Naomi Klein’s penchant for grand sweeping theories, evident in her best-selling debut No Logo, is to the fore again in her new book, The Shock Doctrine. Thankfully, so is her appetite for research and ability to marshal the minutiae of her argument.
Klein sees it as a complete myth that the global march of neoliberal economic doctrine has gone forward in lockstep with the spread of democracy, ‘freedom’ and Western values. The tenets of ‘structural adjustment’ as prescribed by the IMF and World Bank – privatization, minimal government and profit-driven provision of bare-bones welfare services – are so wildly unpopular with those who have to suffer them, and so unlikely to arrive by democratic consent, that a preparatory cataclysmic shock is necessary. This can vary according to circumstance: economic meltdown, natural disaster, war, invasion. While a traumatized population is still reeling, the Disaster Capitalists step in and, drawing on the theories of their mentor, free-market guru Milton Friedman, arrange a fire-sale of hitherto public assets. Klein’s examples, buttressed by impressive research, range from 1970s Chile to Iraq, Hurricane Katrina to Tiananmen Square. She shows how an unholy alliance of big business and big government manipulates and capitalizes on catastrophe, and how, if a population is insufficiently cowed by the twin shocks of disaster and deregulation, there remains the ultimate shock implement: torture, as practised in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
This is a hugely important book deserving the widest possible audience; it is a timely shout of outrage at the evils that are daily perpetrated across the planet in the name of free enterprise. Furthermore, it serves as a vital preparation; for as Klein says, a population that understands the machinery of the doctrine is more difficult to shock and more able to resist the rapacious assault of disaster capitalism.Peter Whittaker