Thursday, 27 September 2007

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine is a book I want to get, although I might leave it until it comes out in paperback (this side of winning the Lottery, I think £25 is a lot for pay for a book). For those of you with similarly frugal tendencies, there are good extracts at:,,2165953,00.html,,2165953,00.html,,2166586,00.html,,2167226,00.html

The extract which most struck me was this:

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a powerful reckoning with the crimes committed in the name of communism. But what of the crusade to liberate world markets?

I am not arguing that all forms of market systems require large-scale violence. It is eminently possible to have a market-based economy that demands no such brutality or ideological purity. A free market in consumer products can coexist with free public health care, with public schools, with a large segment of the economy - such as a national oil company - held in state hands. It's equally possible to require corporations to pay decent wages, to respect the right of workers to form unions, and for governments to tax and redistribute wealth so that the sharp inequalities that mark the corporatist state are reduced. Markets need not be fundamentalist.

John Maynard Keynes proposed just that kind of mixed, regulated economy after the Great Depression. It was that system of compromises, checks and balances that Friedman's counter-revolution was launched to dismantle in country after country. Seen in that light, Chicago School capitalism has something in common with other fundamentalist ideologies: the signature desire for unattainable purity.

This desire for godlike powers of creation is precisely why free-market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters. Non-apocalyptic reality is simply not hospitable to their ambitions. For 35 years, what has animated Friedman's counter-revolution is an attraction to a kind of freedom available only in times of cataclysmic change - when people, with their stubborn habits and insistent demands, are blasted out of the way - moments when democracy seems a practical impossibility. Believers in the shock doctrine are convinced that only a great rupture - a flood, a war, a terrorist attack - can generate the kind of vast, clean canvases they crave. It is in these malleable moments, when we are psychologically unmoored and physically uprooted, that these artists of the real plunge in their hands and begin their work of remaking the world.

The Leninist fervour of Milton Friedman and his followers (who have as much to do with Adam Smith and David Ricardo as Lenin and Trotsky had to do with Marx and Engels) is recognised by John Gray in his review of The Shock Doctrine:

The end of the world as we know it: Naomi Klein's critique of neo-liberalism, The Shock Doctrine, is both timely and devastating, says John Gray
The Guardian, Saturday September 15, 2007

Over the past few decades, many of the ideas of the far left have found new homes on the right. Lenin believed that it was in conditions of catastrophic upheaval that humanity advances most rapidly, and the idea that economic progress can be achieved through the devastation of entire societies has been a key part of the neo-liberal cult of the free market. Soviet-style economies left an inheritance of human and ecological devastation, while neo-liberal policies have had results that are not radically dissimilar in many countries. Yet, while the Marxist faith in central planning is now confined to a few dingy sects, a quasi-religious belief in free markets continues to shape the policies of governments.

Many writers have pointed to the havoc and ruin that have accompanied the imposition of free markets across the world. Whether in Africa, Asia, Latin America or post-communist Europe, policies of wholesale privatisation and structural adjustment have led to declining economic activity and social dislocation on a massive scale. Anyone who has watched a country lurch from one crisis to another as the bureaucrats of the IMF impose cut after cut in pursuit of the holy grail of stabilisation will recognise the process Naomi Klein describes in her latest and most important book to date. Visiting Argentina not long before the economic collapse of 2002, I found the government struggling to implement an IMF diktat to roll back public spending at a time when the economy was already rapidly contracting. The result was predictable, and the country was plunged into a depression, with calamitous consequences in terms of poverty and social breakdown.

Klein believes that neo-liberalism belongs among "the closed, fundamentalist doctrines that cannot co-exist with other belief-systems ... The world as it is must be erased to make way for their purist invention. Rooted in biblical fantasies of great floods and great fires, it is a logic that leads ineluctably towards violence." As Klein sees it, the social breakdowns that have accompanied neo-liberal economic policies are not the result of incompetence or mismanagement. They are integral to the free-market project, which can only advance against a background of disasters. At times, writing in a populist vein that echoes her first book No Logo, published seven years ago, Klein seems to suggest that these disasters are manufactured as part of a deliberate policy framed by corporations with hidden influence in government. Her more considered view, which is also more plausible, is that disaster is part of the normal functioning of the type of capitalism we have today: "An economic system that requires constant growth, while bucking almost all serious attempts at environmental regulation, generates a steady stream of disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological or financial. The appetite for easy, short-term profits offered by purely speculative investment has turned the stock, currency and real estate markets into crisis-creation machines, as the Asian financial crisis, the Mexican peso crisis and the dotcom collapse all demonstrate."

There are very few books that really help us understand the present. The Shock Doctrine is one of those books. Ranging across the world, Klein exposes the strikingly similar policies that enabled the imposition of free markets in countries as different as Pinochet's Chile, Yeltsin's Russia, China and post-Saddam Iraq. Part of the power of this book comes from the parallels she observes in seemingly unrelated developments. In a fascinating and alarming examination of the underside of recent history, she notes the affinities between the policies of shock therapy imposed in the course of neo-liberal market reform and the techniques of torture that have been routinely used by the US in the course of the "war on terror". Klein begins her first chapter with a moving account of a conversation she had with a victim of a covert programme of mind-control experiments, carried out in Canada in the 1950s, which used people suffering from minor psychiatric ailments to try out techniques of "de-patterning" that aimed to scramble and reshape their personalities.

Employing electroshock therapy, sensory deprivation and drug-induced comas, these experiments helped develop some of the "coercive interrogation techniques" that have been practised in Guantánamo Bay. Klein uses torture as a metaphor, and does not claim any cause-and-effect link between its re-emergence and the rise of neo-liberal shock therapy; but she does point to some disquieting similarities. Individuals and societies have been "de-patterned" with the aim of remaking them on a better, more rational model. In each case, the experiments have failed, while inflicting lasting and often irreparable damage on those who were subjected to them.

But has the free market experiment failed? As Klein sees it, free market shock therapy may actually have succeeded in achieving its true objectives. Post-invasion Iraq may be "a ghoulish dystopia where going to a simple business meeting could get you lynched, burned alive or beheaded". Even so, Klein points out, Halliburton is making handsome profits - it has built the green zone as a corporate city-state, and taken on many of the traditional functions of the armed forces in Iraq. An entire society has been destroyed, but the corporations that operate in the ruins are doing rather well. Klein's message, then, seems to be that - at least in its own, profit-centred terms - disaster capitalism works.

There can be no doubt that fortunes have been reaped from the Iraq war as they have been from other experiments in disaster capitalism. Yet I remain unconvinced that the corporations Klein berates throughout the book understand, let alone control, the anarchic global capitalism that has been allowed to develop over the past couple of decades - any more than the neo-liberal ideologues who helped create it foresaw where it would lead. Rightly, Klein insists that free market ideology must bear responsibility for the crimes committed on its behalf - just as Marxist ideology must be held to account for the crimes of communism. But she says remarkably little about the illusions by which neo-liberal ideologues were themselves blinded. Milton Friedman and his disciples believed a western-style free market would spring up spontaneously in post-communist Russia. They were left gawping when central planning was followed by the criminalised free-for-all of the 90s, and were unprepared for the rise of Putin's resource-based state capitalism. These ideologues were not the sinister, Dr Strangelove-like figures of the anti-capitalist imagination. They were comically deluded bien-pensants, who promoted their utopian schemes with messianic fervour and have been left stranded by history, as the radiant future they confidently predicted has failed to arrive.

The neo-liberal order is already facing intractable problems. The Iraq war may have allowed another experiment in shock therapy, but a failed state has been created as a result of which Gulf oil - which a former chair of the US joint chiefs of staff accurately described as "the jugular vein of global capitalism" - is less secure than before. Faced with defeat in Iraq, the Bush administration seems to be gearing up for an assault on Iran - a desperate move that would magnify the existing catastrophe many times over. At the same time financial crisis has reached into the American heartland as an implosion in speculation-driven credit markets has started to spread throughout the system. It is impossible to know how these crises will develop, but it is hard to resist the suspicion that disaster capitalism is now creating disasters larger than it can handle.

Finally, before I'm totally Kleined-out, an interview piece:

Brainwashed by the market: What drives Naomi Klein?
Naomi Klein's critique of 'disaster capitalism' will echo around the world – but its roots lie in a scandal close to her Canadian home
By Julie Wheelwright, The Independent, 14 September 2007

The author and activist Naomi Klein has just endured a gentle mauling on the Today programme. Klein had been speaking about her new book The Shock Doctrine, arguing that capitalism's latest incarnation is about profiting from – even creating – crises. Diane Coyle, an economist and BBC trustee (and former economics editor of The Independent), sniffed that this argument was "another example of American imperialism". When we meet an hour later at a Soho hotel, Klein seems unruffled. "I did some research about Diane Coyle," she says, rooting through a file. She hands me a paper entitled "The Role of Mobiles in Disaster and Emergencies", which Coyle wrote for a mobile-phone trade association.

"You can see," she says, "that I'm a bit of an obsessive." Ironically, for a woman who has been hailed as the author of a "Das Kapital of the growing anti-corporate movement", there's nothing grungy about Klein. With her sleek hair-cut, immaculate teeth and friendly but down-to-business attitude, she could easily be mistaken for a telecoms exec winding up a power breakfast in the lobby of a boutique hotel.

Having tackled the way our affluent lifestyle is a by-product of globalisation's devastating effects on the world's poor in No Logo (2000), Klein now deftly marshals another enormously complex subject into a series of elegantly argued chapters. In a damning critique of Friedmanite economics, The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism (Allen Lane, £25) uses thousands of documents and interviews to expose how governments and corporations have used or even invented disasters to push through laissez-faire market reforms before local populations can recover from the shock. Wars and disaster responses are now so fully privatised that they themselves have become the new markets.

Klein traces this Dr Strangelove world back to Milton Friedman, who turned the University of Chicago's economics department into a hotbed of free-market radicalism. With the complicity of the US government and its intelligence services, Friedman and his "Chicago Boys" brought their doctrine to Latin America in the Seventies. Where democratically elected leaders like Salvador Allende were ousted by military dictators, the Chicago Boys moved in to help privatise, de-regulate and clean up. Their greatest weapon, argues Klein, was shock. After their success in Chile, the roadshow moved on to Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay. Later, Friedman's star graduate, Jeffrey Sachs, was parachuted in to Poland and Russia, where democracy was sacrificed for market interests. The rumours that sparked the "Asian Flu" financial crisis of the late Nineties saw the dismantling of state-owned industries.

The list goes on, culminating in the new disaster economies that have turned Thai fishing villages into high-end beach resorts, post-tsunami, and New Orleans public schools into privately funded "charter" schools after Hurricane Katrina. But does Klein believe that the often faceless operators believe their rhetoric about free markets being the cornerstone of democracy? She pauses. "There are some true believers who really think that trickle-down economics is the best way to improve the lot of all humanity," she says. "But I think those people are few and far between."

Among the most haunting chapters are those dealing with the dismantling of Iraq. While the Bush presidency now seems mired in scandals, Klein takes little comfort in the comeuppance of his closest allies. "I wrote the book because I think we need to be talking about systems rather than individuals," she says. "My worry is that the danger of the Bush years is that these guys are so outrageous that the focus has just been on the bad apples. You gun, gun, gun to get Rumsfeld to resign; you gun, gun, gun to get Cheney to resign, and then do we really think this is going to change things?'

Klein recently attended a congressional hearing on private-sector security in Iraq, where military support services are being contracted out to corporations such as Blackwater, Bechtel and Halliburton. The number of private contractors in Iraq now outstrips the number of US forces in the field. Klein found that the politicians were relying on the journalists for their information. "It was amazing how little they knew – they were asking us, 'What's going on?' It was kinda nice that they were asking," she says, widening her eyes with astonishment, "but it was also a little late."

What the Bush administration has created are no-go areas for private contractors. Klein relates how two former employees at the security firm Custer Battles accused it of defrauding the government for work at Baghdad International Airport. Even though a federal court found Custer Battles guilty, the verdict was overturned when the company argued it wasn't a part of the US government. So the Bush administration had indemnified US corporations in Iraq from liability under Iraqi or American law. For Klein, "Iraq represented the most extreme expression of the anti-state revolution: a hollow state."

I ask Klein if she feels grateful to have spent her childhood in Montreal during the tail-end of prime minister Pierre Trudeau's Liberal government. "Oh yeah," she says. "I feel very fortunate to be a Canadian, and when I talk to my American friends about these issues, it's very abstract for them. They don't really know what 'public' means because this agenda has triumphed so completely." Klein's parents had left the US in protest against the Vietnam war, and headed for a country where public services were flourishing.

She had impeccable "red diaper" credentials. Her grandfather Philip Klein, an animator at Disney, was blacklisted for organising a strike in the Fifties. Her father, Dr Michael Klein, taught at McGill University's medical department, while her mother Bonnie Sherr Klein became a celebrated feminist film-maker. But if Canada proved a haven, Klein has drawn on a sinister episode from her neighbourhood as a central metaphor for the book.

The Allan Memorial Institute, a psychiatric hospital at McGill, had been a place that people had whispered about, says Klein. A family friend was a chief intern who refused to participate in the experiments of its director, Dr Ewan Cameron. "I never knew the history, even though I had these close connections." Since the Eighties, there have been revelations about the horrific abuse of mostly female patients, who were subjected to a regime of drugs, ECT and sensory deprivation to erase and "repattern" their personalities.

Further research revealed that Cameron's experiments were funded by the CIA to create a handbook for torture. Known as Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, the techniques – first used on women suffering from post-partum depression – became standard torture practice: sensory deprivation, stress positions, hooding, electric shock. But it was only as Klein was leaving Iraq in 2004, when photos documenting the torture at Abu Ghraib prison were being leaked, that she made the connection with Cameron.

"There's something about putting populations into a state of shock that these architects of war are drawn to," she says. "So it made me want to understand what happens when a brain goes into a real state of shock." Klein interviewed Gail Kastner, a former McGill nursing student who had sought psychiatric help for anxiety. After receiving a cocktail of drugs and ECT, Kastner left the clinic with a badly damaged memory and a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. After their meeting, "it was as if I'd been talking about a photocopy and now I was talking about the real thing".

That "real thing" was a method of shocking individuals and nations into a state of submission, wiping out memories and filling them with what doctors saw fit. This emblem of Klein's book has also become a through-line for a short documentary film she has made with Alfonso Cuaron, the Mexican director of Children of Men.

"We sat down and wrote the script in one day," says Klein. "I loved this process because Alfonso is so creative and he sets the bar so high." The Cuaron film, screened at the Toronto and Venice film festivals, was also released on YouTube. Her book will be published in 10 languages. She'll spend the next year travelling the globe to promote its message. Whatever her critics might say, Klein's work is taking a generational pulse, and possibly lifting the veil on a perilous post-Bush future.

Biography: Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein, 37, grew up in Montreal, the daughter of activists who had moved from the US to Canada. A journalist who began as editor of the University of Toronto's newspaper The Varsity, in 2000 she published No Logo: taking aim at the brand bullies.

It became a "movement bible" for anti-corporate protesters, translated into 28 languages. In 2002, she published her essays, Fences and Windows. She has collaborated with her husband Avi Lewis on a film about factory workers in Argentina, The Take, and writes a syndicated column. She was ranked 11th in the 2005 Global Intellectuals poll – the highest-ranking woman. Her new book is The Shock Doctrine (Allen Lane). She lives in downtown Toronto.


Charlie Marks said...

I nearly passed out when I saw the cover price. Perhaps it'll be cheaper 2nd hand on the net...

Anglonoel said...

I'm waiting for the paperback edition or getting a book token for my birthday/Xmas.

John D. said...

Read her book via Kindle reading device for $9.99. Devastating. I want to follow her to Canada, or Australia or NZ. USA is UNNICE! Preemptive war pretexts: Gulf of Tonkin; WMD's, Remember the Maine, River borders Mexican war to steal NM, AZ, CA. Oil concessions in Iraq. Cheney wants Iran. We are SICK, SICK, SICK!!!