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Book review: The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein

Like many others out there in blog world, I was given an opportunity to get a copy of Ms. Klein’s new book and to review it. It’s taken a while for me to actually get to read this book due to several factors, but I’ve done so now, and I’d like to give my thoughts on the book. I’ve seen many other reviews which stretch into a full page essay, but I’m going to try and keep this to a basic summary. That is as follows:

1) Economic theory is usually a pretty dry topic that even most politics junkies find tedious and boring. Even with Klein, a fairly provocative writer by reputation as the author, I expected more of the same. I was wrong. I don’t know if its Klein’s structure or how she writes. but the book kept my interest throughout.

2) She clearly and persuasively documents the 50+ year history of Milton Friedman’s theory on capitalism, championed by the University of Chicago, and shows how it impacted real people and many different nations to their detriment. Klein makes a compelling case that Milton Friedman-style economics generally requires some shock (natural disaster, coup, military dictatorship, etc.) in order to be implemented – because people generally don’t tolerate such radical ideas: the zealous pursuit of open markets at all costs as what the University of Chicago Friedman disciples advocate wouldn’t normally be an attractive option for the majority of many societies (Indeed, Klein shows that where Friedman-style theory has been implemented, it has done nothing to aid the society at large – it only benefits the pockets of the governments and their corporate allies). Klein shows that when such a large shock happens to a society, it becomes disoriented, and that is the time for those who pursue this type of ideology to strike and take advantage of the situation while the society is off-balance. She also shows how in many cases, if the society resists the changes, they get their own personal shock doctrine – which is being thrown into jail and tortured.

3) Though I don’t recall her directly stating this, I believe indirectly she makes a compelling case that Keynesian-style economics (a combination of free markets + regulation and public services) is generally preferred in democratic societies. By the same token she argues that Keynesianism leads to more stable societies and a growing middle class. She also in her last chapter shows that Friedmanism can and has been successfully resisted and overturned. The counter-reaction to Friedmanism can be seen quite clearly in Latin and South America’s overthrowing of the military right-wing dictatorships, (all who basically took Friedman’s theories to heart and implemented them – Pinochet being the most extreme example of this, as he had Friedman personally advising him) , the election of several left-wing governments, and the loss of influence the IMF and The World Bank have in this region, and the extreme hostility towards those organizations.

In conclusion, even if you aren’t a fan of Klein and her politics, this is a book that, once you start reading it, you will keep reading it. As for me, I’ve always been a tad leery of US-backed international monetary institutions because of their seeming insistence on linking aid to privatization and capitalist measures to the extreme without considering the middle road. This book has made me like them even less – they don’t come off looking very good with the examples Klein gives.

UPDATE: Naomi Klein being interviewed by Bill Maher, explaining very well what disaster capitalism is, and correcting Maher’s initial inaccurate version of the book’s thesis.

7 comments to Book review: The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein

  • Except that she doesn’t hate capitalism through and through, just the extreme right wing manifestation of it supported by the Friedmanites.  You can argue that his policies have helped for million people, though backing evidence would help, but you can’t dispute the devastating effect it had on many populations, such as Chile or Russia. 

  • ALW

    Um, Naomi Klein is not an academic, and not an economist, and her treatment of the subject is geared towards supporting her pre-determined thesis.  Nothing shocking about that doctrine.

    I really don’t think you (or Klein) wants to make the argument that the kinds of policies supported by Friedman have done "nothing" to help average people.  They have in fact helped hundreds of millions of people over the last four decades.  As for the "disaster exploitation" thesis, she doesn’t seem to account for the far, far greater occurrences of massive government economic intervention – the New Deal, post-1949 China, post-Korean war North Korea, the USSR – which had far worse consequences and killed tens of millions of people.  But since we all know Klein just hates "capitalism" through and through, that might distract a little from her thesis.

  • mushroom

    "Though I don’t recall her directly stating this, I believe indirectly she makes a compelling case that Keynesian-style economics (a combination of free markets + regulation and public services) is generally preferred in democratic societies. By the same token she argues that Keynesianism leads to more stable societies and a growing middle class."

    Naomi Klein is as Keynesian as John F. Kennedy and FDR?  This is news to me.

  • marta

    To be fair to you.. this is the BEST book reviw   so far     about this   enormously important work of Klein.
    So thank you.

    marta

  • marta

    The first 200  years capitalism    served Americans /the people  / very well.
    But what capitalism as  today   is a very different thing   In its own "evolution"   leading  by the only the MONEY  it became a monster   what needs to be slain.   people needs to take back the power  and   put  intelligence  in the lead ….The whole society deteriorated , corrupted badly  .
    violence and  lawlessnes  taking over  and we seems to be  fattened   sheep    hordes    kept in line with one yupping dog……. 
    You need to LIKE  and FOLLOW   KLEIN    I suggest.

  • I see you continue to misrepresent that situation, Polly, which doesn’t surprise me one bit.

  • A tad leery? Last I saw you were championing the World Bank and crushing any critique of it. Then again, if find economic policy dry, you might have admitted at the time that you do not have an informed opinion.

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