Saturday, March 28, 2009


Klein's Shock Doctrine is very impressive, teaching me some things I didn't know about the theoretical underpinnings of globalization, about Freidman and the Chicago School's involvement with the worst of South American dictators, about Dr. Ewen Cameron and his CIA-funded torture research carried out on unwitting patients under the guise of psychological treatment, and much more. Klein also surprises me with an aspect of her book that initially seems a too-clever linguistically derived rhetorical leap: the connection between electrical torture and economic "shock." But within her first 100 pages, she makes the case that sadistic repression, for which electric shock is often less a symbol than a literal description, is a necessary concomitant of neoliberal policies--or as Sylvia Plath might have put it: every technocrat adores a fascist.

Klein reports elsewhere in the book that mega military contractor Lockheed Martin is acquiring "allied" companies in a macabre pattern of vertical integration. It's buying into the health care companies that treat veterans injured (conceivably) by its own weapons. So we have the spectacle of a single corporation profiting from the sale of weapons and from their use. I doubt that this example is at all exceptional.

In one of her book's most eye-opening passages, Klein tells us about the Maldives, an archipelago near India that's a popular resort for the superrich, who can rent small private islands for their vacations or chill out in $5000-a-night hotels. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes honeymooned there. The dark side of the Maldives (the only side most people who actually live there ever see) is that the country is run by a typically brutal dictator who sends his political opponents, including anyone who writes on anti-government websites, to remote "prison islands" where the accomodations are presumably less luxurious than those enjoyed by Tom and Katie and where room service includes complimentary torture. These are the kinds of places where the big winners in the globalized economy go to play.

Overall, Klein's book is a depressing, shocking (sorry), important work that, like the best of Chomsky's books, presents an alternative paradigm for understanding world events (alternative, that is, to the official propaganda line peddled by American corporations and the politicians they own). It's a paradigm that understands the dark side of globalization not as a collection of aberrent side effects but as the necessary conditions for, and intended results of, the policies. It's a damning indictment of Chicago School market fundamentalism (a paradigm that, despite the current crash, is nowhere near dead) that damns not by arguing against its theory but by exposing its literally atrocious consequences around the globe. A fine and necessary book, it's also a powerful implicit argument for the superiority, in terms of morality, general prosperity and longterm stability, of mixed economies a la Germany and France. The book thus argues for Keynesianism and the Bretton Woods consensus, things that the current Friedmanite managers of the world economy despise with all the passionate, irrational hatred their religious brethren direct at the devil.

No comments: