The bestselling author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies argues that by capitalizing on crises, created by nature or war, the disaster-capitalism complex now exists as a booming new economy, and is the violent culmination of a radical economic project that has been incubating for 50 years.
There are very few books that really help us understand the present. The Shock Doctrine is one of those books. Ranging across the world, Klein exposes the strikingly similar policies that enabled the imposition of free markets in countries as different as Pinochet's Chile, Yeltsin's Russia, China and post-Saddam Iraq. Part of the power of this book comes from the parallels she observes in seemingly unrelated developments ... Yet I remain unconvinced that the corporations Klein berates throughout the book understand, let alone control, the anarchic global capitalism that has been allowed to develop over the past couple of decades—any more than the neo-liberal ideologues who helped create it foresaw where it would lead. Rightly, Klein insists that free market ideology must bear responsibility for the crimes committed on its behalf—just as Marxist ideology must be held to account for the crimes of communism. But she says remarkably little about the illusions by which neo-liberal ideologues were themselves blinded.
In an early chapter, Klein compares radical capitalist economic policy to shock therapy administered by psychiatrists ... The connection with a rogue C.I.A. scientist is overdramatic and unconvincing, but for Klein the larger lessons are clear ... Klein is not an academic and cannot be judged as one. There are many places in her book where she oversimplifies. But [Milton] Friedman and the other shock therapists were also guilty of oversimplification ... the case against [their] policies is even stronger than the one Klein makes ... she travels the world to find out firsthand what really happened on the ground during the privatization of Iraq, the aftermath of the Asian tsunami, the continuing Polish transition to capitalism and the years after the African National Congress took power in South Africa, when it failed to pursue the redistributionist policies enshrined in the Freedom Charter, its statement of core principles. These chapters are the least exciting parts of the book, but they are also the most convincing ... Some readers may see Klein’s findings as evidence of a giant conspiracy, a conclusion she explicitly disavows. It’s not the conspiracies that wreck the world but the series of wrong turns, failed policies, and little and big unfairnesses that add up. Still ... Klein ends on a hopeful note, describing nongovernmental organizations and activists around the world who are trying to make a difference.
Klein is an energetic and insatiably curious traveller who seems to have something vivid and illuminating to report about almost every part of the world. Some might feel, however, that she skips lightly over evidence that complicates her narrative of innocence besieged by corruption. It would be unfair to suggest that if she hadn’t believed it, she wouldn’t have seen it with her own eyes. But her high-altitude generalizations seem less fresh than her ground-level observations ... Klein is willing to go [far] to deny the decisive role of imbecility and obliviousness in the making of the Iraqi disaster ... Klein’s basic argument is curiously difficult to follow. One problem is her conflation of free-market ideology with corporate greed ... Some of the most memorable passages in Klein’s book describe stunning examples of influence peddling, sweetheart deals, kickbacks, corporate scams, nepotism, fraudulent overcharging, cronyism, asset seizures and electoral corruption ... This hope that ordinary people will ‘at last’ take control of large historical processes may explain, by backward reasoning, why Klein assumes that such processes are now tightly controlled by a predatory elite adhering to a sinister doctrine. If that were the case, then refuting ‘the shock doctrine’ would be a first step towards wresting control of world history from the corporate masters. Unfortunately, the developments she so tellingly describes, such as the proliferation of barricades and other techniques for managing class conflict, have deeper and more impersonal roots than greed and ideology. Current trends may be stymied or reversed, but, if this happens, Klein’s admirable aspirations for democracy and justice are not very likely to play much of a role.