Since the 1970s the nature of global capitalism has changed dramatically. From the end of World War II until roughly 1973, the liberal/social democratic welfare state was the reigning economic and political arrangement of the advanced capitalist West, and government-led developmentalism predominated in formerly colonial lands in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. However, since the 1970s, conservative free-market approaches to economics and politics have largely prevailed around the world, as embodied by figures like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and the late economist Milton Friedman. How did this happen? In The Shock Doctrine, Klein argues that this transition did not take place democratically, but rather through the exploitation of "disaster-shocked people and countries." It's worth quoting at length from Klein's website in order to understand the main thrust of her argument:
"At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts.... New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters -- to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy. Sometimes, when the first two shocks don’t succeed in wiping out resistance, a third shock is employed: the electrode in the prison cell or the Taser gun on the streets. "
Klein also collaborated with noted Mexican film director Alfonso Cuaron to produce a rather stylish short film to promote the book and popularize its thesis. Take a look:
To get this discussion started, I'd like to pose a few questions:
- Is it accurate to argue that conservative, free-market economics was simply imposed on people and countries by corporate and political elites without democratic consent? Is Klein advancing a conspiracy theory rather than a rigorous historical and theoretical analysis?
- Does Klein stretch her concept of "shock therapy" too far to fit certain events and historical processes into her argument? Does the exploitation of "shock and awe" always work, as she seems to imply, or is it sometimes unsuccessful?
- How has the economic crisis affected the validity of Klein's argument (if at all)? Is the Reagan era really over with the election of Barack Obama, as many have claimed, and is there a possibility of "shock therapy" being used in the service of more liberal/social democratic approaches to political and economic policy?
Feel free to comment on any other aspect of the book you'd like to as well. I'm looking forward to a great discussion with all of you!