The shock dotrine (en inglés), by Naomi Klein

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Ed. Picador, 2007. Size 21 x 14 cm. Used, excellent. 700 pages.

The shock doctrine, naomi klein445By Naomi Klein

In the torrent of words written in eulogy to Milton Friedman, the role of shocks and crises to advance his worldview received barely a mention. Instead, the economist’s passing provided an occasion for a retelling of the official story of how his brand of radical capitalism became government orthodoxy in almost every corner of the globe. It is a fairy-tale version of history, scrubbed clean of all the violence and coercion so intimately entwined with this crusade, and it represents the single most successful propaganda coup of the past three decades. The story goes something like this.

Friedman devoted his life to fighting a peaceful battle of ideas against those who believed that governments had a responsibility to intervene in the market to soften its sharp edges. He believed history “got off on the wrong track” when politicians began listening to John Maynard Keynes, intellectual architect of the New Deal and the modern welfare state. The market crash of 1929 had created an overwhelming consensus that laissez-faire had failed and that governments needed to intervene in the economy to redistribute wealth and regulate corporations. During those dark days for laissez-faire, when Communism conquered the East, the welfare state was embraced by the West and economic nationalism took root in the postcolonial South, Friedman and his mentor, Friedrich Hayek, patiently protected the flame of a pure version of capitalism, untarnished by Keynesian attempts to pool collective wealth to build more just societies.

“The major error, in my opinion,” Friedman wrote in a letter to Pinochet in 1975, was “to believe that it is possible to do good with other people’s money”. Few listened; most people kept insisting that their governments could and should do good. Friedman was dismissively described in Time in 1969 “as a pixie or a pest,” and revered as a prophet by only a select few.

Finally, after he’d spent decades in the intellectual wilderness, came the eighties and the rule of Margaret Thatcher (who called
Friedman “an intellectual freedom fighter”) and Ronald Reagan (who was seen carrying a copy of Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman’s manifesto, on the presidential campaign trail). At last there were political leaders who had the courage to implement unfettered free markets in the real world. According to this official story, after Reagan and Thatcher peacefully and democratically liberated their respective markets, the freedom and prosperity that followed were so obviously desirable that when dictatorships started falling, from Manila to Berlin, the masses demanded Reaganomics alongside their Big Macs.

When the Soviet Union finally collapsed, the people of the “evil empire” were also eager to join the Friedmanite revolution, as were the Communists-turned-capitalists in China. That meant that nothing was left to stand in the way of a truly global free market, one in which liberated corporations were not only free in their own countries but free to travel across borders unhindered, unleashing prosperity around the world. There was now a twin consensus about how society should be run: political leaders should be elected, and economies should be run according to Friedman’s rules. It was, as Francis Fukuyama said, “the end of history” —”the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution”. When Friedman died, Fortune magazine wrote that “he had the tide of history with him”; a resolution was passed in the U.S. Congress praising him as “one of the world’s foremost champions of liberty, not just in economics but in all respects”; the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, declared January 29, 2007, to be a statewide Milton Friedman Day, and several cities and towns did the same. A headline in The Wall Street Journal encapsulated this tidy narrative: “Freedom Man”.

This book is a challenge to the central and most cherished claim in the official story—that the triumph of deregulated capitalism has been born of freedom, that unfettered free markets go hand in hand with democracy. Instead, I will show that this fundamentalist form of capitalism has consistently been midwifed by the most brutal forms of coercion, inflicted on the collective body politic as well as on countless individual bodies. The history of the contemporary free market—better understood as the rise of corporatism—was written in shocks.

The stakes are high. The corporatist alliance is in the midst of conquering its final frontiers: the closed oil economies of the Arab world, and sectors of Western economies that have long been protected from profit making—including responding to disasters and raising armies. Since there is not even the veneer of seeking public consent to privatize such essential functions, either at home or abroad, escalating levels of violence and ever larger disasters are required in order to reach the goal. Yet because the decisive role played by shocks and crises has been so effectively purged from the official record of the rise of the free market, the extreme tactics on display in Iraq and New Orleans are often mistaken for the unique incompetence or cronyism of the Bush White House. In fact, Bush’s exploits merely represent the monstrously violent and creative culmination of a fifty-year campaign for total corporate liberation.

Any attempt to hold ideologies accountable for the crimes committed by their followers must be approached with a great deal of caution. It is too easy to assert that those with whom we disagree are not just wrong but tyrannical, fascist, genocidal. But it is also true that certain ideologies are a danger to the public and need to be identified as such. These are the closed, fundamentalist doctrines that cannot coexist with other belief systems; their followers deplore diversity and demand an absolute free hand to implement their perfect system. 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 toward violence. The ideologies that long for that impossible clean slate, which can be reached only through some kind of cataclysm, are the dangerous ones.

Usually it is extreme religious and racially based idea systems that demand the wiping out of entire peoples and cultures in order to fulfill a purified vision of the world. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a powerful collective reckoning with the great crimes committed in the name of Communism. The Soviet informa¬tion vaults have been cracked open to researchers who have counted the dead—through forced famines, work camps and assassinations. The process has sparked heated debate around the world about how many of these atrocities stemmed from the ideology invoked, as opposed to its distortion by adherents like Stalin, Ceau§escu, Mao and Pol Pot.

“It was flesh-arid-blood Communism that imposed wholesale repression, culminating in a state-sponsored reign of terror”, writes Stéphane Courtois, coauthor of the contentious Black Book of Communism. “Is the ideology itself blameless?”. Of course it is not. It doesn’t follow that all forms of Communism are inherently genocidal, as some have gleefully claimed, but it was certainly an interpretation of Communist theory that was doctrinaire, authoritarian, and contemptuous of pluralism that led to Stalin’s purges and to Mao’s reeducation camps. Authoritarian Communism is, and should be, forever tainted by those real-world laboratories.

But what of the contemporary crusade to liberate world markets? The coups, wars and slaughters to install and maintain pro-corporate regimes have never been treated as capitalist crimes but have instead been written off as the excesses of overzealous dictators, as hot fronts of the Cold War, and now of the War on Terror. If the most committed opponents of the corporatist economic model are systematically eliminated, whether in Argentina in the seventies or in Iraq today, that suppression is explained as part of the dirty fight against Communism or terrorism —almost never as the fight for the advancement of pure capitalism.

I am not arguing that all forms of market systems are inherently violent. It is eminently possible to have a market-based economy that requires no such brutality and demands no such 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—like 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.

Keynes proposed exactly that kind of mixed, regulated economy after the Great Depression, a revolution in public policy that created the New Deal and transformations like it around the world. It was exactly that system of compromises, checks and balances that Friedman’s counterrevolution was launched to methodically dismantle in country after country. Seen in that light, the Chicago School strain of capitalism does indeed have something in common with other dangerous ideologies: the signature desire for unattainable purity, for a clean slate on which to build a reengineered model society.

This desire for godlike powers of total creation is precisely why free-market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters. Nonapocalyptic reality is simply not hospitable to their ambitions. For thirty-five years, what has animated Friedman’s counterrevolution is an attraction to a kind of freedom and possibility 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.

Blank Is Beautiful: Three Decades of Erasing and Remaking the World
PART 1, Two Doctor Shocks: Research and Development
1- The Torture Lab: Ewen Cameron, the CIA and the Maniacal Quest to Erase and Remake the Human Mind
2- The Other Doctor Shock: Milton Friedman and the Search for a Laissez-Faire Laboratory
PART 2, The First Test: Birth Pangs
3- States of Shock: The Bloody Birth of the Counterrevolution
4- Cleaning the Slate: Terror Does Its Work
5- “Entirely Unrelated”: How an Ideology Was Cleansed of Its Crimes
PART 3, Surviving Democracy: Bombs Made of Laws
6- Saved by a War: Thatcherism and Its Useful Enemies
7- The New Doctor Shock: Economic Warfare Replaces Dictatorship
8- Crisis Works: The Packaging of Shock Therapy
PART 4, Lost in Transition: While We Wept, While We Trembled, While We Danced
9- Slamming the Door on History: A Crisis in Poland, a Massacre in China
10- Democracy Born in Chains: South Africa’s Constricted Freedom
11- Bonfire of a Young Democracy: Russia Chooses “The Pinochet Option”
12- The Capitalist Id: Russia and the New Era of the Boor Market
13- Let It Burn: The Looting of Asia and “The Fall of a Second Berlin Wall”
PART 5, Shocking Times: The Rise of the Disaster Capitalism Complex
14- Shock Therapy in the U.S.A.: The Homeland Security Bubble
15- A Corporatist State: Removing the Revolving Door, Putting in an Archway
PART 6, Iraq, Full Circle: Overshock
16- Erasing Iraq: In Search of a “Model” for the Middle East
17- Ideological Blowback: A Very Capitalist Disaster
18- Full Circle: From Blank Slate to Scorched Earth
PART 7, The Movable Green Zone: Buffer Zones and Blast Walls
19- Blanking the Beach: “The Second Tsunami”
20- Disaster Apartheid: A World of Green Zones and Red Zones
21- Losing the Peace Incentive: Israel as Warning
Shock Wears Off: The Rise of People’s Reconstruction