Adam Ross's Reviews > The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
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Mar 30, 15

bookshelves: politics, history, culture, american-history
Read from October 28 to December 07, 2010

This was an uncomfortable book, and one which I wrestled with. You can't really ask for much more in a solid book, regardless of your agreement.

Raised in a conservative Christian home, in midwestern America, I have been profoundly shaped by that culture and mindset. I am grateful. But the story is not nearly as simple as all that. I have rejected the straightforward Republican narrative for some time now, and my confidence in "strict" Austrian economics seems to be becoming unhinged as well. We have assumed for too long that there is a straight transference between the cultural assumptions of our nation, conservative or liberal, apply right across the board into Scripture. The reality is way more complicated.

Neither, however, was this book convincing on a deep level. It attempts to refute free market economics by showing that Milton Friedman's policies created evil, torturous regimes in the third world. This sort of bounced off me without much impact, since I don't really think Friedman was very free market at all. In my view, he was much more like William F. Buckley. Not really a conservative.

Take, as illustrative, Klein's statement: "Friedman framed his movement as an attempt to free the market from the state, but the real-world track record of what happens when his purist vision is realized is rather different. In every country where Chicago School policies have been applied over the last three decades, what has emerged is a powerful ruling alliance between a few large corporations and a class of mostly wealthy politicians - with hazy and ever-shifting lines between the two" (15).

All the facts here are true, but has been said by many on the right as well. The point could not have been better put than by Jonah Goldberg, in his Liberal Fascism. Chicago School policies create corporatism (because Friedman thought they were a good thing), but the governing assumption is that it wasn't intended to do this in the first place. Friedman was pro-corporations, and his policies were designed to put more in their hands. And, not to mention, that Friedman's position wasn't exactly free market. Hence his policies are called neo-liberal.

But there is also the entire premise. That it was the policies of Milton Friedman that created the brutal suppression, and it was here that Klein is a little disingenuous. She does not deal with Friedman's policies, but rather the actions of regimes themselves. Thus, the question is raised as to whether the problems came from Friedman's views, or were simply the tactics of the third world. In other words, was torture and repression central to the free market policies, or were they incidental to them, but rather stemmed from some other source? Klein's argument appears to be one of noting the (very real and horrifying) abuses of the regimes, and then saying, "And guess what? Yup, they were free marketers!" This is not a way to construct a compelling argument. Each of these free market regimes began the same way as every other non-free market regime in the third world. A coup, in which the military overthrew the government. And these new "free market" regimes progresses apace in the same way as a marxist coup, by violence, terror, repression, and the torture and kidnap of dissenters. Friedman was wrong to attempt to smooth over such tactics, and to encourage them as "shocks."

Nonetheless, there is lots of good in the book as well. Friedman's policies do create a mutually-reinforcing alliance between big business and big government, and this needs to be screamed from the rooftops. Corporations are not a good thing, particularly mega-ultra-uber corporations. As Klein shows, the corporations used Friedman's policies to move into these struggling nations and essentially took them over. Much of the torture of dissenters was funded or enacted by the corporations themselves, independent of, or in cooperation with, the new tyrannical regimes. She documents how dissenting workers were imprisoned and tortured on company property, with the full authorization of the corporations themselves. Her suggestion that nations go through shock in the same way as individuals, and that governments and corporations take advantage of this "shock" to gain more power, is a valid, and I think, important observation that needs to be give much more attention.
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Adam Ross Thanks. My economic studies have been almost exclusively Austrian, because Reformed and Presbyterian circles tend to emphasize that (for whatever reason). I am beginning to see that the Scriptures, even the Old Testament, don't really match with a lot of what the Austrians are saying. It bothers me, also, that Austrian economics tends to emphasize Enlightenment individualism and humanism.


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