The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
Sit Down and Read
One Line Summary
The Dirty, Swept Under the Rug Secrets About Capitalism
Do you think we live under a perfect economic system?
I can remember I become suspicious of capitalism during the economic global meltdown in 2008. I saw hard working, well-off people who suddenly were scared for their life. After not having to worry much about money for my whole life growing up, suddenly scarcity of money became a reality.
Shortly after, I ended up studying economics at Rutgers University. I loved the global perspective that economics took and was fascinated by what happened in 2008.
Most of all, I wanted to know how. How could it be that capitalism, which was supposed to be the best thing man ever invented, could fail so miserably at its job of keeping people financially secure and happy?
Nothing I was learning in school seemed to have the answer. There were generally two responses I saw from my professors:
- Economic recessions (like 2008) were part of a normal and natural correcting process. Overtime, things would eventually stabilize. Nothing needs to be changed
- Things do need to be changed, and if the government would just enact X policy, then things would be fixed
Essentially, it’s the old debate between Classical and Keynesian economists. One wants the government to do more, the other side wants the government to do less. In the end, we usually end up with not much happening at all.
I didn’t doubt my professors’ understanding of economic theory, but the reality was that no one was asking the meta-level question: what if capitalism itself is the problem?
By not asking this question, we were able to avoid any real change.
This led me to a man named Richard D Wolff. He was an economist who was interested in the systemic change of capitalism. It was a refreshing perspective and seemed to address the real issue.
My interest in studying capitalism has not faded since then. This is such an important issue that effects not only our own lives, but the lives of everyone around the globe.
We have become a global economy. We can’t pretend that when one country faces a financial crisis that it doesn’t affect us anymore. We are all linked, and either we prosper together or burn together.
So enter Naomi Klein.
Naomi Klein is a journalist that has been speaking out against capitalism for over a decade now. One of her most popular books is The Shock Doctrine, which is what I’m reviewing right now.
The premise of The Shock Doctrine is that governments use what Klein calls ”economic shock therapy” as a way of aiding corporate interests. By stripping a country of regulation and its social safety nets, unchecked free-market capitalism is allowed to reign.
This does not turn out well for the inhabitants of this shock therapy to say the least. But corporations are able to make huge profits in this “anything goes” situation. So it is continually justified and pushed on unwilling masses of people.
Why it’s Awesome
If you’ve ever studied how systems work, you know that counter-balancing forces are an essential ingredient.
For example, in our American political system, we use what’s called checks and balances. The Executive Branch’s power is checked by the Judicial Branch, which is checked by the Legislative Branch, which is checked by the Executive Branch, etc etc.
In The Shock Doctrine, Klein exposes what happens to capitalism when it has no balances. This wild-west version of capitalism, called free-market capitalism, was championed by economist Milton Friedman and has academic cohorts known as the Chicago Boys.
According to Klein, Friedman and his ideological followers believed that an economic crisis presented a great opportunity for economic growth. Thus, they would “shock” a country by releasing price / currency controls, trade liberalization and large scale privatization.
The result would be a free market capitalist utopia. Private corporations would be able to create as much profit as possible without the counter balance of regulation.
Friedman and his followers argued that this crises would be short and self-correcting. This proved not to hold up to reality.
One of the first countries economic shock therapy was introduced to was Chile in the 1970s. An Untied States back coup was staged, overthrowing democratic president Salavador Allende and installing military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Pinochet had be trained in Chicago Boy ideology. Friedman later claimed that his policies were a success, referring to it as the “Miracles of Chile”. And while there were certainly profits made by the richest corporations, Klein argues that these profits came almost entirely at the expense of the lower and middle class.
This is a theme we see repeated throughout Klein’s work. Rather than economic shock therapy creating some sort of economic utopia, it’s simply a massive continuation of the old adage: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.
While the upper class receives more profit, the lower class is left with decayed infrastructure, massive unemployment and declining incomes. It’s a tale as old as time for anyone who has studied the history of capitalism.
For instance, who ultimately footed the bill to bail out the large banks on Wall Street during 2008? It was the government, which is the same thing as saying the general American populous.
Klein goes through many other historical examples of economic shock therapy and its failures. But perhaps the most telling was Klein’s analysis of the 2003 Iraq invasion.
I remember being too young to really understand what was happening when the U.S invaded Iraq. But one thing I do remember was this: people were pissed.
There were large numbers of people who believed that the war in Iraq was not really about “fighting terrorism”. That this was essentially a smokescreen for the true motivations behind the U.S war in Iraq, which were economic.
I know this may be beginning to border on conspiracy theory, but it’s actually well documented. Klein lays out entire timeline in the book. In fact, one of the reasons that this book is so hard to dismiss is because it is so meticulously researched.
Whether you agree with everything Klein is saying is not the point. Just the fact that someone actually went out, examined this controversial yet important issue and had the courage to publish it in a book is impressive to me. I really give Klein credit.
Why Does It Suck
Capitalism is nothing more than the manifestation of our collective consciousness. So don’t get so sucked into this book that you forget that true change starts from within. If you don’t like what our capitalistic system is doing, you must go INWARD first and see what’s inside you that may be contributing to this.
The problem with thinking that you’re just this independent entity that doesn’t affect the whole is that when EVERYONE thinks this way, it creates massive chaos. Plus, your actions set in motion a whole chain of events that is so complex, it would be impossible to measure it all.
Raise your own consciousness first. Heal your own wounds and fears if you truly want to change this system for the better.
Any economic systemic change that comes without a shift in consciousness will just end up like socialism in the USSR. The people didn’t change, so they manifested essentially an equally shitty, if not worse, reality.
The Wrap Up
This book requires an extremely strong stomach and desire for facts. The truth might set you free, but it’s going to disturb the hell out of you first.
For most people, they’re so caught up in their own problems that to read a book like this would seem absolutely pointless. I know because I’ve been that way myself.
But you hit a point where you can’t just care about yourself anymore. There’s too much carnage going on in the world, and I’ve made the choice that I want to spend my time helping others in my own way.
If nothing else, read this book just to educate yourself. You can’t claim to be self-actualizing and have no clue what is going on in the world. And conversations evoked by books like The Shock Doctrine are what we need.