Monday, March 24, 2008

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Milton Friedman, economic godfather of the modern neoconservative movement preached an extremist form of lassiez-faire capitalism. Friedman and his disciples from the Chicago School of Economics have shaped the growth of the modern free trade movement in countries from Chile to Russia to South Africa to the Maldives. But is the Chicago school doctrine, which calls for flat taxes, globalism, multinational corporations which replace most traditional functions of the state actually good for the citizens of those countries in which it has been implemented? Naomi Klein definitely doesn’t think so.

Klein’s work here is brilliantly researched and painstakingly footnoted. Her arguments are generally persuasive. She tracks Friedmanism and a corresponding destruction of democracy and worsening welfare of the body politic from Pinochet’s Chile to the corporatized Green Zone of modern day Iraq.

I can’t help but feel that Klein could have benefitted from a slightly tighter focus. Her attempts to draw a parallel between the sensory-deprivation, LSD and shock treatment experiments of Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron and MKULTRA and the economic “shock therapy” of Friedmanic capitalism seems strained. Indeed, the whole metaphor of extremist capitalism as torture writ large upon a population ends up seeming weak. It presupposes the value judgment that Dr. Klein hopes to lead the reader to, weakening her arguments. This lack of focus occasionally pokes it’s head up in other ways as well – as with Klein’s comments about the benefits of the Canadian health care system, which, while accurate, end up reminding the reader that Klein is anything but open minded about her topic. As an avid anti-globalist, and a democratic socialist, Klein has wonderful insights, and has done great research; let them stand on their own. Descending into rhetoric which is outside the scope of the core argument distracts the reader, and ultimately slightly tarnishes Klein’s credibility.

This mild criticism aside, the book is a fascinating five hundred page tour through failed experiments in capitalism by the World Bank, IMF, and the US military-industrial complex. Klein walks the same halls as did Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hitman. But where Perkins came across as a bit of a self-aggrandizing hack, Klein is an eloquent, thorough scholar.

This book is a fascinating expose into the economic theory which has driven a particular brand of US foreign policy over the last half-century. If half the goateed teenagers protesting the WTO talks in Seattle had been even slightly as bright and well informed as is Dr. Klein, it’s likely that the world might have paid a lot more attention to their protests. This is the most articulate anti-globalism screed I’ve ever read.

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