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369 of 430 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An important read with some shortcomings, October 27, 2007
This review is from: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Hardcover)
Naomi Klein has written this book about the rise of what she calls "disaster capitalism": the global imposition/adoption of Chicago School (neoliberal) economics since the early 1970s. This is a particularly important book because, while many have written about the same topic, I have never seen it treated in a form that is both holistic (ie. a global history) and accessible (ie. largely free from the academic jargon of economics and social theory). The book does suffer from some problems however.

Klein's main thesis is problematic. She writes that the idea of economic shock therapy arose out of the same logic as Electric Convulsive Therapy (ECT). This idea is to create or exploit a destructive event in order to create regression, passivity, and a 'blank slate' on which to build a new order. In supporting this thesis, Klein uses all of Part I of her book to write about psychological torture and the CIA's mind control experiments. She attempts to develop a 'poetics of torture' that links the individual violence of ECT to the structural violence that occurs when neoliberalism is imposed as a governing strategy. Klein is no poet however, and the metaphor seems to die pretty early on in the book. She does thankfully offer a more implicit thesis that she invokes more regularly and supports more thoroughly: free markets did not develop through freedom, but through authoritarian or technocratic interventions.

Secondly, Klein treats capitalism as if it were only 35 years old. Her book however is thematically similar to the work of another woman who wrote on the same issues a century before: Rosa Luxemburg. By only going as far back as the rise of Keynsianism and developmentalism, Klein makes it seem as though neoliberalism is a radical historical exception. Yet it seems that, since the industrial revolution, it is Keynsianism that itself was the historical exception.

This book is mostly comprised of what are essentially case studies. Each case study could certainly be expanded into its own 600-page book, so simplification was necessary. I think that it is also necessary for the author to explicitly admit the complexity of any situation beyond just the power of market forces, which act strongly and ubiquitously but never alone. I think she does admit the shortcomings of her case studies for Israel/Palestine, South Africa, and Iraq (her best and most personally-involved ones), but not for the rest.

All in all, this book is worth a read and is a good introduction to one of the most powerful forces of our times. I just hope that it inspires people to read some other books that illuminate more of the complexities in regards to the theory and practice of neoliberalism in our communities, countries, and worlds. I particularly recommend David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 5, 2008 5:13:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 5, 2008 5:13:51 PM PST
Naomi Klein is, perhaps unknowingly, recapitulating John Rogers Commons. He was, as a late-19th and early20th-century political economist, quite prescient in his analysis of the same phenomenon, however less focused on disaster than on war. Calling the imposition of new modes of social control, "rationing decisions", Commons means more than the distribution of eggs, sugar, and meat. Rationing decisions create entire new structures of control that, once the war is over, never go away and rarely change their focus. In colonial America where economic decisions were almost entirely made within towns and where there was no permanent governing elite, the Revolution created the means, the structures, and processes complete with a new governing, some might say ruling, class that shifted the power and authority from the towns to the new state government. Where a "Moral Economy" had reigned with prices governed, access to production entered into with agreements to serve the town first, and where the poor had preferential treatment at the open-air markets, the new government privatized and deregulated everything to the benefit not of the people but of this new class. After the nation's various wars, one can see the growth of structures, agencies, and processes that absorb more and more authority on behalf of, not in opposition to, the ruling powers in the private sector. The most blatant is the "military-industrial complex" even departing President Eisenhower warned the nation to distrust. One has only to look at America today to see that Commons, like Klein, understood the degree to which the bonds of the capitalist interests and the governmental authority have converged to deplete citizens of their rights. In real and artificially-created 'emergencies' we lose our rights, our economic, political, and social autonomy. Unless we resist - they will not easily be reclaimed.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2008 3:48:00 PM PST
W. J. Reedy says:
You're quite right about the resonances of Klein's biook with the writings of Commons who taught at the U.of Wisconsin back when the Proigressive era was in its prime. The omnipotence of the marketplace even in such areas of basics human needs and rights as medical care and education was THE great achievemen of the politics and cultural atmosphere created by the Reagan era (now portaryed as some Olympian age of political greatness by the elistist Right). Klein's book is not perfect in either its critique or its correctives but there is much to be learned from it about the details of the unravelling of the (barely social democratic) New Deal leagcy over the past 30 years. It is to be hoped that her book will find many readers.

Posted on Oct 24, 2009 12:03:40 PM PDT
Ken Deshaies says:
I honestly think Mr. Feldman misses the point in a couple of areas. First, I found Klein's research into ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy) to be both poignant and relevant. Since I spend a few years as a consumer advocate in this arena, I am aware of the sever damage the treatment can cause as well as the unwarranted use by "professionals". She also drew the parallels by showing, for example, that the economic shock therapy was accompanied in almost all cases (even in Iraq) by the shock therapy of torture, with ECT often being a part of the torture.

Second, I don't think she treats capitalism "as if it were only 35 years old." Instead, she rightly points specifically to Milton Friedman and his Chicago School of Economics as the initiative for the last 35 years of revolution and empire building, an the shock doctrine that accompanied those efforts. I otherwise appreciate Feldman's support for the book, and personally found it one of the most compelling and important books of my generation.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2009 1:44:31 PM PST
> Second, I don't think she treats capitalism "as if it were only 35 years old."

Have you read Rosa Luxemburg? The reviewer's point was that Ms. Luxemburg was saying the same things a long time ago. You could argue--she could argue--that everything that's old is new again, only she doesn't. In fact, her book is titled "The Rise of..." While her points are valid, there's no "rising" here. Only continuing.

Posted on Mar 4, 2010 4:44:22 PM PST
Feldman completely misses two of Naomi Klein's main points: 1) The CIA has acted at the President of the United States' hit squad for more than half century. 2) The war in Iraq created opportunities for US contractors to work totally free of government oversight. Thus, Bush's first bombs took out the water works and electric power stations of the Arab's most advanced economy and in the eight following years contractors have billed/bilked the U.S. taxpayer for the still uncompleted repairs.

Finally, I think Poul's Gladiator at Law is the true precursor of Klein's work.

Posted on Apr 5, 2010 7:05:58 PM PDT
COSMOS says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Aug 26, 2013 12:41:21 AM PDT
S. Sandell says:
As a physician who started off with a major in English Literature, Mr. Feldmen has incorrectly assumed Klein used the CIA's torture techniques and research as a metaphor. Any metaphorical inference or comparison is purely coincidental. Klein accurately explains the historical basis of both medical shock therapy and economic shock therapy. If you assume the reference is metaphorical, you miss the whole point.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 30, 2013 7:33:59 AM PST
Gladiator at Law by Frederik Pohl
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