thrust on us, undemocratically. We voted Reagan in, and the Brits voted Thatcher in.

The truth is, Keynesianism had hit a brick wall: high inflation, and high unemployment. Keynes was not the solution, but rather, the problem.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 30, 2007 7:14:53 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 30, 2007 7:15:36 PM PDT
Phoenix says:
Nice black and white thinking there John and nice strawman argument too. You imply that we only have a choice between extreme capitalism or socialism which is obviously not the case. At one time in this country we were fairly well balanced-I'd like to see that again.

BTW all you can do to defend this kind of glutinous greed is to point the finger at the other extreme-socialism?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 3, 2007 9:10:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 3, 2007 9:15:08 PM PDT
John says:
Well, every country has a "mix". That is true. In the U.S., the state controls about 35 % of the economy. So, we are thus, in my view, 35 % socialist in this country, and 65 % capitalist. We are very far from being a purely market-based capitalist system here in the U.S.

To me, the free market is about choice. It is about individual choice. For instance, why shouldn't I be able to choose where my social security "investment" goes ? Why shouldn't I be able to pick my own health insurer (my company does that for me) ? Why shouldn't a poor single mother in Chicago be able to get a voucher and decide where to send her son to school ? It is about choice. The way I see it, free market liberals (Friedman, Reagan, Thatcher, etc.) wanted to expand individual choice (and yes, it is not all upside, there is some downside to it). To me, those who support "socialism" are really paternalists who want a small elite (them) to decide for you on things like insurance, social security, and where you send your kid to school.

Of course, socialists won't frame the debate in those terms. They will always say, "who is exploiting whom ?".

The main problem is that both sides frame the debate differently. The socialist say, who is the exploited, and the free marketers say "what maximizes efficiency and choice ?".

No wonder we don't see eye to eye.

Posted on Oct 9, 2007 7:55:07 AM PDT
Bokata says:
Great review! Thoughtfully written and extensive in covering the author's ideas/research. Well done!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 11, 2007 4:33:17 PM PDT
We don't have market driven Capitalism in this country, what we have is an economy based upon "desire driven Capitalism" which is insidiously manipulated by a few huge corporations with the help of a complicit media and now, complicit Federal government. What we are living under in the US is Authoritarian Corporatism.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 18, 2007 7:09:11 AM PDT
Ed H. says:
"Everyone who has stock. And who is that ? Almost everyone in the U.S."

Not true. Something like 93% of the privately held stock is owned by the wealthiest 10%.
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