Friday, January 04, 2008

The Shock Doctrine

Book Report time! I haven't read any good new books in a while so I was pretty excited when my sisters BF gave me a book for christmas. Yes I get excited by a book, I'm a dork, and I'm ok with that. So the book is The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism by Naomi Klein. And I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

This summary is going to be crap because whats great about the book is not simply the telling of horrific scenes of injustice but the way in which it is all tied together behind one simple vision. Suddenly minor things like the Iraq war and the aftermath of Katrina will come into a whole new light not because you didn't know about them before but because you soon realize that from the view of those in power both have been smashingly successful. Like I said many of the individual stories starting with the rise of Pinochet in Chile, Russia under Yeltsin, the collapse of the Asian Tigers, Iraq you've probably heard before but this ties them together in a profoundly disturbing way. And to no surprise its about money, lots and lots and lots of money. The central theme is Milton Friedman's view that unregulated free markets are the answer to all of our problems, unfortunately reality hasn't been terribly kind to Friedman's vision, or more accurately his vision hasn't been very kind to reality. He may have won a Nobel Prize but it sure as fuck wasn't the Peace prize, plus he won that honor before being able to try it much in the real world.

A point that I find very striking in the book is when it talks of the horrible rein of the communist dictators and how the atrocities committed have stained every idea connected with them. Yet when dictators like Augusto Pinochet commit atrocities in the name of absolute capitalism there is no backlash against capitalism what-so-ever. To be fair the atrocities of the communist regimes have death tolls similar to the holocaust and the atrocities of capitalism pale in comparison, sort of. The difference is that the communist atrocities were black and white, here is a million corpses that were directly killed by their own leaders its easy to connect those dots, just follow the path of the bullet. The atrocities of capitalism are slightly more detached and have therefore been able to shrug off most attacks. Stalin sent people to Siberia to die, Friedman simply plundered the wealth of nations until people died. The fact the millions were fired from their jobs while simultaneously stripping away public safety nets were simply policy issues to ensure a maximum of economic freedom for the market, if it happened to send preventable deaths soaring that was not their fault, Milton didn't kill them, he simply ensured that their survival would be nearly impossible. The fact that his vision knowingly creates an "excess population" is generally ignored.
One thing that worried me was as I started running low on pages and things simply kept getting worse and worse, is this book really going to finish by saying that we have no hope to correct such injustices? But at the last minute she turns the corner and points to the third way, democratic socialism. The best example of this is of course the democratically elected "dictators" of south america. She points out that this is where the shock doctrine was first tried so it is not surprising that they are the first to recover. Plus some of the south american countries had been working on a similar model with great success just prior to their involuntary capitalist experiment.

I know I cannot really do this book justice in a quick review but I need to spell out a little bit more. There is something centrally anti-democratic about capitalism. Can democratic capitalism even exist without force? Maybe at the time our constitution was drafted there were few enough large corporations that the idea of CEO taking over the government had not occurred to them, which makes sense because corporations were far more limited in their power prior to the civil war and the 14th amendment. Not all of what I'm saying is in the book, but the book got me thinking about this stuff thats bounces around in my head so in that sense it's about the book. The idea of a democracy is power of by and for the people. I think everyone agrees that the economy is a pretty central part of power, so by that rational shouldn't the economy be controlled of by and for the people, all the people. Not just the few at the pinnacle of the food chain. So what would an economy of by and for the people be? Well it would be socialist, sorta. People need the freedom to start their own businesses thats part of freedom. But as the courts have said, your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins. You have economic rights, until they step on the economic rights of the community at large. Plus it just seems common sense to me that natural resources should be for the good of society. How can anyone person claim to own oil thats under the land of a thousand people? That is called theft. It seems only right that non-renewable recourses should be controlled by an institution accountable to the people, and at least in theory that institution would be the government. Now we just need to work on the accountability... But I've already mentioned my thoughts on how we take our government back.

This is a great book and I highly recomend it anyone who has been wondering what the fuck bush has been thinking all these years. It turns out he's not as stupid as some like to think, but he and the whole neo-con movement, are even far more evil than previously realized.


Dave McRitchie said...

Fine sight. Very good review of Klein's very important book. Here's a link to my review of the same.

Rob the Granola Guy said...

Sweet. I wonder if it's on CD yet so I can "read" it in the car.

Right now I'm reading another pretty good book, "American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury" by Kevin Phillips.

It too, kinda links all the stuff you knew was horrible together into an even more horrible pattern. I'll review as soon as I finish it.

Kilgore Trout said...

Sounds good. I'll definitely want to check out that review when you're done. Thanks

Justin [Blog4Brains] said...

This sounds like an interesting read. It sounds similar to the documentary "The Corporation". Which was a very enlightening experience to say the least. Much of what you say correlates with this article.

Kilgore Trout said...

I loved that movie, well sorta...

This book is interesting because it puts a human face on so much of this misery. Did you ever see Enron: the smartest guys in the room, and Wal-Mart: the high cost of low prices? Enron was way better because it doesn't just show what Enron did, it showed the faces behind Enron and what they personally did. The Corporation did alright with that, this book does it better. It shows the individuals who helped secure corporations as the predominant power in our times. It also pretty strongly suggests we move towards a socialist democracy, or at least very tightly regulated capitalism with critical functions in the hands of the state. Personally I like the idea of a mixed economy, tightly regulated capitalism for the most part with democratic control over critical functions and non-renewable resources. I don't really understand how a company can claim to own the oil under someone elses land... Shit I just realized a fatal flaw. If we put control of the US oil in the hands of "the people" they'll pump that shit dry in 5 years. I'd be a good theory if we weren't a country of idiots.

So we should also work on our education system before we enact any of this.