Book Review: The Shock Doctrine - The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

This book is probably the most important book I've read to date. The author, Naomi Klein, is a talented, disciplined and clear-thinking investigative journalist. She takes the reader through the world of shock - in the forms of sweeping economic changes, political coups, wars, natural disasters - and how these events have affected entire societies around the world. She starts in the 1970's and lands right in our backyard.

Klein makes the book's purpose clear in this early paragraph:
"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 body politic as well as on countless individual bodies. The history of the contemporary free market - better understood as the rise of corporatism - was written in shocks." (p. 18)
There it is. Game over. Klein wins. She really pulls this off and the product is freaking stunning. I'm in shock and I could probably be swindled into making some bad life decisions after just reading this book. Just kidding. But it is a must read for history buffs, political junkies and economy watchers. My friend says she continues to refer to The Shock Doctrine even though it was published in 2007. The accuracy of Klein's pondering is eerie.

The Shock Doctrine is not for the weak of heart. It gives you (and hope in humanity) a swift kick to the throat over and over through recent histories backed up with painfully sound evidence. It'd be great if it was all exaggerated, but you can't make this stuff up. After one emerges from the gloom created by the reading of this book, the last ten or so pages wraps it up with hope. With all the delivery of doom, Klein does a tremendous job of putting things into perspective and actually inspiring hope in humanity. It was another brick in my belief Detroit can rise from the shock it has been in, you know, since the late sixties.

There are two particularly evil characters in this book: Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics. Klein described Friedman is as the guru of unfettered capitalism. He is cast as the super villain and for good reason. He's the guy that sparked the idea of shocking a country's economy through privatization, deregulation, hollow government and completely free enterprise. Although, I am not a fan of this, I'm wondering what it will take to get Detroit back on the right path. Perhaps not a shock, but a damn wake up call is needed in Detroit government. I digress.

The other character, which spawns a slew of others throughout the book, is Friedman's homebase: the Chicago School of Economics. There only the finest crooks were molded, from leaders of junta governments to (dangerous) jokers like Donald Rumsfield. Milton and the "Chicago School" were on a crusade to spread free-wheeling capitalism and cloaked it with the word "democracy." Basically, they wanted to bank off other people's money. They did, but it is interesting to hear about their fall from grace. I'm fascinated by their failures.

Klein's perspective is brilliant. She makes many relevant connections, historical observations and she even nailed a few predictions, like how this system was going to fall apart. There's only so much people will take and only so much money you can bag before someone starts wondering where the hell it all went. Though packed tight with information, it could be read again and again and you'd learn something new each time. Klein's writing is clear and the prose pieces together a history lesson with a call to grassroots. Good stuff.

The journey that Klein takes you on in the Shock Doctrine starts in South America's Southern Cone - in Chili, Argentina and Uruguay. There's some mentions of Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil as well. Chili was Friedman's first shock experiment and there's all kinds of info on the kind of crazy stuff that went on - torture, misery villages, disapperings and American-backed coups. Not cool.

Then we are shown examples ALL OVER THE FREAKING WORLD. Seriously: China, Russia, Poland, South Africa, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and, of course, the United States itself. I probably missed a few. What a ride.

It was a little strange to be reading The Shock Doctrine now when it was published in 2007. Though Klein manages to let the facts speak loudly for themselves, one can tell that she is reeling throughout the book about the Bush Administration. The connections between the Administration and multinationals that have sucked the life out of the United States and the world economies are appalling. I'll just leave it at that, but that junk is well documented.

And here are a few notes that I took. I had to really restrain myself from taking too many because it would have taken me two years to finish this thing. Anyway:
"The shift has been starkest in the U.S. where CEOs made 43 times what the average worker earned in 1980, when Reagan kicked off the Friedmanite crusade. By 2005, CEOs earned 411 times as much." (p. 444)
Talking about the 400,000 or so Iraqi soldiers Paul Bremer laid off after the U.S. invaded Iraq, Marine Colonel Thomas Hammes said:
"Now you have a couple hundred thousand people who are armed - because they took their weapons home with them - who know how to use the weapons, who have no future, who have a reason to be angry at you." (p. 352)
A quick explanation of what shock is. It's an underlying theme throughout the work:
"A state of shock, by definition, is a moment when there is a gap between fast-moving events and the information that exists to explain them."
She goes on:
"...in North America, the September 11 attacks were, at first, pure event, raw reality, unprocessed by story, narrative or anything that could bridge the gap between reality and understanding." (p. 458)
Finally, this was an interesting point on Hezbollah:
"There is no question that Hezbollah is engaged in politics as well as charity, and that Iranian funds made Hezbollah's generosity possible. Equally important to its efficiency, however was Hezbollah's status as local, indigenous organization, one that rose up from the neighborhoods being rebuilt." (p. 462)
There so much more great information in this book. Highly recommended for everyone.

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