In some ways the information in Naomi Klein’s newest book is not all that new, but she presents the information in a fresh way that helps readers see the link between militarism and capitalism. One of the things about capitalism that even Marx did not foresee was its ability to evolve and adapt. In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein dissects the most recent manifestation of capitalism and why it is so important for those who care about justice to make the connections between US military activity and globalization.
Klein begins her book by discussing a visit to Gail Kastner, a woman who was a “patient” of Dr. Ewen Cameron, a CIA asset who was working on a project in Canada. Cameron believed that if you were able to erase the mind of previous thoughts and beliefs that you could build it back up with a “proper mindset,” to create citizens who would be more obedient. This mind control project that Cameron was involved in was similar to the MKUltra program, another mind control project that the CIA orchestrated, which was discovered during the Church Committee Hearings in 1975. Most of the MKUltra documents have since been declassified.
The author then makes the connection to the work of Dr. Cameron and Milton Friedman. Friedman, who is now credited with being the father of what has become known as the Chicago Boys, believed a perfect economic system could be created from scratch. In order to do this government would have to eliminate any and all rules and regulations that interfere with the market, the government should sell off any assets, and they should drastically reduce funding for social programs. In many ways, Friedman and his colleagues were responding to the social contract that came about after the Great Depression, where working people pushed the US government to adopt policies that supported workers and the social programs. Friedman felt that if the free market was to be truly liberated from these constraints that it would be best to start from scratch, or at a minimum eliminated government protections. However, there was a problem. How can you create conditions for this experiment to work?
According to Klein, the first real opportunity was with the country of Chile. In 1956, hundreds of Chilean students came to Chicago to be educated. Years of training and placing these new foot soldiers in Chile did not have the result that Friedman had hoped for. In fact, the country went in the opposite direction by electing a socialist candidate, Salvador Allende, to lead the country. Not only was the election of Allende unacceptable to the Nixon administration, it provided the perfect opportunity for the economic shock doctrine that Friedman had so desperately been trying to apply in Chile. A CIA coup overthrew the Allende government on September 11, 1973 and put in power the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet. Friedman himself came to Chile in order to oversea the shock doctrine. Friedman in many ways became an economic advisor to Pinochet, but the outcome is not what they expected. Despite the application of the shock doctrine, unemployment and inflation rose in Chile and the only way to impose this model was through a terror campaign that used torture, murder, and disappearance as tactics to keep the population in check. Some sectors did benefit from this model, primarily foreign investors and corporations. In fact, the shock doctrine worked so well for the capitalist class that the Chilean model was exported to other countries like Brazil and Uruguay. The rest of the book recounts the places that this shock doctrine has been imposed, places like Poland, Russia, South Africa, Indonesia and Iraq.
What makes this book important, especially now, is that it provides us with an analysis of what is really behind the US occupation of Iraq. Since Iraq possesses such tremendous oil wealth, the US and the capitalist class have been trying to figure out ways to control such wealth. The 1991 Gulf War was the first wave of this campaign and was quickly followed by economic sanctions. The slow strangulation of Iraq was not adequate for the Bush administration so an outright invasion was necessary in order to implement an economic model that would transfer Iraq’s wealth to foreign and US investors. This transformation has taken place in two main areas: first, under the control of Paul Bremer Iraq’s constitution was rewritten to the benefit of foreign investors and secondly, much of the US occupation has been privatized through the US of mercenary soldiers and contracts to private companies for services formerly preformed by the US military. Klein has been writing about the economic aspect of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq since the beginning, but for the most part, the US anti-war sectors have not paid much attention.
The other part of the book that breaks new ground is how Klein exposes the implementation of the shock doctrine after “natural disasters.” The kind of clean slate that Friedman and other shock doctrine proponents dream of have been facilitated in places like Katrina and Sri Lanka. The Tsunami and hurricane Katrina were able to create conditions that allowed the shock doctrine practitioners to go to work in New Orleans, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Klein documents that one of the responses after both disasters was to privatize numerous public services, such as education in New Orleans. The leveling of fishing villages in Sri Lanka has allowed the capitalist class, with the help of the government, to construct new tourist facilities on land that once provided a livelihood for hundreds of small fishing communities. These practices have caught the attention of lots of folks in the global corporate community so much that disaster capitalism has become the topic of numerous conferences, some of which Klein has attended.
There are also chapters on how the US and Israeli economies are becoming increasingly tied to disaster capitalism. The chapter on Israel is interesting in that it exposes how much of the Israeli economy is driven by militarism and “security.” In fact, Israel has gotten so good at developing security/surveillance technology that it is now exporting this technology abroad. In the US, the post-9/11 homeland security craze has fostered a tremendous growth in security/surveillance technology and consulting. One statistic that reflects this boom in security profits in the US has to do with the amount of new security-oriented lobby firms now in the US. According to Klein, prior to 2001 there were 2 security-oriented lobby firms, but by 2006 there were 543.
The book ends with a chapter on how some communities and countries have been resisting this shock doctrine. There is heavy emphasis on Latin America, a topic, which has been explored in other book recently, particularly Dispatches from Latin America, but popular resistance to the shock doctrine could be explored in greater detail. The Shock Doctrine is an important book for those who want to fight disaster capitalism and the timing of its release couldn’t be at a better time for those who want to understand what drives the current wars and policies of this country.
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, (Metropolitan Books, 2007).