The Shock Doctrine

an excerpt from the Introduction

Published on Naomi Klein.org, by Naomi Klein, not dated.

… In scale, the disaster capitalism complex is on a par with the “emerging market” and IT booms of the 90s. It is dominated by US firms, but is global, with British companies bringing their experience in security cameras, Israeli firms their expertise in building hi-tech fences and walls. Combined with soaring insurance industry profits as well as super profits for the oil industry, the disaster economy may well have saved the world market from the full-blown recession it was facing on the eve of 9/11.

In the torrent of words written in eulogy to Milton Friedman, the role of shocks and crises to advance his world view received barely a mention. Instead, the economist’s passing, in November 2006, provided an occasion for a retelling of the official story of how his brand of radical capitalism became government orthodoxy in almost every corner of the globe. It is a fairytale history, scrubbed clean of the violence so intimately entwined with this crusade.

It is time for this to change. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a powerful reckoning with the crimes committed in the name of communism. But what of the crusade to liberate world markets?

I am not arguing that all forms of market systems require large-scale violence. It is eminently possible to have a market-based economy that demands no such brutality or ideological purity. A free market in consumer products can coexist with free public health care, with public schools, with a large segment of the economy – such as a national oil company – held in state hands. It’s equally possible to require corporations to pay decent wages, to respect the right of workers to form unions, and for governments to tax and redistribute wealth so that the sharp inequalities that mark the corporatist state are reduced. Markets need not be fundamentalist.

John Maynard Keynes proposed just that kind of mixed, regulated economy after the Great Depression. It was that system of compromises, checks and balances that Friedman’s counter-revolution was launched to dismantle in country after country. Seen in that light, Chicago School capitalism has something in common with other fundamentalist ideologies: the signature desire for unattainable purity.

This desire for godlike powers of creation is precisely why free-market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters. Non-apocalyptic reality is simply not hospitable to their ambitions. For 35 years, what has animated Friedman’s counter-revolution is an attraction to a kind of freedom available only in times of cataclysmic change – when people, with their stubborn habits and insistent demands, are blasted out of the way – moments when democracy seems a practical impossibility. Believers in the shock doctrine are convinced that only a great rupture – a flood, a war, a terrorist attack – can generate the kind of vast, clean canvases they crave. It is in these malleable moments, when we are psychologically unmoored and physically uprooted, that these artists of the real plunge in their hands and begin their work of remaking the world. (full text).

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