About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Friday, June 11, 2010

#44 - The Shock Doctrine

My (ahem) legions of followers will recall that often, when I like a book well enough to finish it but am less than overwhelmed, I'll say something along the lines of, "Well, it's worth a read, but I'm glad I checked it out of the library rather than shelling out for my own copy."

Well, Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007) is different. For this one, it'd probably have been safer and cheaper if I had purchased my own copy -- not so much because I'll want to read it over and over again, but for all those times I was this close to hurling it across the room and/or plunging my favorite chef's knife through the photographic bullet hole in the cover.

Don't misunderstand me; this is a brilliant and provocative book -- but it's also by turns maddening, infuriating, and utterly depressing (which is why it took me almost 2 weeks to slog through).

Jacket summary: "The bestselling author of No Logo shows how the global 'free market' has exploited crises and shock for three decades, from Chile to Iraq. In her groundbreaking reporting over the past few years, Naomi Klein introduced the term 'disaster capitalism.' Whether covering Baghdad after the U.S. occupation, Sri Lanka in the wake of the tsunami, or New Orleans post-Katrina, she witnessed something remarkably similar. People still reeling from catastrophe were being hit again, this time with economic 'shock treatment,' losing their land and homes to rapid-fire corporate makeovers. The Shock Doctrine tells the story of the most dominant ideology of our time, Milton Friedman's free market economic revolution. In contrast to the popular myth of this movement's peaceful global victory, Klein shows how it has exploited moments of shock and extreme violence in order to implement its economic policies in so many parts of the world from Latin America and Eastern Europe to South Africa, Russia, and Iraq. At the core of disaster capitalism is the use of cataclysmic events to advance radical privatization combined with the privatization of the disaster response itself. Klein argues that by capitalizing on crises, created by nature or war, the disaster capitalism complex now exists as a booming new economy, and is the violent culmination of a radical economic project that has been incubating for fifty years."

Table of Contents:

Introduction - Blank is Beautiful: Three Decades of Erasing and Remaking the World

Part 1 - Two Doctor Shocks: Research and Development
  • 1. The Torture Lab: Ewen Cameron, the CIA and the Maniacal Quest to Erase and Remake the Human Mind
  • 2. The Other Doctor Shock: Milton Friedman and the Search for a Laissez-Faire Laboratory
Part 2 - The First Test: Birth Pangs
  • 3. States of Shock: The Bloody Birth of the Counterrevolution
  • 4. Cleaning the Slate: Terror Does Its Work
  • 5. "Entirely Unrelated": How an Ideology Was Cleansed of Its Crimes
Part 3 - Surviving Democracy: Bombs Made of Laws
  • 6. Saved by a War: Thatcherism and Its Useful Enemies
  • 7. The New Doctor Shock: Economic Warfare Replaces Dictatorship
  • 8. Crisis Works: The Packaging of Shock Therapy
Part 4 - Lost in Transition: While We Wept, While We Trembled, While We Danced
  • 9. Slamming the Door on History: A Crisis in Poland, a Massacre in China
  • 10. Democracy Born in Chains: South Africa's Constricted Freedom
  • 11. Bonfire of a Young Democracy: Russia Chooses "The Pinochet option"
  • 12. The Capitalist Id: Russia and the New Era of the Boor Market
  • 13. Let It Burn: The Looting of Asia and "The Fall of a Second Berlin Wall"
Part 5 - Shocking Times: The Rise of the Disaster Capitalism Complex
  • 14. Shock Therapy in the U.S.A.: The Homeland Security Bubble
  • 15. A Corporatist State: Removing the Revolving Door, Putting in an Archway
Part 6 - Iraq, Full Circle: Overshock
  • 16. Erasing Iraq: In Search of a "Model" for the Middle East
  • 17. Ideological Blowback: A Very Capitalist Disaster
  • 18. Full Circle: From Blank Slate to Scorched Earth
Part 7 - The Movable Green Zone: Buffer Zones and Blast Walls
  • 19. Blanking the Beach: "The Second Tsunami"
  • 20. Disaster Apartheid: A World of Green Zones and Red Zones
  • 21. Losing the Peace Incentive: Israel as Warning
Conclusion - Shock Wears Off: The Rise of People's Reconstruction

My take: If I haven't made this clear yet, I thought the book was brilliant. Klein's controversial thesis is that over the last several decades, Milton Friedman and his disciples -- Chicago School, laissez faire economists -- have sought to do for many of the world's political economies what Scottish psychiatrist Ewen Cameron and the CIA tried to do for individuals' psyches in 1950s and '60s experiments: apply traumatic shocks to break them down completely, erasing all remnants of what had been there before, and then rebuild them anew with totally different structures and parameters. According to Klein, the Friedmanites (or Chicago Boys, as she often calls them) were at least as brutal as, though sometimes more subtle than, Cameron's experiments, but can't succeed forever; as she suggests in the title of her concluding chapter, eventually, shock wears off.

I had high hopes of including an extensive summary of Klein's book (I don't feel like enough of an expert on the subject to offer a good critique), but as it was already overdue, it's gone back to the library before I had the chance. Thus, I'll fall back on my old trick of citing a handful of Real reviews for those whose interest has been piqued: Joseph Stiglitz's, in The New York Times (he really liked it); Tyler Cowen's, in The New York Sun (he didn't); and John Gray's, in The Guardian (not just because he was also a fan, but because a non-U.S. perspective on politically-oriented books is always a good thing).

No comments:

Post a Comment