Book Review: The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

By Delia M. Harrington
2010, Vol. 2 No. 07 | pg. 1/2 |

Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine ties together history, economics, , natural disasters and geo into one bleak picture. Klein’s thesis is that the Shock Doctrine, also called Disaster Capitalism, has been put into practice all over the world, supported by Milton Freidman and his Chicago Boys. The shock doctrine is a theory that in order to put into practice the highly unpopular tenets of a free market economy, the implementation of such policies must happen directly after a shock to the national conscious. Such shock can take the form of a terrorist attack, national disaster or coup d’état. According to Klein, the population is so disoriented that they cannot adequately defend themselves against sudden drops in wages, high inflation and the privatization of social services like and health care.

While the disorientation of the masses allows policies to be implemented, it does not eradicate all opposition. In order to fully achieve that, the primary shock is coupled with a second, more literal one. Those who oppose free markets are abducted, tortured, killed or forced into exile. This is not, however, a project separate from the economic policies. Milton Friedman and his Chicago School Boys attempt to elevate their aims to a scientific level whenever possible in order to minimize the human element. Originally, the idea was that free markets and democratic politics go hand in hand, but as their experiments in unfolded, it became evident to them that an authoritarian regime was the only kind fully able to use the military might to enforce the kind of full-scale terror necessary to degrade the population to the point where it is incapable of protesting, where it has lost all connection to its and values.

To the outside world, the poverty and disappearances are often invisible. Wealth is consolidated into the hands of the corporate elite. The country’s GDP grows, and an economic miracle is pronounced while health care becomes nonexistent and starvation and torture are rampant. Corporations are able to buy up previously nationalized markets at incredibly low prices. Trade unionists are detained and tortured throughout the country, and sometimes on-site at their own jobs. Even the corporate elite are not safe, as any who oppose the new regime can be dismiss, deported or worse.

Finally, an essential point of Klein’s Shock Doctrine is the failures of free market economies. The economic policies implemented are typified by selling off national markets, like fuel, to the lowest bidder, as well as privatizing education, health care and the postal service. Inflation skyrockets, wages plummet and the people starve en masse. No one protests because they have been shocked into submission by a national disaster of some sort, just as their friends, family and neighbors have been literally shocked into submission.

In order to demonstrate its thesis, the book asks and answers these five questions: What is corporatism? Where did the methods for these two types of shock come from? Was systematic state terror carried out in these case studies? Who was killed and why? Does free market economics work?

The most horrifying question of this book is where did the methods for these two types of shock come from? The first section of the book is largely devoted to answering this question. First, she deals with the literal, torturous shock treatment. The method of using shock to erase the “diseased” parts of a human being’s personality so that they can be replaced with healthy portions was developed by the psychiatrist Dr. Ewan Cameron at McGill University in Montreal, . He experimented on patients, funded by the CIA, in the hopes of finding a way to reprogram a human being. The CIA’s interest was in finding a way to deprogram Marxism out of human beings, in the hopes of reshaping them as capitalists.

Dr. Cameron’s methods included all manner of sensory deprivation, from isolation to using hoods to block out light. People were put in small isolated chambers, and were served meals at bizarre times of the day in order to further disorient them. These findings were later indoctrinated into CIA handbooks for torture, which were used as a guide for the torture taking place in Latin America. This idea of psychological regression and reprogramming is interesting because the idea of shocking and rebuilding an economy ultimately stems from it.

Several of the accounts from victims of the state-sponsored terror recall hearing the voices of gringos, or seeing white men in the interrogation rooms. They were often described as giving “pointers” and helping with the methods of torture. Additionally, these regimes were often taught by American CIA, and received funding from them.

With regards to the methods of economic shock, the ideas are clearly from various Americans associated with the Chicago School of Economics. With Milton Friedman as their leader, he and his disciples pursued a policy of open, privatized markets with religious zeal. In order to spread these ideals and practice them on something other than mathematical models, The Ford Foundation and government funding helped send dozens of Latino scholars to Milton Friedman’s school. They then brought their economic ideals with them to Indonesia and Latin America. Unfortunately for them, the diplomatic process was not receptive to their ideals, as Latin America in the 1970s was very left-leaning. Its democratic process elected people like Salvador Allende, and its culture revered the likes of Pablo Neruda.

Their economic policies marginalized in the open, democratic debate, it became clear that a more aggressive stance would be necessary. This is the point at which the two kinds of shock became inextricably linked. Just as the McGill patients had regressed into a confused, childlike state, unable to protect themselves, so would be any country who had experienced a similar trauma. And thus, the method was born. First, a shock to the country, which would confuse the population into a state where it would be incapable of preventing change. Economic reform like cutting state spending and selling off public goods was immediately taken into effect, as well as the second shock: torture. Any segments of the population that would not fit into the new order of individualistic, free-market capitalism would be disappeared, tortured, killed. This included trade union leaders, priests, nuns, activists, artists, musicians, writers, workers and peasants.

The question of concerning where the plan came from is important because we must find a way to stop if from continuing to be carried out. As Americans have largely been implicated in the book, it should be of utmost concern to Americans. It is our government, our foundations, our academics who have propelled such horror into existence. If we are to learn from the past and improve our future, we must understand the role we have played. We must correct it, not through revisionist history like Milton Friedman tried to, but by spreading the knowledge. As the short adaptation made by Alfonso Cuarón and Naomi Klein emphasizes, knowledge is power, and it is the only way to put an end to the Shock Doctrine.

Klein’s thesis is a thorough examination of a cold-hearted, skillful implementation of free market economics. Her thesis is enlightening in that she illuminates the connections the CIA, the Ford Foundations, MNCs and the University Of Chicago School Of Economics have to these shocks worldwide. The author is clear in showing that it was not merely good economic advisors who happened to work for men who violated . Rather, she shows the violations as a means to the economic policies, not an end.

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