Friday, August 8, 2008

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Currently reading the Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein, which is now out in paperback. I know some other people are reading it. I'm on Chapter 3.

Klein defines "Disaster Capitalism" as "orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities". A specific example she introduces at the beginning of the book is the privatization of the New Orlean's public school system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

In her own words:

"Within nineteen months, with most of the city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools in the city; now it ran just 4. Before the storm there had been 7 charter schools in the city; now there were 31." She goes on to report that the previously strong teacher's union had had their contract terminted and all 4700 members were fired; adding that a minority were rehired by the charter schools for lesser pay.

She quickly ties this example of Neo-Liberalism to Milton Friedman, who she introduces as a dying man with huge influence on the world.

Next comes a rather sensationally written chapter on MKultra, the CIA's infamous mind control experiments. She claims the real lasting knowledge gained was how to torture people by making them suffer immensely--see Central/Latin America in the 1980's & 90's; Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, any number of "extraordinary renditions" happening around the globe today.

She then presents psychological shock as a metaphor for economics:
"Like the terrorized prisoner who gives up th enames of comrades and renonces his faith, shocked societies often give up things they would otherwise fiercely protect" such as ownership of their own land/resources, public funding of social services and civil rights.

I'm not sure what the purpose of this metaphor is exactly. It seems like she's trying to market her ideas to new age conspiracy theorists here; creating a kind of paranoia about "the bad guys" who are pulling the strings in board meetings behind closed doors. She seems smarter than that to me; she knows global capitalism works systemically, intersecting with other hegemonic forces, right? Is she dumbing down her analysis, trying to appeal to leftist oversimplification and mistrust of authority? Why encourage a psychological analysis of economics? Is this an appeal to win more American readers? If not, I'm a little confused about her choice here. Sure there are powerful people planning terrible wars for profit and training each other in the latest torture techniques, but isn't it irresponsible to buy into people's fears that "they" are out to get "us"? It seems way more complex than that to me.

Thankfully, the book then quickly refocuses to gives a history of deregulation and the FREE MARKET, starting with the CIA's intervention's in other people's governments--chronicling the US backed 1953 overthrow of Iran's leader Mohammed Mossadeqq --whose big 'crime' was that he NATIONALIZED OIL, i.e. wanted to keep the profits from his own country's natural resources rather than giving them to the US or Britain; next up is the 1954 coup in Guatemala (UNITED FRUIT Co); she then explores the U.S engineered 1973 violent ousting of Chile´s Salvador Allende for General Pinochet in some depth; with a focus on imperialism and political economy. This is where it gets good.

More soon!

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