The Shock Doctrine 1: The Erased World

by matttbastard

Introduction: Blank is Beautiful

Three decades of erasing and remaking the world

The Shock Doctrine opens with a quote from the Book of Genesis, chapter 6, verse 11:

Now the Earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the rest of the earth.

(Creative) destruction in order to cleanse the world of corruption.

What happens when neoliberal economic theory is applied–in many cases through violent, often horrific coercion? Naomi Klein begins her best-selling chronicle of  capitalist Utopianism run amok in post-Katrina Louisiana, where Milton Friedman, revolutionary evangelist of coolly amoral free market fundamentalism, sees an opportunity in Katrina’s destructive wake:

“[I]nstead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they then could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state.”

The result?

Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it just ran 4. Before the storm, there had been 7 charter schools in the city; now there were 31.

Klein refers to this sort of opportunistic, ideologically-motivated renewal project ‘disaster capitalism’, noting that, over the past several decades, “Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock.”


It’s a theme Klein continually examines and reexamines throughout the book–and not simply  in a metaphorical sense, as I will discuss further in later installments.

What stood out most for me in the introduction was how effectively Klein weaves together seemingly disparate strands of neoliberal economics, US foreign policy, and experimental psychology into a coherent thesis.  She manages to avoid the logical inconsistencies of conspiracy theory,  meticulously spreading the foundation for her thesis and taking advantage of her background as an investigative journalist to provide ample support for her contentions.

A few minor quibbles aside (The Cato Insitute is not a ‘neoconservative’ think tank, as Klein dubs it, but, rather, a right-leaning libertarian organization that, contrary to her insinuations, opposed the war in Iraq), the introduction provides both an expansive overview of the themes Klein will explore more in depth in subsequent chapters and an inspiring call-to-arms for those of us who have looked on in horror at the wreckage (both psychological and physical) that has been left behind after decades of neoliberal shock therapy.

If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out Sarah’s first post–and, please, don’t hesitate to offer your own thoughts, opinions, and observations in comments.  We want this to be an interactive dialogue, and look forward over the coming weeks to having you all read along with us.

Next week: The Torture Lab: Ewan Cameron, the CIA and the maniacal quest to erase and remake the human mind

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

4 thoughts on “The Shock Doctrine 1: The Erased World

  1. I do feel that Klein shoved a lot into that introduction and as a historian, there’s a lot of connections over space and time that make me a little uncomfortable. Yet as you say, it all basically makes sense. It is a very coherent thesis, not because she is fiddling with facts, but because it just makes a lot of sense.

    May Milton Friedman burn in hell. Hopefully being tortured himself by Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.


  2. Part 1 of a series, no? A good idea. This book is a valuable tool through which to see current history unfold – news items often remind me of it.


  3. This is a great service. I read the book some time ago. I’m looking forward to the reaction of historians to it, both here and at Sarah J’s (and Erik’s) place. The book is not history — I don’t think it even attempts to be. I think of it more as a muckraking adventure, maybe journalism with an explicit point of view. I’ll dig the book out shortly (it’s right around here somewhere, maybe in that box with unread book reviews) but I remember being astonished and uncomfortable with the electro-shock metaphor. I was also a little uncertain of her failure to follow uo on the South American experiences as the Chicago boys fell in and out f favor, so I’m looking forward to this blogosphere style discussion.


  4. The book will really change the way you view news items. In particular, what is NOT covered in the American mainstream media. I was already headed in that direction when I read the book. I thought she might have called it Economics for Dummies, but I tend to be a bit more cynical since I switched to non-fiction on September 12, 2001.


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