I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.” (Pg.6)
For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the “reforms” permanent. In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as the shock doctrine. He observed that “only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”12 (Pg.7)
I started researching the free market’s dependence on the power of shock four years ago, during the early days of the occupation of Iraq. After reporting from Baghdad on Washington’s failed attempts to follow Shock and Awe with shock therapy, I traveled to Sri Lanka, several months after the devastating 2004 tsunami, and witnessed another version of the same maneuver: foreign investors and international lenders had teamed up to use the atmosphere of panic to hand the entire beautiful coastline over to entrepreneurs who quickly built large resorts, blocking hundreds of thousands of fishing people from rebuilding their villages near the water. “In a cruel twist of fate, nature has presented Sri Lanka with a unique opportunity, and out of this great tragedy will come a world class tourism destination,” the Sri Lankan government announced.18 By the time Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and the nexus of Republican politicians, think tanks and land developers started talking about “clean sheets” and exciting opportunities, it was clear that this was now the preferred method of advancing corporate goals: using moments of collective trauma to engage in radical social and economic engineering. (Pg.9)
Most people who survive a devastating disaster want the opposite of a clean slate: they want to salvage whatever they can and begin repairing what was not destroyed; they want to reaffirm their relatedness to the places that formed them. “When I rebuild the city I feel like I’m rebuilding myself,” said Cassandra Andrews, a resident of New Orleans’ heavily damaged Lower Ninth Ward, as she cleared away debris after the storm.19 (Pg.10)
Friedman first learned how to exploit a large-scale shock or crisis in the mid-seventies, when he acted as adviser to the Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. Not only were Chileans in a state of shock following Pinochet’s violent coup, but the country was also traumatized by severe hyperinflation. Friedman advised Pinochet to impose a rapid-fire transformation of the economy—tax cuts, free trade, privatized services, cuts to social spending and deregulation. Eventually, Chileans even saw their public schools replaced with voucher-funded private ones. It was the most extreme capitalist makeover ever attempted anywhere, and it became known as a “Chicago School” revolution, since so many of Pinochet’s economists had studied under Friedman at the University of Chicago. Friedman predicted that the speed, suddenness and scope of the economic shifts would provoke psychological reactions in the public that “facilitate the adjustment.”14 He coined a phrase for this painful tactic: economic “shock treatment.” In the decades since, whenever governments have imposed sweeping free-market programs, the all-at-once shock treatment, or “shock therapy,” has been the method of choice.
Pinochet also facilitated the adjustment with his own shock treatments; these were performed in the regime’s many torture cells, inflicted on the writhing bodies of those deemed most likely to stand in the way of the capitalist transformation. Many in Latin America saw a direct connection between the economic shocks that impoverished millions and the epidemic of torture that punished hundreds of thousands of people who believed in a different kind of society. As the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano asked, “How can this inequality be maintained if not through jolts of electric shock?”15
Exactly thirty years after these three distinct forms of shock descended on Chile, the formula reemerged, with far greater violence, in Iraq. First came the war, designed, according to the authors of the Shock and Awe military doctrine, to “control the adversary’s will, perceptions, and understanding and literally make an adversary impotent to act or react.”16 Next came the radical economic shock therapy, imposed, while the country was still in flames, by the U.S. chief envoy L. Paul Bremer—mass privatization, complete free trade, a 15 percent flat tax, a dramatically downsized government. Iraq’s interim trade minister, Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi, said at the time that his countrymen were “sick and tired of being the subjects of experiments. There have been enough shocks to the system, so we don’t need this shock therapy in the economy.” 17 When Iraqis resisted, they were rounded up and taken to jails where bodies and minds were met with more shocks, these ones distinctly less metaphorical. (Pg.9)
Mike Battles puts it best: “For us, the fear and disorder offered real promise.”20 (Pg.10)
NAOMI KLEIN is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the international bestsellers, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate (2014), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) and No Logo (2000).
This Changes Everything was an instant New York Times bestseller and is being translated into over 25 languages. Nominated for multiple awards, it won the 2014 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The documentary inspired by the book, and directed by Avi Lewis, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015.
Since This Changes Everything was published, Klein’s primary focus has been on putting its ideas into action. She is one of the organizers and authors of Canada’s Leap Manifesto, a blueprint for a rapid and justice-based transition off fossil fuels. The Leap has been endorsed by over 200 organizations, tens of thousands of individuals, and has inspired similar climate justice initiatives around the world.
In November 2016 she was awarded Australia’s prestigious Sydney Peace Prize, for, according to the prize jury, “exposing the structural causes and responsibility for the climate crisis, for inspiring us to stand up locally, nationally and internationally to demand a new agenda for sharing the planet that respects human rights and equality, and for reminding us of the power of authentic democracy to achieve transformative change and justice.”
Klein is a member of the board of directors for climate-action group 350.org. In 2015, she was invited to speak at the Vatican to help launch Pope Francis’s historic encyclical on ecology, Laudato si’.
In 2017, Klein became Senior Correspondent for The Intercept. She is also a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributor to the Nation Magazine. Recent articles have also appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, the London Review of Books and Le Monde.
She has multiple honourary degrees and in 2014 received the International Studies Association’s IPE Outstanding Activist-Scholar award.
In June 2017, she will be releasing a new book called No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.
WE&P by: EZorrilla.