Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Naomi Klein. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007.

Reviewed by T. Hatch

Naomi Klein mounts a frontal assault on the madrassa of Bolshevik privatization better known as the Economics Department at the University of Chicago. The recently expired Milton Friedman was the theory-giver for a generation and a half of economists who have come to embrace the aftermath of catastrophic events such as war and natural disasters as the basis of “exciting market opportunities.” The Friedmanite ideology that is the foundation of the “Shock Doctrine” holds that “reconstruction” finishes the job of the original disaster by eliminating the public sphere. At the core of this neoliberalism is the belief that profit and greed practiced on a mass scale create the greatest benefit for society.

The Shock Doctrine is a work of political economy following in many ways the tradition established by Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation. Both works challenge the idea proponed by Friedman and Hayek et al that free markets and free societies are part of the same historical process. Klein argues that liberalized markets not only do not require a free society but often serve as the catalyst for crushing democracy e.g. Tiananmen Square in 1989.

For Klein the danger posed by the “Chicago Boys” is the human misery that is created as a byproduct of their squalid utopianism. “The Marxists had their workers’ utopia, and the Chicagoans had their entrepreneurs’ utopia, both claiming that if they got their way, perfection and balance would follow.” Wherever these corporate conquistadors have worked their magic, 25 to 60 percent of the population lives in poverty. At the end of the day an unfettered capitalism enforces the idea that, indeed, freedom is not free.

Burling Library 2nd Floor HB95 .K54 2007
Also by Naomi Klein:

No Space, No Choice, No Jobs, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. New York: Picador USA, 2000

Burling 2nd Floor HD69.B7 K58x 2000

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1 comment:

gator80 said...

I assume the Grinnell College Library contains books written by Milton Friedman in addition to that written by Naomi Klein. If so it would have been nice if the reviewer had actually read some of Friedman’s writings before making the ludicrous claim that Freidman and his followers “embrace[d]…war and natural disasters,” as if they are rooting for earthquakes, to achieve their economic goals.

Friedman did in fact believe that people left free to pursue their self interests, what you refer to as profit and greed, create the greatest mass benefit for society. He did not base that belief on partisan ideological grounds. He believed strongly in the power of empirical study and has documented, as have many others, that capitalist systems do show the most significant improvements to living standards. To claim that “human misery…is created as a byproduct of their squalid utopianism” is either to fail to understand history or to be intellectually dishonest. I would be very interested to see a list of the capitalist economies where 60% of the people live in poverty! (Conversely, it is quite easy to find non-capitalist economies where that unhappy reality exists.)