Reviewing Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine"
By Stephen Lendman
09/20/07 "ICH" -- -- Naomi Klein is an award-winning Canadian
journalist, author, documentary filmmaker and activist. She
writes a regular column for The Nation magazine and London
Guardian that's syndicated internationally by the New York Times
Syndicate that gives people worldwide access to her work but not
its own readers at home.
In 2004, she and her husband and co-producer Avi Lewis released
their first feature documentary - "The Take." It covered the
explosion of activism in the wake of Argentina's 2001 economic
crisis. People responded with neighborhood assemblies, barter
clubs, mass movements of the unemployed and workers taking over
bankrupt companies and reopening them under their own
Klein is also the author of three books. Her first was "No Logo
- Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies" (2000) that analyzes the
destructive forces of globalization. Next came "Fences and
Windows - Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization
Debate" (2002) covering the global revolt against corporate
Her newest book just out is "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of
Disaster Capitalism" that explodes the myth of "free market"
democracy. It shows how neoliberal Washington Consensus
fundamentalism dominates the world with America its lead
exponent exploiting security threats, terror attacks, economic
meltdowns, competing ideologies, tectonic political or economic
shifts, and natural disasters to impose its will everywhere.
Wars are waged, social services cut, and freedom sacrificed when
people are too distracted, cowed or bludgeoned to object. Klein
describes a worldwide process of social and economic engineering
she calls "disaster capitalism" with torture along for the ride
to reinforce the message - no "New World Order" alternatives are
"Free market" triumphalism is everywhere - from Canada to
Brazil, China to Bulgaria, Russia to South Africa, Vietnam to
Iraq. In all cases, the results are the same. People are
sacrificed for profits and Margaret Thatcher's dictum applies -
"there is no alternative."
"The Shock Doctrine" is a powerful tour de force, four years of
on-the-ground research in the making and well worth the wait. In
an age of corporatism partnered with corrupted political elites,
it's must reading by an author now firmly established as a major
intellectual figure on the left and champion of social justice.
Naomi Klein is all that and more. Even for those familiar with
her topics, the book is stunning, revealing, unforgetable and
essential to know. This review will cover a healthy sample of
what's in store for readers in the full equisitely written text.
It's in seven parts with a concluding section. Each will be
discussed below starting with a brief introduction.
Introduction - Blank Is Beautiful: Three Decades of Erasing and
Remaking the World (into Hell)
New Orleans, post-Katrina, is a metaphor for an American-style
"New World Order" with unfettered capitalism unleashed in its
most savage form. Klein quotes Republican congressman Richard
Baker telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing
in New Orleans. We couldn't do it but God did." And New Orleans
developer Joseph Canizaro added: "I think we have a clean sheet
to start again (and take advantage of) big opportunities." Their
scheme is erasing communities and replacing them with upscale
condos and other high-profit projects on choice city real estate
at the expense of the poor mother nature forced out and
government won't allow back.
Enter the "grand guru" of free-wheeling capitalism, then age 93
and in failing health. This was conservative/libertarian
economist Milton Friedman's moment that he first articulated in
his 1962 book "Capitalism and Freedom." His thesis: "only a
crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When a
crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas
that are lying around....our basic function
(is) to develop alternatives to existing policies
(ones Friedman rejects, and have them ready to roll out when
the) the impossible becomes politically inevitable." Klein calls
crises "democracy-free zones," and Friedman's thesis "the shock
doctrine." For New Orleans it means "permanent reforms" like
destroying public housing and issuing vouchers for privatized
schools in lieu of rebuilding public ones with government
For Friedman, government's sole function is "to protect our
freedom both from (outside) enemies....and from our
fellow-citizens." It's to "preserve law and order (as well as)
enforce private contracts, (and) foster competitive markets." In
his view, anything else in public hands is socialism that for
"free market" fundamentalists like Friedman is blasphemy.
Until 1973, Friedman's radical doctrine stayed in his classroom,
but all that changed on an earlier September 11. Following
General Augusto Pinochet's bloody ascent to power, he had a real
life laboratory as advisor to the new Chilean dictator. His
prescription came to be known as the "Chicago School" revolution
of rapid-fire economic transformation he called "shock
treatment," now known as "shock therapy." It's an economic
version of "destroy(ing) the village (and country) to save it"
from the Vietnam era and nearly as harsh.
Millions know its lessons, but Friedman's not their hero. It's
central tenets are structurally adjusted mass-privatizations,
government deregulation, unrestricted free market access for
foreign corporations, and deep cuts in social spending with
repressive laws, harsh crackdowns and torture along for the ride
to reinforce the core tenet Reaganites call "trickle down" and
Brits call "Thatcherism."
Its recipients call it hell, and Klein explains why - in Chile,
Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Russia, the
Falklands, Poland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Orleans, Israel,
and coming to a neocon-occupied homeland neighborhood near you.
It's "disaster capitalism" unleashed, and business is booming.
Klein cites insiders saying opportunities are on a par with a
thriving "emerging market...."the deals are even better than the
dot-com days, and the 'the security bubble' picked up the slack
when those earlier bubbles popped."
Reaganomics adherents are today's neoconservatives with the
"full force of the US military machine
(serving their unfettered) corporate agenda" of greed writ
large. Its holy policy trinity is: "elimination of the public
sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social
spending (if any at all)." But instead of lifting all boats as
promised, it's mirror opposite. It creates a powerful ruling
corporatist class partnered with corrupted political elites -
"with hazy and ever-shifting lines between the two groups."
Russia got billionaire "oligarchs," China "the princelings,"
Chile "the piranhas," and America the Bush-Cheney "Pioneers."
Everywhere, the scheme is the same: huge public wealth transfers
to private hands, exploding public debt most often, "an
ever-widening chasm between the dazzling rich and disposable
poor, and an aggressive nationalism (like George Bush's
permanent "war on terrorism" and the world) that justifies
bottomless spending on security." "Inside the bubble" is
paradise. Outside, however, is hell with "aggressive
surveillance, mass incarceration, shrinking civil liberties," a
declining standard of living, and repression and torture
reinforcing the message to non-believers.
Klein calls the harshness "a metaphor of the shock doctrine's
underlying logic." When applied, it induces a state of "deep
disorientation," and shock to force targets "to make concessions
against their will." The "shock doctrine" works the same way on
a mass scale, and the 9/11 experience proved it. It exploded the
"familiar world" and created a period of disorientation and
regression the Bush administration jumped on abroad and at home.
As Klein put it: "Suddenly we found ourselves living in a kind
of Year Zero (with) everything we knew of the world before
(now) dismissed as 'pre-9/11' thinking." We became a "blank
slate, a clean sheet of paper," and the administration did what
was impossible before. It's how the "shock doctrine" works: "the
(terror attack, war, hurricane, market meltdown) puts the entire
population into a state of collective shock" enabling policy
manipulators to move in for the kill to remake the world in
their image and get it done before the shock wears off.
Part 1 - Two Doctor Shocks - Torture and Chicago School
Following a crisis shock, another quickly follows. The corporate
piranhas exploit disorientation with economic "shock therapy"
along with "police, soldiers and prison interrogators" with
torture their method of choice "to build a model country (by)
erasing people and then trying to remake them from scratch."
Klein reviews the history of CIA's interest in torture as a way
to control the human mind. It began with the Montreal doctor
they funded to perform "bizarre experiments on his psychiatric
patients (by) keeping them asleep and in isolation for weeks,
then administering huge doses of electroshock (plus)
experimental (psychedelic LSD and hallucinogen PCP angel dust)
The experiments were performed at McGill University's Allan
Memorial Institute by Dr. Ewen Cameron even though they clearly
violated all standards of medical ethics using human guinea pigs
without their permission with permanent damage their reward.
Cameron believed by blasting the human brain with an array of
shocks, he could "unmake and erase faulty minds, then rebuild
(on a blank slate) new personalities" cleansed of their previous
nature. It was voodoo science, and it failed. His patients were
his victims, but CIA gained a wealth of knowledge it now employs
with no pangs of conscience or regard for ethics.
Klein traces CIA's interest in mind manipulation to a
1951 trinational meeting of intelligence agencies and academics
in Montreal when concern was that Communists could brainwash
POWs to control them. That was when the spy agency engaged
Canadian researchers to learn how, and one of them was Dr.
Donald Hebb, director of psychology at McGill, who was working
on the problem. Intelligence agencies were impressed enough with
his work to fund classified sensory-deprivation experiments on
volunteer McGill students.
They proved intensive isolation interferes with clear thinking
enough to make people more receptive to suggestion. They were
also "formidable interrogation techniques" amounting to torture
that Hebb knew violated medical ethics. He later characterized
Cameron's work as "criminally stupid," but CIA got what it
wanted - a way to interrogate "resistant sources" in a "new age
of precise, refined torture, not the gory, inexact" kind from
the Spanish Inquisition or what Nazis and other tyrants often
practiced. Cameron's experiments with human guinea pigs built on
Hebb's earlier work laying the foundation for CIA's "two-stage
psychological torture method" of sensory deprivation followed by
sensory overload. University of Wisconsin historian Alfred McCoy
in his book, "A Question of Torture" on CIA interrogation,
called it "the first real revolution in the cruel science of
pain in more than three centuries."
Pre-9/11, these techniques were freely used covertly as any form
of abuse or torture violates the Geneva, UN and other statutes
prohibiting these practices as well as the US Army's own Uniform
Code of Military Justice barring "cruelty" and "oppression" of
prisoners. No longer, as "On September 11, 2001, that longtime
insistence on plausible deniability went out the window" as well
as any claim this nation respects the law and rights of free
people everywhere. What once was done sub rosa or by proxy is
now condoned and authorized at the highest levels of government
on the fraudulent claim of national security to hide the real
aim of social control.
Klein notes torture is still technically banned in the US, but
only when pain is the "equivalent in intensity to (what
accompanies) serious physical injury, such as organ failure."
Simply put, anything goes, but it's not put that way. In Iraq,
it was thought "shock and awe" would be so stunning, Iraqis
"would go into a kind of suspended animation." A second makeover
Chicago School fundamentalism shock could then be imposed on a
blank post-invasion slate, and bingo, mission accomplished.
Klein notes "there was no blank slate, only rubble and
shattered, angry people" who were blasted with more shocks when
they resisted. Like Cameron and his experiments, "Iraq's shock
doctors can destroy, but they can't seem to rebuild," and the
same is true wherever these shock doctors show up.
Milton Friedman and the Search for a Laissez-Faire Factory
The epicenter of shock ideology is the University of Chicago
Economics Department. It came out of the 1950s "in the thrall"
(of a) man on a mission to fundamentally revolutionize his
profession," and on that score Milton Friedman succeeded
mightily. Friedman, now gone, believed, markets work efficiently
and best unfettered of rules, regulations, onerous taxes, trade
barriers, entrenched interests, and human interference. Whereas
Cameron believed electroshocks could restore natural health,
Friedman favored economic shock as extreme and destructive to
nations as Cameron and CIA's methods are to human minds.
Friedman taught this voodoo science and believed to the end, all
contrary evidence aside, it was perfect and worked. Chicago
School fundamentalism developed at a post-war time in the 1950s
when leftist ideas supporting worker rights were gaining ground.
Where they "promised (workers) freedom from bosses, citizens
from dictatorship (and) countries from colonialism," Friedman
promised "individual freedom" to choose that appealed to owners
of capital who embraced him and his thinking.
It stood in stark contrast to what became known as "developmentalism"
or "Third World nationalism" in the post-war developing world.
Economists in it favored an "inward-oriented industrialization"
strategy to break the cycle of poverty and grow. Like Keynesians
and social democrats, they showed it worked in Latin America's
Southern Cone with leaders like Juan Peron "put(ting) their
ideas into practice with a vengeance
(by) pouring public money into infrastructure projects,
(providing) local businesses generous subsidies, and keeping out
foreign imports with....high tariffs." It brought prosperity to
the South and "dark days" for Friedman, his acolytes, and
free-wheeling capitalists losing out to social progress.
It sprung corporate America to action by funding a legion of
think tank and Chicago School foot soldiers to change the
message and fortunes of their businesses. Friedman was their
ideological leader preaching public wealth should be in private
hands, rules and regulations out the window, accumulation of
profits unrestrained, and social welfare programs curtailed or
abolished. In short - deregulate, privatize and get government
out of the business of everything besides providing security and
enforcing contracts. He also believed taxes were onerous and
once said he was "in favor of cutting (them) under any
circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's
He also said corporations should be exempt from federal taxes
claiming what they pay ends up in consumer prices that, in fact,
is pure nonsense as every marketing MBA (like this writer)
learns straightaway. The fundamental law of pricing is to charge
what the market will bear, no more or less. In other words, get
all you can but no more than buyers will pay. Soon enough they'd
pay plenty in the developing world.
In 1953, the US declared war against "developmentalism" with
CIA's first ever coup against Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran.
Another followed the next year in Guatemala, and in both
instances democratically elected leaders were ousted because
corporate interests opposed them. It was only the beginning, and
Friedman and his "Chicago Boys" soon had a real time laboratory
to prove their "capitalist utopia" worked.
Salvador Allende's Popular Unity government electoral victory in
1970 was the opportunity. Three years later he was out giving
Friedman the chance he wanted. Klein related the results in what
she called "the first Chicago School state" with others to
follow. They're all the same with "an unstoppable hurricane of
mutually reinforcing destruction and reconstruction, erasure and
creation" following the crisis. Next is unfettered economic
shock therapy with torture and disappearances awaiting resisters
and anyone guilty of bad thinking. Friedman's brave new world
was beginning to roll. It's devastation is everywhere including
Part 2 - The First Test - The Bloody Birth of the
Counterrevolution began 34 years ago in Chile on another
September 11 that should have been unimaginable and had to seem
surreal. There were tanks in the streets and fighter jets
attacking government buildings in a scene all too real and
deadly. It played out in Santiago and around Chile and was just
the beginning of a long nightmare. It brought General Augusto
Pinochet to power (with plenty of CIA help) who called his
action "a war," not a coup, and to reinforce his message he made
it seem like one. Blood in the streets, the presidential palace
in flames, and President Salvador Allende dead ended the most
vibrant democracy in the Americas. It was a cakewalk with "the
junta's grand battle over by mid-afternoon."
A state of siege was imposed followed by mass arrests, killings
and torture in a climate of fear that enveloped the country.
Allende supporters were targeted in Chile's "Caravan of Death."
Chileans paid dearly, but the Chicago Boys had their moment of
triumph, and they were ready. Rolling off the press was their
detailed economic manual for the new government called "The
Brick." It was a 500 page Chicago School shock therapy wish
list. It was "the first Chicago School state," its first "global
counterrevolution" victory, and "a genesis of terror" in a brave
new world for Chileans.
The economic playbook was right from Milton Friedman's
"Capitalism and Freedom" that's long on free market triumphalism
and void on its effects on real people. It was pure Friedman
featuring mass privatizations, deregulation and deep social
spending cuts flavored generously with corporate-friendly tax
cuts, trade unionist crackdowns, savage repression for
non-believers, and an end to Chile's social democratic state
Pinochet bought it along with a team of Chicago School alumni
called "technos." They embarked on a free market binge with
disastrous results. In the first year, inflation hit 375%,
thousands of Chileans lost jobs, the country was flooded with
cheap imports, local businesses closed and hunger grew along
with public and small business discontent in this free market
"paradise." In desperation, "it was time to call in the big
guns" with Milton Friedman coming to Santiago to reinforce his
message that for things to improve they first had to get worse.
It was classic shock treatment and Chicago School baloney with
Friedman preaching patience and promising an "economic miracle"
if his prescription was followed.
Pinochet agreed, and slash and burn followed with visions of
paradise at the end of the rainbow. It was pure untested
fantasy, and the results showed it. After one year of hardened
shock therapy, Chile's economy contracted 15%, unemployment
rocketed to 20%, and contrary to Friedman's rosy scenario it
lasted for years with no social safety net help for desperate
Klein notes Chile today is still cited as a model that free
market "Friedmanism" works in spite of the clear evidence it
doesn't. Growth did resume a decade later, but only after
conditions worsened. It forced Pinochet to reinstate Allende
policies like renationalizing privatized companies but not his
social democratic agenda. Chileans were left with the shambles.
When the economy stabilized and rapid growth resumed in the late
80s, poverty was 45%, but the richest 10% saw their incomes rise
by 83%. Even today, Klein notes, Chile remains one of the most
unequal societies in the world. It's shock therapy miracle
shifted "wealth to the top and shock(ed) much of the middle
class out of existence."
It's the way it works everywhere and a glimpse of the future:
"an urban bubble of frenetic speculation and dubious accounting
fueling superprofits and frantic consumerism, ringed by ghostly
factories and rotting infrastructure of a development past;
roughly half the population (excluded); out-of-control
corruption and cronyism; (decimated) nationally owned small and
medium-sized businesses; (mass) transfer of (public) wealth (and
resources) to private hands (accompanied by) a huge (shift) of
private debts into public hands." Inside the Chilean bubble was
paradise. Outside was "The Great Depression." Bubble-benefitters
reacted with "junkie logic: Where is the next fix?"
It was first across the border in other Latin American Southern
Cone countries where the "counterrevolution spread (and) people
vanish(ed)." Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay were targeted with
similar results as in Chile under juntas replacing democrats.
Chicago School fundamentalism was on a roll, and woe to the
non-believers. Nations that were developmentalism models became
wastelands with decades of worker gains lost almost overnight.
Factories closed, wages fell, unemployment soared, poverty grew
severe, dissenters disappeared, and ordinary people suffered to
prove what pin-stripped academics knew after Chile went sour.
Instead, it was on to the next target.
In them all, the slate was cleansed and terror unleashed,
unrestrained by national borders. Former Allende economist and
diplomat turned activist Marcos Orlando Letelier became a victim
in September, 1976. While living in Washington, he condemned
Chile's "economic freedom" for the privileged and paid with his
life. Pinochet's DINA secret police killed him and his American
colleague, Ronni Moffit, by remote-detonating a bomb planted
under his driver's seat. An FBI investigation learned the
assassins entered the country under false passports with full
CIA knowledge and complicity.
The purging included cleansing wrong ideas and thinkers like
legendary left wing Chilean folk singer, Victor Jara. He was
seized and taken to Chile's notorious National (killing and
torture) Stadium to be reeducated. Soldiers broke his hands so
he couldn't play the guitar. Then they shot him 44 times "to
make sure he couldn't inspire from....the grave." One culture
was being erased and replaced by another. As in Nazi Germany,
books were burned, newspapers and magazines shuttered,
universities occupied and strikes and political meetings banned.
Trade unionists were specially targeted as threats to the new
economic order. It's leaders were rounded up, movement members
viciously attacked, and "battalions" targeted workers in
factories. They were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and
disappeared in a sweeping reign of terror designed to crush
opposition and wrong-thinking.
In Argentina, Ford Motor Company's local subsidiary was
complicit. It helped soldiers and secret police rid unionists
from its factories and supplied vehicles as well. Green Ford
Falcon sedans became the feared symbol of terror an Argentine
playwright called "death-mobiles." Many thousands kidnapped and
disappeared rode off in these cars, never to return.
Farmers involved in land reform struggles also were targeted
along with anyone with "a vision of society built on values
other than pure profit." It affected community worker activists,
many church-connected, who wanted social services like health
care, public housing and education the state was erasing through
shock therapy and mass repression. Klein noted while "policies
attempted to excise collectivism from the culture,
inside....prisons (the practice was to) excise it from the mind
and spirit." The sickness was democratic socialism, the cure
pain and suffering. Wrong-thinkers were taught the hard way, and
many paid with their lives. Chicago School fundamentalism is
harsh medicine. Its grand guru, Milton Friedman, was
unrepentant. He called it "freedom" and took his mathematical
model miracle to the grave amidst a hail of undeserved eulogies.
In his memoirs before he died, his "blatant revisionism" on
Chile was shameful and disturbing. He falsely claimed Pinochet
only asked for help in 1975 when, in fact, the Chicago Boys
worked with the military before the 1973 coup, and their
policies were implemented on Pinochet's first day in power.
Friedman also claimed the junta's repressive years didn't undo
Chilean democracy. In his view, it opened up "more room for
individual initiative and for a private sphere of life (offering
a greater) chance of a return to a democratic society." It was
classic convoluted Chicago School thinking. It made him famous
courtesy of corporate triumphalism, generous funding and an
utter disdain for human rights and dignity.
Friedman also used his 1976 Nobel lecture to argue economics was
as scientifically accurate and objective as other sciences. He
failed to mention its dark side - devastating poverty,
unemployment, shuttered factories and mass human misery and
deaths in the first nation adopting his ideology on its
victimized people. Now it's everywhere and savagely enforced in
an age of corporate dominance, wars for profit and neglect of
human needs to fund them. That's Friedman's real legacy from the
barrel of a gun and called "freedom."
Part 3 - Surviving Democracy
Chicago School dogma became known as Thatcherism in Britain, but
its prime minister wasn't an early adherent. Margaret Thatcher
thought Chilean shock therapy wasn't possible in a democracy
like the UK because voters wouldn't buy it. Three years into her
first term, her approval rating was lower than George Bush's.
She was in danger of not being reelected and didn't dare risk
imposing bitter economic medicine that would sink her chances.
That is, until destiny intervened on April 2, 1982 when
Argentina invaded the British-held Falkland Islands off its
coast that was unimportant to either country except for the
political hay to gain from war.
Thatcher jumped at the chance to regain her footing and "went
into Churchillian battle mode," even though Argentina's
president, General Leopoldo Galtieri, wasn't Adolph Hitler. But
defending the British empire was almost as good, and it paid
off. Thatcher's political future was at stake. She revived it,
more than doubled her approval rating and henceforth was known
as the "Iron Lady" that for her was high praise, and she made
the most of it.
She launched a "corporatist revolution" based on Chicago School
economics she thought impossible earlier. She parlayed her new
popularity to a victory against striking coal miners in 1984
with tactics like unleashing 8000 "truncheon-wielding" riot
police in a single confrontation. Before the strike ended,
thousands of workers were injured, but Thatcher stood firm with
a clear message to other unionists. Take what you're offered or
get the same medicine.
She didn't stop there, and what followed was a radical economic
agenda in a wave of state enterprise privatizations including
British Telecom, British Gas, British Airways, British Steel and
others in what Klein called "the first mass privatization
auction in a Western democracy." It proved Chicago School
fundamentalism didn't need repressive dictatorships to advance
as long as "Iron Ladies" like Thatcher were around to match the
best of them, short of all out tanks in the streets shock
therapy, that is. Her eleven and a half years in power proved
it, and Britain hasn't been the same since with Labor as
committed now as the Tories.
Bolivia was soon targeted as well, but in 1985 was part a
democratic wave sweeping the world. It was an election year with
two familiar figures facing off for the presidency - former
dictator Hugo Banzar and former elected president, Victor Paz
Estenssoro. It was close and Banzar thought he won so before
final returns were in he named 30 year old Harvard economist
Jeffrey Sachs to help develop an anti-inflation economic plan
for the country.
Sachs was part Keynsian but larger part Chicago School adherent
that made for a bad combination. He bought its orthodoxy in
softer form by supporting debt relief and generous aid along
with the shock therapy he advised Banzar to adopt as the only
solution to hyperinflation.
As it turned out, Banzar lost and Paz won, and while no
socialist, he was no Chicago School adherent either, or so
voters thought. Four days into his term, he charged his
emergency economic team to radically restructure the economy
using shock therapy with a twist. It was much harsher than Sachs
proposed with the entire state-centered structure Paz erected
decades earlier dismantled in the first 100 days before the
public could react. In its place, food subsidies were ended,
price controls lifted, wages frozen, oil prices hiked 300%, deep
government spending cuts imposed, unrestricted imports allowed,
and state-owned companies downsized as a first step to
privatizing them. It cost hundreds of thousands of full-time
jobs, pensions and safety net protections. Friedman continued to
The results were predictable. The minimum wage never regained
its value, and two years later real wages were down 40% and
average per capita income dropped from $845 in 1985 to $789 in
1987. As in other shock therapy countries, a small elite got
richer while the great majority of Bolivians lost out with
campesinos faring worst. In 1987, they earned on average $140 a
year, or less than one-fifth the nation's declining average
Bolivian misery gave Sachs star status for the country's
"Miracle." It launched his new career and brought him to
Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela and Russia later on
plus a best-selling book and three-part PBS "success story"
series. The only problem was it wasn't true. President Paz had
no mandate for shock therapy, and many workers were predictably
furious at his betrayal. They went on strike and Paz's response
made Margaret Thatcher's earlier action against striking coal
miners seem tame by comparison. Tanks rolled in the streets, and
riot police raided union halls, a university and factories.
Hundreds of arrests followed, including the top 200 union
leaders, and oppositional politics was banned. The siege lasted
three months during the decisive shock therapy period with more
repression and Chicago School medicine later.
It showed shock therapy needs harsh authoritarian rule backing
with Bolivia's pin-stripped politicians, economists and
bureaucrats administering it, not uniformed soldiers as in
Chile. Paz's democratic victory was illusory like others when
leaders renege on promises and sacrifice them on the alter of
Chicago School orthodoxy.
Argentina was another "textbook case." In the post-Falklands War
period, it was burdened with billions in odious debt Washington
insisted be serviced and paid. It was far more onerous after the
(Paul) "Volker Shock" when the US Federal Reserve Chairman hiked
interest rates up to 21% in the early-mid 1980s to fight
inflation, so he said. It was painful in the US and disastrous
for developing countries turning their debt burdens into crises.
New loans were needed to pay off old ones, and the debt spiral
was born afflicting nations then and still today. That was the
whole idea, or at least one of them.
Argentina, Brazil and other countries had another option they
didn't take - defaulting on debt so great it was unrepayable. As
Klein put it: "Understandably
(new democracies were) unwilling to go to war with Washington
(and the international lending agencies it controls so they) had
little choice but to play by Washington's rules (and) in the
early eighties (they) got a great deal stricter....It was the
dawn of the era of 'structural adjustment' - otherwise known as
the dictatorship of debt."
In the 1980s, Chicago School economists colonized the IMF and
World Bank to advance their corporatist crusade. Economist John
Williamson named it "the Washington Consensus" that stuck ever
since. It consisted of core economic policies both institutions
consider essential for economic health according to their
orthodoxy. We know them well: all "state enterprises
....privatized (and) barriers impeding entry of foreign
firms....abolished." There was more that together was classic
Friedman dogma: privatization, deregulation, unrestricted free
(never called fair), and deep cuts in government spending except
Indebted developing countries learned shock doctrine
101 the hard way. Getting aid meant accepting Washington
Consensus rules - the whole package. So to save their countries,
they had to "sell (them) off." Klein calls Argentina the "model
student" in the 1990s under leaders like Carlos Menem.
Appointing Domingo Cavallo economy minister signaled he bought
the corporatist package. But as Klein points out: "Argentina was
not unique (and by 1999) Chicago School alumni included more
than twenty-five government ministers and more than a dozen
central bank presidents from Israel to Costa Rica."
Shock therapy was on a role that in Argentina turned into a
textbook case of therapeutically induced disaster. What Time
magazine in 1992 called "Menem's Miracle" became Menem's Mirage
when the economy collapsed in 2001, and Argentina did the
unthinkable with Menem gone and a new president in power. It
defaulted on an $805 million debt to the World Bank. It should
have ended the neoliberal experiment, but instead it spread.
Economic crises fueled it, and when old ones ebbed "even more
cataclysmic ones appear(ed): tsunamis, hurricanes, wars and
terrorist attacks. Disaster capitalism was taking shape" with
shock therapy its tool of choice.
Part 4 - Lost in Transition: Slamming the Door on History
Before the Berlin Wall fell, Lech Walesa became a labor hero in
Poland and the West by defying the Moscow-controlled government
and getting away with it. Solidarnosc (Solidarity) spread from
its Gdansk roots to the country's mines, shipyards and factories
and within a year had 10 million members. They won the right to
bargain but wanted more. They aspired to take over the state and
institute their own alternative economic and political program.
It's radical centerpiece was to transform huge state-run
companies into worker-run cooperatives so Solidarity members
could be empowered in their own "socialized enterprise."
Walesa objected, lost the debate, and he feared what then
happened. The Jaruzelski government declared martial law, sent
tanks to the streets and rounded up thousands of Solidarity
members. By the late 80s, the crackdown subsided, the economy
was in free fall, workers again struck and Mikhail Gorbachev's
reformist government was in power in Moscow. Solidarity was
legalized, a Citizens' Committee Solidarity wing was formed, its
members stood in snap elections and won effective control of the
government capturing 260 parliamentary seats.
It should have been the best of times, but with the economy in
trouble, Poland needed aid including debt relief. With Chicago
School alumni running IMF, none was offered except under
Washington Consensus rules, take it or leave it. Enter Jeffrey
Sach, the shock doc, with an even harsher plan than imposed on
Bolivia. It included an immediate end to price controls,
slashing subsidies, and privatizing mines, shipyards and
factories. It short, it ran directly counter to Solidarity's aim
for worker-run industry.
Sachs promised Solidarity Poland could become like France or
Germany under his plan. By swallowing shock therapy medicine
first, taking the pain, the patient would end up cured and
healthy - if he was right. After debate, the verdict was in and
the treatment bought with predictable results. Sachs promised
"momentary dislocations" but delivered a full-blown depression.
Industrial production plummeted 30% after two years of
"reforms." Unemployment skyrocketed, and in 1993 hit 25% in some
areas. It's still chronic today with recent World Bank figures
pegging it at around 20%, the highest in the European Union. For
young people, it's even worse with 40% of workers under 24
Most alarming is the number of people in poverty. From a 15%
level in 1989, it rose to a startling 59% in
2003. Incredibly, the country, like Chile, is still cited as a
free market reform model. It's pure myth, angry Poles know it,
but reports in the West ignore them as they do shocked victims
They didn't ignore "the shock of Tiananmen Square," but didn't
report it accurately either. In the early
1980s, Deng Xiaoping was transforming his country economically
while keeping rigid political control including iron-fisted
repression when needed. Democracy was nowhere in sight nor is it
now. While many of Deng's reforms were successful and popular,
others in the late 80s weren't, and it provoked deep anger in
the cities by people most affected. Price controls were lifted,
corruption and nepotism was rampant, freedom minimal, job
security eliminated, unemployment soared, and deep inequalities
grew between "winners and losers in the new China."
It came to a head with mass protests in 1989 in Tiananmen Square
that Western reports characterized as a clash between old-guard
Communist authoritarians and idealistic students wanting
western-style democracy. It was pure propaganda. The protests
were massive and threatened the government, but democracy wasn't
the issue. It was popular discontent from wrenching economic
change raising prices, lowering wages, and causing "a crisis of
layoffs and unemployment." Protesters weren't against economic
reform. They were against the Chicago School version of it, but
their efforts were costly.
Deng declared martial law May 20, tanks rolled in the square,
indiscriminate shooting took place, and when it ended thousands
were dead, many more thousands injured, and still more thousands
hunted down, arrested, jailed, some tortured, and hundreds
likely executed. Shock therapy rolled in China as in Chile -
through the barrel of a gun and raw state terror. Following the
crackdown, China opened to foreign investment, joined the WTO,
and turned the country into the world's largest low wage
sweatshop for Wal-Mart's "Always Low Prices."
For foreign investors and party apparatchiks, it was a win-win
arrangement with Klein citing a 2006 study showing 90% of
China's billionaires to be Communist Party officials. About 2900
"party scions" (called "the princelings") control $260 billion,
and Klein notes the "stark similarity between (China's
authoritarian rule) and Chicago School capitalism - a shared
willingness to disappear opponents, blank the slate of all
resistance and begin anew" using shock and fear to transform
countries into free market paradises for the privileged.
The Tragedy of South Africa's "Democracy Born in Chains"
Klein quotes Nelson Mandela in January, 1990 (two weeks before
he was freed) in a note to his supporters from prison saying:
"The nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries
is the policy of the ANC
(and changing) our views....is inconceivable. Black economic
empowerment is a goal we fully support and encourage, but in our
situation state control of certain sectors of the economy is
unavoidable." That belief became ANC policy in 1955 in its
Freedom Charter. The liberation struggle wasn't just about a
political system but an economic one as well. White workers in
mines earned 10 times more than blacks, and large industrialists
worked with the military to enforce order and disappear
Once apartheid ended, a new way was possible, and Mandela seemed
poised to lead it. The ANC had "a unique opportunity to reject
the free market orthodoxy of the day" and choose a "third path
between Communism and capitalism." ANC candidates swept the 1994
elections and Mandela became president at a time South Africa
surpassed Brazil as the most unequal society in the world.
Negotiations were held with the ruling National Party, and a
peaceful handover was achieved but not without "prevent(ing)
South Africa's apartheid-era rulers from wreaking havoc on their
way out the door."
Negotiations took place on two parallel tracks - political and
economic. Mandela and his chief negotiator, Cyril Ramaphosa,
"won on almost every count" politically. But along side it,
economic negotiations were held with the country's current
president, Thabo Mbeki, in charge with the outcome in the end
far different. With ANC leaders preoccupied with controlling
Parliament, the former white supremacist government and
industrialists were determined to safeguard their wealth, and
they succeeded by assuring Washington Consensus policies would
be instituted when political power changed hands.
ANC economists and lawyers were outfoxed or outgunned by the
opposition, IMF, World Bank, GATT and power of big capital
against inexperienced politicians and technocrats who ended up
losers. Black officials controlled the government, but
discovered the real power was elsewhere. As Klein put it: "The
bottom line was that South Africa was free but simultaneously
captured." The leadership mistakenly thought once firmly in
power they could undo earlier made transition compromises.
They couldn't or didn't for the same reasons other developing
countries accept free market rules. Adopt them or be punished by
the market as Mandela learned when he was freed. The South
African stock market collapsed in panic, and the country's
currency (the rand) dropped by 10%. He acknowledged the problem
later on saying it's "impossible for countries....to decide
economic policy without regard to the likely response of these
markets." It's too bad he didn't know how Hugo Chavez managed
after 1999 (oil aside). He achieved what Mandela reneged on, and
Venezuela's economy is booming. Had he and ANC officials stood
their ground early on, South Africa (with its mineral riches)
might have done the same thing - had a growth economy in a
socially democratic state and a model for its neighbors.
They didn't, black South Africans lost out, Mandela's legacy is
tainted, and a key factor was current president Thabo Mbeki. He
spent spent years studying in exile in England during the
apartheid years during which time "he was breathing in the fumes
of Thatcherism." He became the ANC's free market tutor, believed
in market fundamentalism, and its prescription was "growth and
more growth." It meant neoliberal shock therapy with the full
Friedman package Mbeki supported. He later professed: "Just call
me a Thatcherite," and Mandela told journalist John Pilger the
same thing in retirement saying: "....you can call it
Thatcherite but, for this country, privatization is the
After over a decade of that agenda (1994 - 06), Klein
highlighted the toll showing conditions today much worse than
under apartheid, and ANC's leadership responsible:
-- the number of people living on less than $1 a day doubled
from two to four million;
-- the unemployment rate more than doubled to 48% from
1991 - 2002;
-- only 5000 of 35 million black South Africans earn over
$60,000 a year;
-- the ANC government build 1.8 million homes while two million
South Africans lost theirs;
-- nearly one million South Africans were evicted from farms in
the first decade of democracy; as a result, the shack dweller
population grew by 50%, and in 2006,
25% of South Africans lived in them with no running water or
electricity. And there's more:
-- the HIV/AIDS infection rate is about 20%, and the Mbeki
government shamefully denied the severity of the crisis and did
little to alleviate it; it's been a major reason why average
life expectancy in the country declined by 13 years since 1990;
-- 40% of schools have no electricity;
-- 25% of people have no access to clean water and most who do
can't afford the cost; and
-- 60% of people have inadequate sanitation, and 40% no
"Freedom" for these people and all black South Africans came at
a high price, and no efforts are being made to ameliorate it.
Political empowerment was traded for economic apartheid under
Chicago School fundamentalist rules. Klein observed: "Never
before had a government-in-waiting been so seduced by the
international community." If China, Vietnam and even Russia saw
"the neoliberal light," Mandela was told, how could South Africa
resist it. The ANC leadership might have (and Mandela had the
credentials to lead them) had they examined the wreckage around
the world in Friedman-seduced countries. Instead, they took the
easy way out and surrendered.
Russia Chooses "the Pinochet Option"
The man who ignited political and social change in Russia wasn't
around long enough to lead it. Mikhail Gorbachev became head of
the Soviet Union's Communist Party in March, 1985, believing the
economy stalled and needed change. His solution became glasnost
(liberalizing opening up) and perestroika
(reconstruction), and Soviet Russia would never be the same
again. By the early 1990s the press was freed, the
constitutional court was independent, and elections were held
for Russia's parliament, local councils, president and
vice-president. In addition, Gorbachev favored a
Scandinavian-style social democracy combining free market
capitalism with strong social safety net protections. He hoped
to build "a socialist beacon for all mankind." He never got the
While still in office at the 1991 G7 meeting in London, his
fellow heads of state delivered a free market message Chicago
School-style. Later, the IMF, World Bank and other international
lending agencies reinforced it - Soviet-era debts must be
honored and aid depended on adopting strict shock therapy rules.
The Soviet Union soon dissolved, Gorbachev was out, Boris
Yeltsin became Russia's president, and Chicago School
fundamentalism was adopted as needed "reform." Klein calls what
happened next "one of the greatest crimes committed against a
democracy (in peacetime) in modern history."
Yeltsin assembled a team of Chicago School ideologues to remake
the economy. Jeffrey Sachs showed up, too, with other US-funded
transition experts to help write privatization decrees, launch a
New York-style stock exchange, and craft a total radical
economic makeover for a country long used to central planning.
Only one thing stood in the way - democracy, and a parliament
able to vote down what Yeltsin's team designed. A clash of wills
drew closer in the spring of 1993 when parliament's budget
diverged from IMF demands for strict austerity. Yeltsin reacted
with the "Pinochet option." He issued decree 1400 dissolving
parliament and abolishing the constitution. Two days later,
parliament voted 636 - 2 to impeach him, and battle lines were
Yeltsin sent troops to surround parliament and cut off power,
heat and phone lines. The army backed him and he pressed on. He
then proceeded to dissolve all city and regional councils in the
country. Then, on October
4, 1993, he ordered the army to storm the parliament, set it
ablaze and "defend Russia's new capitalist economy from the
grave threat of democracy." The assault took about 500 lives,
wounded nearly 1000 others with the enthusiastic support from
the West in headlines like the Washington Post proclaiming
"Victory Seen for Democracy" in Russia. Some democracy.
Yeltsin now had unchecked dictatorial power, the West had its
man in Moscow, and shock therapy had an open field to inflict
wreckage on Russia's people who didn't know what him them as it
unfolded. A corporatist state replaced a communist one, and its
apparatchiks were winners along with a handful of western mutual
fund managers who made "dizzying returns investing in newly
privatized Russian companies." In addition, "a clique of
nouveaux billionaires" (17 in all called "the oligarchs") were
empowered to strip mine the country of its wealth and ship
profits offshore at the rate of $2 billion a month.
As a result, Yeltsin's popularity plunged so he did what all
desperate leaders do to hold power with the next election to
worry about. He began a war in 1994 in the breakaway Chechen
republic killing 100,000 civilians by the late 90s. Elections
were held in
1996, and Yeltsin won by overcoming his low approval ratings
with huge oligarch-funding and near-total control of television
coverage. He then quietly handed power to Vladimir Putin on
December 31, 1999 without an election but with the stipulation
he was exempt from criminal prosecution. His legacy was
devastating with Klein noting "never have so many lost so much
in so short a time." When Russia's 1998 financial crisis hit:
-- 80% of Russia's farmers were bankrupt;
-- around 70,000 states factories had closed;
-- an "epidemic" of unemployment raged;
-- before shock therapy in 1989, two million Russians lived in
poverty on less than $4 a day; by the mid-90s, the World Bank
estimated 74 million were impoverished and by 1996 conditions
for 25% (almost 37 million) Russians were "desperate" and the
country's underclass remained permanent;
-- Russians drink twice as much now as before; painkilling and
hard drug use increased 900%, and HIV/AIDS threatens to become
epidemic with a 20-fold jump in infections since 1995; suicides
are also rising, and violent crime increased more than fourfold;
-- Russia's population is declining by 700,000 a year with
capitalism having already having killed off 10% of it as one
more example of free market-inflicted disaster. That's the brave
new world disease spreading everywhere with another
scorched-earth stop below. Friedman called it "freedom."
The Looting of Asia
In the summer of 1997, economic crisis hit Asia from no apparent
cause beyond rumors the Thai bhat was in trouble, and Thailand
didn't have enough dollars to back it. Hot money in became an
electronic stampede out with "Asian Contagion" unleashed and
heading for Indonesia, South Korea and other so-called Asian
Tiger countries that were fast-growth miracles until they
crashed together with the plight of one affecting the others. It
then got worse and spread to Latin America and Russia with US
markets also affected briefly in
1997 and then again with a severe jolt in the summer of 1998.
The 1997 Asian panic was crippling with $600 billion in stock
market wealth taking decades to build wiped out in a year. Klein
notes "a classic fear cycle" ignited the crisis that might have
been contained by the same type "quick, decisive loan" rescue
package offered Mexico in 1994 in their so-called Tequila
Crisis. It would have been a strong signal to markets the US
Treasury and international lending agencies wouldn't let the
Asian Tigers fail. No help came, and the message instead was:
"Don't help Asia." Why? Because "Asia's catastrophe was an
opportunity (for predatory western corporations and vulture
investors) in disguise."
Asian Tigers grew by protecting their markets and barring
foreign companies from ownership of land or national firms. They
also restricted imports from the West and Japan and instead
built up their own domestic markets. Western predators wanted
unfettered entry to the region with the right to scoop up the
best Asian companies but needed a way to do it. Now they had it
from an event Klein calls "the fall of a second Berlin Wall," as
important to western capital as the first one.
Enter the IMF with crisis-struck Asian countries too sick to
resist it. They needed help, and the lending agency had plenty
to offer on similar terms as to previous crisis recipients. With
economies in trouble and empty treasuries, the Tigers got no
choice. First, they had to remove all "trade and investment
protectionism and activist state intervention that were the key
ingredients of the Asian miracle." IMF also demanded big
spending cuts, "flexible" workforces
(meaning mass layoffs and constrained wages and benefits),
privatized basic services, and the rest of the package they
demand for loans.
The regional toll was devastating with the International Labor
Organization estimating 24 million lost jobs along with "what
was so remarkable about the region's 'miracle' in the first
place: its large and growing middle class." In addition, 20
million people fell into the "planned misery" of poverty,
reversing an earlier trend reducing it. Women and children
suffered most with families selling daughters to human sex
traffickers to survive as child prostitution had a new growth
So did Wall Street as IMF structural adjustments put "pretty
much everything in Asia....up for sale" in the affected
countries. The more markets panicked, the lower asking prices
became, and the more pressured hurting companies were to sell
out for what they could get or face bankruptcy. It was a bonanza
for buyers, and major deals went through in a great fire sale at
bargain prices. Asia became hugely transformed with hundreds of
local brands replaced by western transnational ones. The New
York Times called it "the world's biggest going-out-of-business
sale." It also became an early glimpse of post-9/11 disaster
capitalism - a way for corporate predators to exploit crises in
what's become common practice in the age of "terror" creating
opportunities galore and big profits for well-connected firms.
Klein notes the Asian crisis never ended as desparation took
root after 24 million people lost jobs in two years. No nation
handles that, and the fallout can be unpredictable. It led to a
rise in religious extremism in Indonesia and Thailand and "the
explosive growth in the child sex trade." Unemployment is still
high and layoffs continue with new foreign owners demanding
higher profits with jobs disappearing to provide them.
Eventually things settle down but never to where they once were.
Throwing people overboard, displacing small farmers and business
owners and crushing unions means those affected stay that way.
"They end up in slums, now home to one billion people (and
rising); they end up in brothels or in cargo ship containers.
They are the disinherited (or what) German poet Rainer Maria
Rilke (called) 'ones to whom neither the past nor the future
belongs.' " They're the human wreckage left behind by countries
swallowing Chicago School economic medicine. Its promised
miracle is people-poison but not for vulture investors thriving
on it. Disaster capitalism is on a roll, and its growth market
potential is unlimited and guaranteed to continue unless mass
public outrage stops it as one day it will.
Part 5 - The Rise of the Disaster Capitalism Complex -
Shock Therapy in the USA
Richard Nixon knew before the rest of us that Donald Rumsfeld is
"a ruthless little bastard." He also has a knack for making
enemies even inside the Pentagon he ran as Defense Secretary. He
planned to "reinvent warfare for the twenty-first century
(making it) more psychological than physical, more spectacle
than struggle, and far more profitable" than ever before. Talk
aside, he wanted to revolutionize the military by running it
like the corporate world, and that meant using methods like
outsourcing and branding. His idea was for fewer full-time
troops, more as-needed ones from the Reserves and National
Guard, and a lot of backup help from private contractors like
Blackwater USA for security and Halliburton for a range of
functions unrelated to soldiering. He wanted less staff and more
tax dollars diverted to private companies. The Pentagon brass
wasn't pleased, but Rumsfeld was boss and Dick Cheney backed
Klein calls them both "proto-disaster capitalists" who practice
"the central tenet of the Bush regime (that) the job of
government is not to govern but to subcontract." The
privatization mania was kick-started in the Reagan era, but Bill
Clinton bought it as well. Now the feeling is anything
government can do, private business can do better so let them.
That means fire departments, prisons, public schools, public
health, data management, border control and even parts of the
military. As Klein explained: "crisis-exploiting
methods....honed over the previous three decades would be used
to (privatize) the infrastructure of disaster creation
and....response. Friedman's crisis theory was going postmodern
(to create a) privatized police state" by auctioning it off.
"Then came 9/11, and the idea of hollowing out government seemed
opposite of what a frightened public wanted - a strong central
government to protect them. Bush promised it in speeches, but
"his inner circle had no intention of converting to
Keynesianism." September 11 security failures only reinforced
their belief that private firms could handle the challenge
better than government, and that meant transferring hundreds of
billions of public dollars to corporate pockets. The Bush
administration exploited shock and fear "to push through its
radical vision of a hollow government in which everything from
war fighting to disaster response was a for-profit venture."
Mass disorientation post-9/11 provided the opportunity, and the
"war on terror" became a "bold evolution of shock
therapy....built to be private from the start" to capitalize on
it. It came in two stages. First, policing, surveillance,
detention and war-making powers of the executive were
dramatically increased though nothing in the Constitution
permits it. Then, the whole package, including occupation and
"reconstruction," was outsourced to well-connected private firms
that responded with generous campaign funds to keep the mutually
reinforcing daisy chain humming. Using the ploy of fighting
"terrorism," the homeland disaster capitalism complex emerged as
a full-blown new economy and what Klein calls "a virtual fourth
branch of government."
The Bush administration's idea of government, with security as
one function, wasn't to provide it but to buy it at cost-plus
market prices with lots of latitude for the plus. Just as the
internet launched the dot-com bubble, from 9/11 emerged the
disaster capitalism one, and it was off to the races "in an ad
Fighting "terrorism" is big business, and one of the first
opportunities was the market for surveillance cameras with 30
million of them installed in the US, billions of hours of
footage, analytic software to scan it, digital image enhancement
to help it, and information management and data mining
technology to handle all data government collects on everyone
and everything. September 11 unlocked the potential, a huge new
growth market was created, and protection from terror became
more important than big brother watching. In six short years, an
industry that barely existed is now much larger than Hollywood
or the music business, and its potential looks limitless.
Klein calls it "an unprecedented convergence of unchecked police
powers and unchecked capitalism, a merger of the shopping mall
and the secret prison" in a frightening brave new world most
people barely understand or know exists. It generates enormous
wealth that creates a powerful incentive for its winners to sell
fear for more of it and partnering with government makes it
easy, especially the kind in power now.
Capitalism Becomes Corporatism in a Corporatist State
Proto-disaster capitalism defines the Bush administration as
crises, wars and other disasters "conflate with what's good for
Lockheed, Halliburton, Carlyle and (Rumsfeld's old company)
Gilead" Sciences. Cataclysm is a growth business that in the
current climate involved "some of the seediest and most blatant
corruption scandals in recent history," war-profiteering in the
hundreds of billions, and a "whirling revolving door between
government and business" taken to a new level. The limitless
homeland security and war-profiteering markets are so alluring,
hundreds of administration officials can't wait to cash in like
earlier ones did. Klein names some noted ones like Richard
Pearle, James Baker, Henry Kissinger, Paul Bremer, George
Shultz, John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge, Rudi Giuliani, Richard Clarke,
James Woolsey, Joe Allbaugh, and Michael Brown who wrote an
infamous memo to a fellow FEMA staffer asking: "Can I quit now?"
That's the whole idea in a get rich quick environment - get an
impressive government title, stay in office long enough in a
department handing out big contracts, collect insider
information with market value, then quit and cash in. Klein
calls public service now "little more than a reconnaissance
mission for future work in the disaster capitalism complex." She
also quotes Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on
Government Oversight (a nonprofit watchdog group) saying: "It's
impossible to tell where the government ends and Lockeed
begins." She also believes that corporatist economic goals and
right to limitless profit seeking lie at the heart of the most
committed neocons who talk a good game but value great wealth
their top priority. They partnered permanent war and homeland
security with the disaster capitalism complex to get it, and
it's hard indeed telling where one ends and the other begins.
But it's centerpiece project is Iraq, and its headquarters is in
Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
Part 6 - Iraq, Full Circle - Overshock - Erasing A Country
Perhaps no country provides a greater untapped opportunity for
unfettered capitalism than Iraq. It represents the planet's last
remaining low-hanging oil resources fruit with potentially more
of it than Saudi Arabia according to some oil analysts. It's
also strategically located in the heart of the oil-rich Middle
East (with two-thirds of proved reserves) Klein calls the
"crusade's....final frontier." Iraq's potential alone is so
enormous it made war the way to crack open its market potential
because peaceful methods hadn't worked. Its conquest would then
serve as "a different model in the heart of the Arab-Muslim
world" that could become a catalyst to opening the whole region.
The potential is a giant free-trade zone, the illusion of newly
created democracies, and the freedom for unfettered capitalism
"to feed off freshly privatized states." Klein explained this as
"the model theory," Iraq as the model, with the idea not being
nation-building but nation-creating. But what of the nation
already there that's known as the "cradle of civilization." It
would have to be erased, and Chicago School fundamentalism would
create a new one in its place in its own image with a blank
slate to work from.
Bush administration war planners considered the full array of
possible shocks and went with them all - blitzkrieg "shock and
awe," elaborate PsyOps, use of fear as a weapon, repressive
occupation, mass detention and torture, and "the fastest and
most sweeping political and economic shock therapy program
attempted anywhere....From the start, the invasion was
(Washington's message) to the world....in the language of
fireballs, deafening explosions and city-shattering quakes." It
said dare challenge US authority, and you're next. Shock and awe
planners designed its strategy to deter "the public will of the
adversary to resist (to render) the adversary completely
impotent" from the effects of sensory deprivation and overload
inducing disorientation and regression.
In March, 2003, Baghdad got it on a massive scale. The ministry
of communication and four telephone exchanges was blitzed and
set ablaze cutting off millions of phones and preventing people
from learning if their family and friends were alive. Television
and radio transmitters were also destroyed along with the
electrical grid plunging the city into "an awful, endless
night." Residents were trapped in their homes unable to speak or
hear each other or see outside at night. "LIke a prisoner
destined for a CIA black site, the entire city was shackled and
hooded. Next it was stripped."
Unchecked looting did the most to erase the "country that
was....Gone are 80% of the museum's 170,000 priceless
objects....the national library is a blackened ruin....the
Ministry of Religious Affairs....was left a burned-out shell
(and the) national heritage was lost." Paul Bremer's senior
economic advisor, Peter McPherson, wasn't bothered. It made his
job of radically downsizing the state and selling it off easier.
Cleaning the slate and erasing the nation was proceeding fast.
It "all unfolded in a matter of weeks." Baghdad was "open for
business," and the fire sale for its assets began with US firms
having first dibs on everything, except oil, and that would come
later as it has now but is stalled.
While he was there, Paul Bremer was Washington's man in Baghdad
charged with readying the launch of Iraq, Inc. He saw to it laws
were passed smoothing the way for Chicago School shock therapy.
Two hundred firms were to be privatized immediately to get
"inefficient state enterprises into private (predatory)
hands...." New economic laws followed that comprised a "wish
list....foreign investors and donor agencies dream of,"
according to The Economist. The corporate tax was cut from 45%
to a flat 15%; another allowed foreign companies to own 100% of
Iraqi assets and take all profits out of the country; all
restrictions on imports were removed; and investors could sign
deals and leases lasting 40 years so no future government could
Iraq became a bold new experiment with invasion, occupation and
reconstruction transforming the country into a fully privatized
new market "with a huge pot of public money" doing it. Klein
called the adventure an "anti-Marshall plan," mirror opposite
the post-WW II plan, and guaranteed "to further undermine Iraq's
badly weakened industrial sector and send Iraqi unemployment
soaring." No funds went to Iraqis or their industries nor was
anything done to build a sustainable economy, or rebuild local
infrastructure like electrical grids, schools, and hospitals.
Iraqis played no role in planning, local firms weren't even
given "subsubsubcontracts," jobs were destroyed not created
while thousands of serf-type foreign workers were brought in and
abused, and critically needed social services were ignored.
Another goal was for a fully outsourced, hollow government with
no function so "core" a contractor couldn't handle it for
profit. It was pure pillage, but nothing went as planned. "Each
miscalculation provoked escalating levels of resistance" with
occupying forces responding with counterrepression "sending the
country into an inferno of (unending) violence." Everything
"tearing Iraq apart today - rampant corruption (and unfettered
plundering), ferocious sectarianism, the surge in religious
fundamentalism and the tyranny of death squads
(including US 'Salvador option' ones) - escalated in lockstep
with....Bush's anti-Marshall Plan." In that environment, the
country became "a cutthroat capitalist laboratory" for shameless
pillage. Iraq today is a model, a metaphor for everything wrong
with Chicago School dogma showing it to be savage, ruthless,
heartless and bankrupt.
Its implementation is the core reason for resistance that
continues and grows, but it caught war planners off guard when
it began. They thought the shock and awe of attack, invasion,
occupation and rapid transformation on the ground would be
disorienting. Instead, Iraqis demanded a say from the start in
how their country would be rebuilt and transformed. "And it was
the Bush administration's response to this unexpected turn of
events that generated the most blowback of all" that became even
worse by crushing democracy and effectively installing a puppet
government in the fortified Green Zone masquerading as a real
The result was predictable and so was the harsh response - mass
detentions, aggressive interrogations, administration-sanctioned
gloves off torture, and US unleashed "Salvador option" death
squads making it hard to know who's doing the killing and
blasting away at selected targets. What is clear are the
consequences - "millions of psychologically and physically
(traumatized, angry and) shattered people, first by Saddam,
(then) by war, (then) by one another
(and the occupation). Bush's in-house disaster capitalists
didn't wipe Iraq clean, they just stirred it up....Countries,
like people, don't reboot to zero with a good shock; they just
break and keep breaking....Which....requires more blasting -
upping the dosage...."
Slowly, it's disappearing, disintegrating, erasing an entire
country - women behind veils and doors, children from schools,
four million displaced, Iraqi industry collapsed, a new growth
industry in kidnapping for ransom, a country so unstable
investment is high-risk, and even the heavily fortified Green
Zone is too unsafe for George Bush to visit on one of his
"surprise trips" to the country. Bremer's charge was to build a
"corporate utopia" but instead unleashed a "ghoulish dystopia,"
and, on an April, 2004 visit to the country, Klein thought she
was witnessing a mass contractor exodus with 1500 of them
leaving in one week.
Now she's not sure. Big investors like Wal-Mart, HSBC and
Procter and Gamble never showed up, and in December, 2006, the
Pentagon announced a new project to get state-owned factories
operating with plans to buy cement and machinery from them
instead of the usual corporate suppliers. Does it signal a
change of disaster capitalism tactics? Not at all, and it's
likely this amounts to no more than tinkering and tokenism that
in the end will do little for the local economy and even less to
reduce hardened anger.
The Big Oil drafted Hydrocarbon Law is still a work in progress
but already inflamed things further, and well it should. It's an
anti-Marshall Plan project at its worst, and in whatever final
form is a shameless act of theft on the grandest scale. It's a
privatization blueprint for plunder giving Big Oil a bonanza and
Iraqis a mere sliver of their own resources. In one draft,
Iraq's National Oil Company got exclusive control of just 17 of
the country's 80 known oil fields with all yet-to-be-discovered
deposits set aside for foreign investors. Even worse, Big Oil is
free to expropriate all earnings with no obligation to invest
anything in Iraq's economy, partner with Iraqi companies, hire
local workers, respect union rights, or share new technologies.
In addition, foreign investors are guaranteed long-term
contracts up to 30 or more years, dispossessing Iraq and its
people of their own resources in a naked scheme to steal them
and deny them the one source of revenue able to rebuild their
shattered country and lives.
The battle for Iraq continues that involves clinging to if not
winning the hearts and minds on the home front as well. The
country is a wasteland, the nation creation project bankrupt,
and the prospect for success bad and worsening. Iraq has been a
graveyard for past imperial powers, and it may just be a matter
of time until history again repeats. The Brits in the South know
it, and after four and a half futile years are tiptoeing out to
the dismay of their "coalition" partners. One day, Washington
may join them, and for shocked Iraqis it can't come too soon.
For now, though, the shock continues, and Iraq more closely
resembles hell than "the cradle of civilization."
Part 7 - The Movable Green Zone: Blanking the Beach - "The
For coastal Sri Lankans, like those in Arugam Bay, December 26,
2004 felt more like 1945 Hiroshima than life before that fateful
day changing everything for them. A devastating tsunami took
250,000 lives and left 2.5 million homeless throughout the
region. It affected Arugam Bay, "a fishing and faded resort
village" on the island's east coast that government was
showcasing in its plans to "build back better." Indeed, but not
for the villagers hoteliers, developers and the government
wanted removed but weren't sure how until nature did what they
couldn't. Everything was gone, and a blank slate remained for
what the tourist industry long wanted - "a pristine beach (in a
prime area), scrubbed clean of all the messy signs of people
working, a vacation Eden. It was the same up and down the coast
once rubble was cleared....paradise."
"New rules" forbade homes on the beach and a "buffer zone"
imposed insured it. Beaches were off-limits, displaced Sri
Lankans were shoved into temporary grim barracks camps inland,
and "menacing, machine-gun-wielding soldiers" patrolled to keep
Tourist operators were treated differently. They were encouraged
to build and expand on prime vacated oceanfront land. It was all
in a document called the "Arugam Bay Resource Development Plan"
to transform the former fishing village into a "high-end
'boutique tourism destination' (with) five-star resorts,
luxury....chalets, (and even a) floatplane pier and helipad."
Arugam Bay was to be a model for transforming up to 30 similar
"tourism zones" into a "South Asian Riviera." When the plan
leaked out, people in Arugam Bay and around the country were
The grand scheme to remake Sri Lanka was around two years
earlier and began when the civil war ended. It was to be the
country's reentry into the world economy as one of the last
remaining uncolonized places globalization hadn't touched, and a
high-end tourism project was seen as the right option. It would
be a luxury destination for the "plutonomy set," once a few
changes were made. Government's 80% land ownership had to be
opened to private buyers, more "flexible" labor laws were
needed, and modernized infrastructure had to be developed with
World Bank and IMF providing funds on their usual shock therapy
terms discussed above. With mass public opposition to the ideas,
it wouldn't be easy, and before the tsunami hit, militant
strikes and street protests held it back.
Sri Lanka's president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, was elected on an
"overtly antiprivatization platform," but the tsunami changed
everything and helped her see "the free market light." Four days
after the disaster, her government passed a bill "pav(ing) the
way for water privatization." It also raised gasoline prices and
began crafting legislation to privatize the electricity company
in pieces. It was like a second tsunami, and the same scheme
followed hurricane Mitch in October, 1998 with Hondurus,
Guatemala and Nicaragua hardest hit like New Orleans discussed
Klein explained when the tsunami struck in 2004, "Washington was
ready to take the Mitch model (now familiar) to the next level -
aiming not just at individuals laws but at direct corporate
control over the construction." Sri Lanka's president complied
and created a new body called the Task Force to Rebuild the
Nation fully empowered to proceed. On it were the most powerful
business leaders from banking and industry including key players
from the beach tourism sector. Absent were villagers, farmers,
environmentalists or even a "disaster-reconstruction
specialist." Klein called the task force a new type corporate
coup d'etat mother nature made possible.
In ten days, then had a complete reconstruction blueprint from
"housing to highways" with aid money directed to corporate
development and nothing for disaster victims. They were destined
to become permanent shantytown dwellers similar to the kinds
ringing most Global South cities and populating Global North
inner ones. Similar stories of law changes and land grabs came
out of other affected Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia,
Thailand, the Maldives and India where around 150 Tamil Nadu
displaced women had to sell their kidneys for food.
A year after the tsunami, NGO ActionAid surveyed the aftermath
in five Asian countries and found the same pattern everywhere -
residents barred from rebuilding, living in militarized
temporary camps, hotels "showered with incentives," no
restoration of homes lost, and "entire ways of life" destroyed.
2006 in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers ended their cease-fire and
war resumed. It's hard knowing if disaster capitalism had a role
because peace was always precarious, the government offered
little, and continued violence at least promised a chance for
something better before and more than ever now given the choice
between disaster capitalism and hope.
Disaster Apartheid - A World of Green and Red Zones
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and
flooded New Orleans. The well-off left town, "checked into
hotels, and called their insurance companies." For 120,000
others without cars or means of transportation, it was another
story. They depended on the state, waited for help and got none.
FEMA is supposed to provide it, too, but it was one of the many
government functions Bush gutted advancing savage capitalism at
the expense of public service.
Katrina was disastrous for those affected, but Milton Friedman
saw "an opportunity" in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. It was easy
for him to say from his luxury San Francisco digs as well as his
like-minded ideologues who met 14 days later to plan how to
pounce on the tragedy for profit. They produced 32 Chicago
School-type schemes packaged as "hurricane relief" that was a
wish list for developers and hell for the displaced. They ranged
from suspending Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster
areas and making the whole area a flat tax free enterprise zone
to erasing public schools by giving parents vouchers for
privately-run charter ones. They also wanted environmental
regulations suspended on the Gulf Coast and permission to drill
in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that showed how far
afield they'd go to capitalize on the shock of a local tragedy.
Things moved fast, and within weeks "the Gulf Coast became a
domestic laboratory for the same kind of
(outsourcing schemes) pioneered in Iraq." The names were
familiar with Halliburton first in line along with Bechtel,
Blackwater USA and a host of others homing in for the kill.
Billions were at stake, and no open bidding was required, just
good connections. As Klein put it: "within days of the storm it
was as if Baghdad's Green Zone....lifted from....the Tigris and
landed on the bayou....As in Iraq, government once again played
the role of a cash machine equipped for both withdrawals and
deposits." Corporations took one and repaid with the other in
sizable campaign contributions in a pattern now familiar.
They also ignored unemployed locals and relied instead on cheap
imported undocumented labor easily exploited. The Bush
administration showed its type compassion, too, with $40 billion
in budget cuts for essentials like Medicaid, food stamps,
student loans and more so funds could go to contractors and the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, a familiar pattern.
In visiting Iraq, Klein first thought the "Green Zone phenomenon
was unique to the war in Iraq." She then discovered it emerges
wherever disaster capitalism lands with the same stark divisions
between the included and excluded. It was evident in New Orleans
with "gated green zones and raging red" ones - not from flood
damage but from predatory free market solutions only for the
The Bush administration refused emergency funds for public
sector salaries so 3000 city workers were fired. Charity
Hospital closed and still isn't open. Public transit was gutted
losing half its workers, and most public housing is still
boarded up and empty by design. Some sits on prime land close to
the French Quarter, developers want it for luxury properties,
and New Orleans is being erased for profit just like Iraq. It
was all planned with the storm the excuse to do it.
Earlier "creative destruction" opportunities generated "rust
belts," neglected neighborhoods, and underfunded inner city
public schools. Creative neglect is at work as well as the
American Society of Civil Engineers in
2007 said it will cost $1.5 trillion over five years to bring
essential public infrastructure back to standard. Instead it
continues to deteriorate while the well-off withdraw into gated
communities and luxury condos with all their needs met by
private providers. Klein calls this trend a
"state-within-a-state that is muscular" and as able as the
public one is frail. It no longer can function without help from
contractors as government is hollowed so business can prosper.
New Orleans is a window on the future in which survival depends
on the ability to pay, and those who can't are discarded like
trash. It promises a world of protected Green Zones with those
outside it neglected, abandoned, ignored and forgotten.
Losing the Peace Incentive - Israel As Warning
Conventional wisdom once thought economic growth and prosperity
required peace and stability. No longer. Post-9/11, the terror
scare was ignited, wars rage in Iraq and Afghanistan, more war
is threatened on Iran, oil prices touched $80 a barrel, the WTO
Doha Round trade talks collapsed, and "a golden period of
broadly shared growth" prevails (at least until the recent
credit crunch). How come?
Conflict and global instability don't just benefit arms related
industries. They help the high-tech security sector, heavy
construction, private health care companies treating soldiers
and oil and gas. The business bonanza in Iraq alone is hugely
profitable with all sorts of companies cashing in. The same goes
for New Orleans and Gulf Coast overall. Terrorist attacks are
good for business. The more destruction, the more to rebuild - a
great market for disaster capitalism it pounces on with every
incentive to assure the trend continues unchallenged, and why
not when government throws public tax dollars at it.
Today, "instability is the new stability," and Israel is its
"Exhibit A." In the post-1993 Oslo years, the Jewish state
designed its economy to expand in response to escalating
violence at home at first and now everywhere. The nation's
technology firms pioneered the homeland security industry, and
they still dominate it. In addition, its economy overall is the
most "tech-dependent in the world," according to Business Week
magazine, twice as dependent as the US representing half its
Following the 2000 dot-com crash, Israel's leading tech
companies needed a new global niche, and the government
encouraged expansion beyond information and communications
technologies into security and surveillance. It launched a slew
of start-ups "specializing in everything from 'search and nail,'
data mining, surveillance cameras, to terrorist profiling." It
was perfect timing for a market that exploded post-9/11, and
Israel's economy is thriving with one of the fastest growth
rates in the world. Klein calls the country "a kind of shopping
mall for homeland security technologies," and Forbes magazine
says it's "the go-to country for antiterrorism technologies."
Today, the country's counterterrorism industry is booming, and
its defense-related exports make it the fourth largest arms
dealer in the world, larger than the UK.
Klein notes: "With more and more countries turning themselves
into fortresses (with walls and high-tech fences part of it),
'security barriers' may prove to be the biggest disaster market
of all." In the case of Israel, it's also another "Chicago
School frontier marked by rapid stratification of society
between rich and poor inside the state." The security boom
fueled a wave of privatizations accompanied by social program
cuts, "an epidemic of inequality," and the virtual end of Labor
Zionism. Klein notes 24.4% of Israelis live in poverty,
including 35.2% of children, compared to
8% twenty years earlier (but she doesn't say if these figures
include Arab Israeli citizens comprising 20% of the population).
She concludes Israeli industry no longer fears war as it thrives
Today, Baghdad, New Orleans and suburban Atlanta Sandy Springs
are glimpses of a gated community future run by the disaster
capitalism complex. But it's in its most advanced state in
Israel - "an entire country
(turned into) a fortified gated community, surrounded by
locked-out people living in (the) permanently excluded red
zones" of Gaza and the West Bank that aren't just left out but
are encroached on and under attack. Disaster capitalism thrives
in this environment so it yearns to bring it to a neighborhood
near you, and that's a prospect to fear.
Hopeful Signs - Shock Wears Off
Klein quotes Canada's National Post editor, Terence Corcoran,
wondering if the Chicago School movement Milton Friedman
launched could continue as before after his November, 2006
death. The movement's pinnacle was capturing the Congress in
1994 that it lost in 2006 for three reasons - public
disenchantment with the Iraq war, political corruption, and a
growing class divide unseen since the Gilded Age of the "robber
barons" or roaring 20s. Each factor related to core Chicago
School economics - privatization, deregulation and cutting
government services. In the US, it created a wealth disparity
economist Paul Krugman calls unprecedented while poverty is
growing and the middle class dying in the richest country in the
world that's also the least caring one.
Everywhere Chicago School fundamentalism shows up, the results
are the same. A small elite gains hugely while most others
don't. But cracks in the ideology are visible as many of its
front line adherents got caught up "in an astonishing array of
scandals and criminal proceedings (from the) earliest
laboratories in Latin America to the most recent one in Iraq."
Before he died, Pinochet was under house arrest. In Argentina,
courts stripped former junta leaders of immunity. Bolivia's de
Lozada got chased from the country and is now a wanted man. In
Russia, many of the oligarch fraudsters were either in exile or
jail. In Canada, newspaper magnate Conrad Black was convicted of
fraud. In the US, a rogue's gallery of CEOs were charged and
convicted as well, and other high level types were caught up in
scandals like lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling one.
Klein notes another hopeful sign as well - shock effects were
beginning to wear off, and in Argentina's
2001 economic crisis forced out five presidents in three weeks.
It was spreading and most apparent in Latin America where it
began with opponents of Chicago School doctrine winning
elections like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, but he wasn't alone. It
showed a renewed faith in democracy and condemnation of
Washington Consensus dogma when people made a choice at the
polls in free and open elections. Today's movements aren't
replicas of the past, and one of the differences "is an acute
awareness of the need for protection from shocks of the past" -
coups, foreign shock therapists, torturers, debt and currency
They've learned from the past and are building "shock absorbers
into their organizing models." It's in movements less
centralized, Venezuela's grassroots community councils, Brazil's
Landless Peoples Movement, and the streets of Oaxaca, Mexico
where thousands battled police since a year ago May and still
won't quit. In addition, governments are rejecting old trade
models and adopting new ones like Venezuela's ALBA bartering
system making it less vulnerable to turbulent markets.
They're also rejecting World Bank and IMF debt slavery, and the
change is dramatic. In 2005, 80% of IMF's lending portfolio was
to Latin America. It dropped to 1% in 2007. And IMF's 2005 $81
billion dollar portfolio shrank to $11.8 billion in three years
with nearly all of it in Turkey. The World Bank is also being
rejected. Venezuela severed its relationship, and Ecuador's
Raphael Correa suspended bank loans and declared its country
representative persona non grata in an extraordinary move the
equivalent of a well-deserved slap in the face. In addition, the
Doha Round trade talks collapsed, and some observers thought it
signaled "globalization is dead," or if not, it's at least
Resistance is showing up in Europe, too, with voters in France
and the Netherlands rejecting the European Constitution the
French call "savage capitalism" and a codification of the
corporatist order they reject. The Putin era in Russia is also
seen as a backlash against the shock therapy of the 90s that
impoverished millions of its people still left out and many
desperate. The same is true in South Africa where people in
slums abandoned the ANC to protest against their broken Freedom
Charter promises. It even surfaced in China where, according to
official government sources, 87,000 large protests were held
involving over four million workers and peasants. They won major
victories for new rural area spending, better health care, and
pledges to eliminate education fees.
Millions of Lebanese were in the streets as well that wasn't a
show of strength by Hezbollah as the major media characterized
it. It was a rejection of the Siniora government's willingness
to accept Chicago School reforms in exchange for billions of
needed reconstruction loans to recover from Israel's summer,
2006 blitzkrieg attack. Klein called their actions "a poor and
working-class people's revolt."
Examples are everywhere but so far just ripples in a pond
needing greater numbers for real change. They were in
tsunami-struck Thailand where, unlike in Sri Lanka, many
settlements were successfully rebuilt in months but not by the
government offering no aid. So hundreds of villagers "engaged in
what they called land 'reinvasions,' " defied their government
with direct-action, and rebuilt their communities making them
better than before the destruction.
The same thing happened in New Orleans. In February,
2007, housing project residents "reinvaded" their old homes and
reclaimed them in another example of "people rebuilding for
themselves" and bypassing government indifferent to their needs
and rights. Klein calls this phenomenon "the antithesis of the
disaster capitalism complex's ethos." The actions are communal
with people helping each other, rebuilding rubble, and aiming to
end the erasure "of history, of culture, of memory."
It's a message of collective shock resistance replacing shock,
but it's too early to declare victory. The signs are
encouraging, and with enough of them who knows what's possible.
Hopefully a better world replacing the bankrupt notion that
markets work best and government is the problem. That's an idea
for the trash bin of history where it belongs and where it one
day will be.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to
The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on
TheMicroEffect.com Saturdays at noon US central time.
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