Date finished: January 18th 2016
Once in a while, you come across a non-fiction book that hits you like a ton of bricks. As far as I remember, the last one to do this to me was Owen Jones’ The Establishment. Non-fiction resonates with us in a different way to fiction. Fiction appeals to our imagination; how we believe the world should be. Non-fiction deals in cold hard facts: how the world really is. The latter, when done correctly, is far more shocking.
Such is the case in Naomi Klein’s incendiary polemic The Shock Doctrine, which explores the insidious agenda of “disaster capitalism”. Based on the economic ideology of Milton Friedman and married to the torture and methods of psychological warfare conducted by the CIA, disaster capitalism is the exploitation of natural and artificial catastrophes for the financial gain of a small corporate elite. This goes from the relatively small-scale swindling in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, in the wake of which the education system of New Orleans was changed from public schools to privatised charter schools, much to the detriment of the poor and ethnic minority communities; to the enforced dismantling of entire countries, such as the CIA-funded Chilean military coup which saw the overthrow of Allende’s social-democratic government by General Pinochet in 1973.
The idea, much like CIA torture techniques, is to completely break a country by repeatedly shocking it until it becomes a “blank slate”. When you reach this point, you can decide what’s best for the country. All because of one man’s economic theory, which proliferated until it came to take root in the IMF, the World Bank, and the Oval Office.
Klein delves into the immoral, thirty year history of this neoliberal agenda which has underscored decades of US governance, ruined the economies of countless countries, and contributed to the deaths of millions of people. The globalised society we’re a part of, the third world countries we pity, the very system we believe is the sum total of reality is all part of this antidemocratic, neoliberal, ultra-capitalist dogma. The whole ideological war is fought for three simple things: privatisation, deregulation, and cuts to social spending; the holy trinity of Neoliberal economics which lead to huge profits for big business and the wealthy elite.
The book gives chilling background to what many believe to be the selfish or even blundering nature of government. Austerity, job losses, wage stagnation, rising inequality and poverty, private ownership of public services… all this and so much more is a symptom of Friedman’s legacy. The idea is “free trade” – essentially a euphemism for the rich robbing the poor. If they have to kill you – kill thousands of you – to profit, they will.
In the process of their experiments with economic freedom, the growing movement of Friedman economics has ravaged Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Iran, Russia, Sri Lanka, the UK, the USA, China and countless others. Klein takes us on a no-holds-barred journey through the undemocratic, immoral and reprehensible techniques governments have used to push through economic policies that destroy nations and have contributed to the impoverishment and death of millions – from the business-sponsored destruction of Iraq so it could be carved up by multinationals, to President Gayoom using the devastating 2004 Tsunami to uproot indigenous peoples to make way for hotel resorts in the Maldives.
This isn’t an easy book to read, and it’s certainly not a happy one. One can start to feel fatigued from the sheer relentless immorality that this book faces you with. But it’s necessary reading. This is how the world works. This is reality. To ignore it would be criminal, but if we educate ourselves to it, that’s the first step towards changing it.
The Shock Doctrine is a devastating and angry exploration of everything that is wrong with our modern world. Though published in 2007, the ideology Klein describes is still alive and still ransacking nations around the world. It’s easy to see the influence of the neoliberal dogma all around you when you have this book as your guide. And that’s why it’s such an important work. It may not be easy, or fun, but it’ll make your blood boil. That’s the first step: know thy enemy. Then take that rage, spread that knowledge, fight back.