Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2007. Print.
In The Shock Doctrine, Klein describes the policies of the late University of Chicago economics professor Milton Friedman, and the conditions needed for his policies to be implemented. Friedman’s policies, referred to as neoliberalism, are the rejection of Keynesian economics; the privatization of all social services; avoiding taxation; the erasing of national borders; the belief in individual freedom equating to individual economic freedom and consumer choice; the removal of all governmental regulations concerning commerce, business, and labor; the belief that economics is a force of nature, reacts to a set of natural laws, and these ebbs and flows can be best described by neoliberal economics; the eradication of tariffs and trade restrictions; and the disbanding of workers’ unions. Klein’s primary claim–supported by public statements made by Friedman and the current situation in New Orleans or the history of Pinochet regime in Chile–is that neoliberalism is only possible after a traumatic event, that is, like the military coup in Chile (or Indonesia) or New Orleans after Katrina. Moreover, Klein asserts these traumatic events are needed since neoliberalism directly contradicts the traditional expectations (and voting records) of citizens living in democratic-republics, and thus, only with such a shock to the social-political status quo is it possible to deploy these policies. Klein’s claim, from this point, evolves to a declaration that neoliberalism is anti-democratic as well as beneficial only to a given country’s preexisting socio-economic elite or mega-corporations.
This book is a challenge to the central and most cherished claim in the official story–that the triumph of deregulated capitalism has been born of freedom, that unfettered free markets go hand in hand with democracy. Instead, I will show that this fundamentalist form of capitalism has consistently been midwifed by the most brutal forms of coercion, inflicted on the collective politic as we on countless individual bodies. The history of the contemporary free market–better understood as the rise of corporatism–was written in shocks. (18)
Having been part of the movement against ballooning corporate power that made its global debut in Seattle in 1999, I was accustomed to seeing similar business-friendly policies imposed through arm-twisting at World Trade Organization summits, or as the conditions attached to loans from the International Monetary Fund. The three trademark demands–privatization, government, deregulation and deep cuts to social spending–tended to be extremely unpopular with citizens, but when the agreements were signed there was still at least the pretext of mutual consent between the governments doing the negotiating, as well as consensus among the supposed experts. Now the same ideological program was being imposed via the most baldly coercive means possible: under foreign military occupation after an invasion, or immediately following a cataclysmic natural disaster… as Friedman understood, the atmosphere of large-scale crisis provided the necessary pretext to overrule the expressed wishes of voters and to hand the country over to economic “technocrats.”(9, 10)
The bottom line is that while Friedman’s economic model is capable of being partially imposed under democracy, authoritarian conditions are required for the implementation of its true version. (11)
Shock Therapy in the US begins on page 11.
Now wars and disaster responses are so fully privatized that they are themselves the new market; there is no need to wait until after the war for the boom–the medium is the message. (13)
On page 14, Klein asserts neoliberalism is known as “free trade” or “globalization” throughout the rest of the world.
For those inside the bubble of extreme wealth created by such an arrangement, there can be no more profitable way to organize society. But because of the obvious drawbacks for the vast majority of the population left outside the bubble, other features of the corporatist state tend to include aggressive surveillance (once again, with government and large corporations trading favors and contracts), mass incarceration, shrinking civil liberties and often, though not always, torture. (16)
That is how the shock doctrine works: the original disaster–the coup, the terrorist attack, the market meltdown, the war, the tsunami, the hurricane–puts the entire population into a state of collective shock. The falling bombs, the bursts of terror, the pounding winds serve to soften up whole societies much as the blaring music and blows in the toture cells soften up prisoners. Like the terrorized prisoner who gives up the names of comrades and renounces his faith, shocked societies often give up things they would fiercely protect. (17)
The comparison of neoliberalism to torture begins on page 25. Interesting point: The shocked therapy patient needs a strong parental figure (think Bush or Pinochet). The drive is to create a blank slate and for the administrator to reteach the newly blank individual everything as if s/he is a child. Probably why neoliberalism is best deployed in a dictatorship.
On page 60 the recounting of teaching Chicago style economics begins. Much like in Seattle ’99 or OWS, there has to be a teaching, the creation of an ethos that still involves agency on the part of the student.
Page 80–Klein points out that local businesses can’t compete in these conditions. Only corporations can survive in neoliberal economy.
Page 81–Friedman’s naivety when it comes to employment. Based on “science” and “mathematics.”
Page 84–Klein explains how the Chile was not a perfect laboratory. It’s infrastructure was propped up by nationalized industries.
“The violation of human rights, the system of institutionalized brutality, the drastic control and suppression of every form of meaningful dissent is discussed (and often condemned) as a phenomenon only indirectly linked, or indeed entirely unrelated, to the classical unrestrained ‘free market’ policies that have been enforced by the military junta,” Letelier wrote in a searing essay for The Nation. He pointed out that “this particularly convenient concept of a social system, in which ‘economic freedom’ and political terror coexist without touching each other, allows these financial spokesmen to support their concept of ‘freedom’ while exercising their verbal muscles in defense of human rights.” (Orlando Letelier qtd in Klein 99).
The vast majority of the victims of the Southern Cone’s terror apparatus were not members of armed groups but non-violent activists working in factories, farms, shantytowns and universities. They were economists, artists, psychologists and left-wing party loyalists. They were killed not because of their weapons (which most did not have) but because of their beliefs. In the Southern Cone, where contemporary capitalism was born, the “War on Terror” was a war against all obstacles to the new order. (97)
The Chicago Boys and their professors…believed in a form of capitalism that is purist by its very nature. Theirs is a system based entirely on a belief in “balance” and “order” and the need to be free of interferences and “distortions” in order to succeed. Because of these traits, a regime committed to the faithful application of this ideal cannot accept the presence of competing or tempering worldviews. In order for the ideal to be achieved, it requires a monopoly on ideology; otherwise, according to the central theory, the economic signals become distorted and the entire system is thrown out of balance. (102,103)
The above quote could explain the militarized responses to all forms of dissent from the Battle for Seattle to OWS.
The majority of the people swept up in the raids were not “terrorists,” as the rhetoric claimed, but rather the people whom the juntas had identified as posing the most serious barriers to their economic program. Some were actual opponents, but many were simply seen as representing values contrary to the revolution’s. (106)
106 Klein recounts how the military governments of Argentina and Chile systematically targeted unions and their leaders; the leaders were often arrested/kidnapped, tortured, and then “disappeared.”
The torturers understood the importance of solidarity well, and they set out to shock that impulse of social interconnectedness out of their prisoners. Of course all interrogation is purportedly about gaining valuable information and therefore forcing betrayal, but many prisoners report that their torturers were far less interested in the information, which they usually already possessed, than in achieving the act of betrayal itself. The point of the exercise was getting prisoners to do irreparable damage to that part of themselves that believed in helping others above all else, that part of themselves that made them activists, replacing it with shame and humiliation. (112)
On page 124, Klein makes clear that the international rights movement, while responsible for stopping the most brutal abuses in Chile and Argentina, was also in and of itself debilitating in making sense of the respective coups. The language of these movements is scrubbed clean of political ideology and sponsored by corporate philanthropist groups, which ensured “it was all but impossible to ask the question underlying the violence it was documenting: Why was it happening, in whose interests?”.
Simone de Beauvoir, writing on the same subject, concurred: “To protest in the name of morality against ‘excesses’ or ‘abuses’ is an error which hints at active complicity. There are no ‘abuses’ or ‘excesses’ here, simply an all-pervasive system.” (126)
But like Cameron’s former patient Gail Kastner, with her intricate architecture of papers, books and lists, recollections can be rebuilt, new narratives can be created. Memory, both individual and collective, turns out to be the greatest shock absorber of all. (463)
This is what collectives or social movements provide: the ability to bridge the gap between reality and understanding through the creation of new narratives (worldviews) built on organic (versus official) memory.