432 of 449 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2008
Ideology aside, I consider this to be one of the most important books of our time. The reason I started off the way I did is that many people will react to Naomi Klein's book based on their political leanings. In fact, before starting this book, I was inclined to disagree with her premise -that Chicago School economics can be directly tied to oppressive regimes in many parts of the world. This book, however, thoroughly proves this disconcerting truth. The Shock Doctrine is also a brilliant expose and an elegant model which enables us to understand modern history in a new way.
I had originally seen a short video online that summarized the ideas of this book, and my first reaction (again, before reading the book) was that this must be a typical leftist rant, making an abstruse analogy between an economic system with which the author disagrees and real life practices like torture and shock treatment. As someone who was raised, or at least self-raised as basically a libertarian, I did not want to believe Klein's argument. In fact, the only reason I bothered to read the book is that I liked her earlier book, No Logo so much. She is one of the few writers on political and economic subjects whom I actually enjoy reading. Her style is so lucid that, even if I don't agree with some of her ideas, I understand where she is coming from and enjoy following her reasoning.
Alas, there is nothing abstract, symbolic or abstruse about The Shock Doctrine. Nor is it any kind of conspiracy theory, as one reviewer oddly remarked. Everything in this book is well documented, and most of the references are anything but obscure. You can find almost everything that is written about here by going back over newspapers of the last few decades. The fact is, recent oppressive regimes in South America, Eastern Europe and Asia built their systems around the ideas of Milton Friedman and Chicago School economics. This is not a theory or an accusation, but a matter of public record. The only thing that we can dispute and speculate over is whether or not Milton Friedman (and his Chicago School disciples) really approved of the actions of tyrants like Pinochet. In the end, does this really matter?
Again, when I first saw the video based on this book, I was skeptical, especially when I watched graphic footage of people being tortured and then told that there is a nearly perfect analogy between the literal shocking of political prisoners and the economic "shock therapy" inflicted on many nations. The reason this book overcame my skepticism is that these practices really were carried out in a symmetrical manner. That is, individuals were being tortured (by people who studied manuals on shock therapy, devised by a real life "mad doctor" named Ewen Cameron) at the same time their governments were conspiring with Chicago School luminaries.
Advocates of free market economics have always said that we must separate economic and political freedom. For example, we can be horrified by the actions of a Pinochet and yet admire the "economic freedom" that exists under such a regime.
I think one of the most impressive achievements of The Shock Doctrine is the way it discredits this widely held assumption. Even assuming that Chicago School ideas represent the ultimate in economic freedom, is it right, even by libertarian standards, to force such freedom on people who don't want it? The idea of forcing people to be free is an oxymoron, and yet this seems to be the mentality of the U.S. government, World Bank and other supposed defenders of freedom when implementing their strategies in the Third World.
Hardcore libertarians will argue that nothing in this book is a refutation of free market capitalism because none of the examples given are true examples of pure laissez faire capitalism. As someone who would have said this myself twenty years ago, I would now simply ask, what difference does it make? Similar arguments are made by dogmatic Marxists concerning the atrocities of Mao and Stalin (they weren't "really" communists). If we are shown, time after time, that a given ideology is used as a justification for implementing policies that include torture, the murder of dissidents and wide-scale corruption, it may be time to rethink that ideology.
Naomi Klein is an advocate of a "Third Way" between capitalism and communism. Examples of this include the relatively free but socialistic Scandinavian nations. Personally, I don't find these rather bureaucratic societies very attractive, being something of a hardcore anarcho-capitalist in my heart. Yet if people genuinely want a society that looks like modern day Sweden or Venezuela, do I (or the U.S. government) have the right to say they can't have it?
The Shock Doctrine illustrates something that goes beyond politics and ideology. I don't really believe that the people in government, industry and the World Bank, who are responsible for many of the atrocities Klein documents, are actually believers in Chicago School economics, laissez faire or any other system. What they want is wealth and power, and they use ideology as a justification for their actions.
If we put aside the political theory and look at the actions and strategies this book catalogs, we see a clear pattern. These people, as Klein documents, use war, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and the like as opportunities to exploit the masses. This is not a mere hypothesis, for there are ample quotes in the book where this doctrine is openly admitted by those who carry it out. Klein stops short of conspiracy theory, the kind that claims that catastrophic events (such as 9/11 and even natural disasters) were orchestrated by those who later exploited them. Whether Klein's more moderate position or the conspiratorial one is closer to the truth is ultimately of secondary importance. The fact is, those at the top of the power structure use disasters as opportunities to increase their wealth and power.
The beauty of this book is that it presents a coherent picture of American (and allied nations) foreign policy and, to some extent, domestic policy -- the Patriot Act and the Katrina tragedy are also described -- that clearly explains the modus operandi of the power elite. It doesn't matter what kind of political system you think is ideal. This is what is really happening. The book concludes on an upbeat note, as hard to believe as that might seem. There is evidence that as people wise up to the shock doctrine strategy, it will become less effective. Hopefully, many people will read this book and the process will be accelerated.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 9 November 2009
Everyone should read this book.
If you have ever wondered about the contradictions in the received explanations of Western policies, or of why our taxes seem to be handed over without question to private companies, then read this book.
If you want a scholarly, rigorous explanation for the madness of the free market that has so intoxicated ruling elites across the world, then read this.
Everything falls into place, contradictions become consistencies and the finger of truth points to the very few super-rich who wield power through trans-national companies and control governments around the world. This is not paranoia though you may feel a bit paranoid; this is not Marxism though you will despise Friedmanism and the Chicago school capitalists who spread the doctrine.
I was angry, sad, disillusioned and despairing at times, wondering about even my small involvement in British politics and the time I had wasted. However I now feel empowered by the truth thanks to Ms Klein. I hope that if you read this review that you go on to read the book and share my experiences. Truth does set us free!
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2013
Naomi Klein's basic thesis is this:- that the right wing conflation between (A) deregulated, free-market, laissez-faire capitalism (what in this country we would refer to as 'Thatcherism') with (B) basic human freedom is a myth, a dangerous myth.
Naomi Klein wrote this book in 2007 at the dusk of the Bush II era and leads the reader through an alternative version of history which traces the darkly illiberal policies of the Bush II Whitehouse back to Pinochet's Chile in 1973. The thread that weaves together Klein's over-arching narrative is the idea that proponents of what she refers to as 'Chicago School economics' (the ideas of Milton Friedman as articulated in 'Capitalism and Freedom' and which would later form the ideological backbone of Thatcherism, Reagonomics and Neo-Conservatism) have, whilst proclaiming the theoretical indivisability between free markets and free peoples, in actual practice, required more authoritarian governments to implement 'free-market' policies in foreign soil.
Klein' book points to the importance in politics of ideas and of ideology and highlights that the most salient feature of what is often referred to as free-market/laissez-faire capitalism in the last forty years, as it has sought to destroy the post-war consensus, has been the frequency with which it has rode on the back of disasters or 'shocks' so as to ruthlessly implement its basic tenets - whether that be in Pinochet's Chile in the 1970s, Yeltsin's Russia of the 1990s or in Iraq in the Noughties - against the wishes of the common man or woman and through undemocratic means. Thereby exposing as a lie the basic premise of 'free markets' as extolled as an article of faith by its proponents that it is the only truly democratic form of political economy.
Klein argues forcefully that what the Bush II whitehouse delivered, in its creation of vast new markets for private enterprise - whether that be through (1) the dissolution of basic individual liberties at home via the creation of a surveillance state in the form of 'homeland security' or through (2) large contracts awarded to the likes of Blackwater and Haliburton in the 'reconstruction' of a sovereign country invaded on false pretences - was not an aberration in the otherwise untainted history of free-market ideology but very much a continuation. 'The Shock Doctrine' is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the history of the last forty years. It is well-written, forcefully argued and will make you think.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Naomi Klein has written an essential book that examines the ideological origins, and the methods of implementation, of the ideas which have been central to the global economic transformation of the last 40 years, which is often associated with terms such as "globalization," "free trade," and "unfettered free market capitalism." It is an immense and complex subject, and whose eyes do not begin to glaze over when the subject of GATT, or WTO talks is raised, but Klein has done a most impressive job of offering the reader an erudite and lucid exposition of this transformation. She has meticulously researched the subject, and has coupled that with interviews of some key actors in the transformational events. The book is accompanied by 75 pages of footnotes, a few of which I verified for accuracy.
Klein starts her work in an unlikely place: the basement of the Allan Memorial Institute at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. It was there in the 1950's that Dr. Ewen Cameron, an American who was one time was president of the American Psychiatric Association, conducted experiments which were eventually funded by the CIA, on mentally-ill, and not so mentally-ill patients. Klein's interview with one of the survivors of Cameron's experiments was truly horrifying. Purportedly the CIA was funding such experiments "for a good cause," that is, to help captured American soldiers survive "brainwashing," which were conducted during the Korean War. In actuality, the CIA was to adopt many of the techniques that Cameron pioneered in its efforts to maintain "friendly" regimes throughout what was once called the Third World. The pictures of prisoners at Gitmo, with ear-mufflers and thick gloves, all in an effort to reduce sensory stimulus, are a direct result of Cameron's work. Electroshock therapy was also a central Cameron technique, and Klein uses an incisive epigraph from Ernest Hemingway, shortly before his suicide: "Well, what is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business? It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient." Yes, the critical point is that none of this worked, despite all the pain inflicted.
The central theme of the book is about what Klein calls "the other doctor shock." She is referring to Milton Friedman, and the school of economic thought known as the Chicago school (since Friedman taught at the University of Chicago), with its three part formula of: deregulation, privatization and cutbacks. He has been one of the stellar and most successful proponents of the now all too widely accepted "government is bad; free markets are the best of all possible worlds" thesis. And he doesn't believe in gradual transformation; it must be traumatic in order to overcome "political" obstacles, which is shorthand for the will of the vast majority of the people, who will be harmed by his policies. Klein does not particularly make this point, but I kept thinking, is not what she is describing the flip side of Communism? A rigid ideology, promoted by devoted and unquestioning acolytes who deem deviation from the "party line" heresy, requiring a revolution to obtain its objectives, and which involves much short-term immediate pain coupled with a promise of a better life in the hazy future.
Klein devotes chapter after chapter in a veritable "tour-de-force" of the implementation of the Chicago school's economic policies. Each chapter is a brilliant summation of the transformational events in a number of countries throughout the world. Friedman's first chance to implement his "clean slate" policies was Chile, when the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, and imposed General Pinochet's reign of terror on the country in 1973. For the Chicago school, the implementation of its policies must be made through non-democratic means, and usually accompanied by violence; a point Klein makes again and again. As Thomas Frank says in his What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, it is the French revolution in reverse, with economic wealth becoming concentrated, the few reaping vast rewards, the vast majority losing. That objective is not accomplished democratically. Klein goes on to detail the implementation of these polices in the other countries of what she calls the "southern cone," that is, Argentina, Uruguay, and Bolivia. She again selects a wonderful epigraph by Eduardo Galeano: "People were in prison so that prices could be free."
In the `80's, a partial implementation of Friedman's policies occurred in both the United States and Britain, under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher's policies were so unpopular with the electorate that she was sure to lose the election, but the "foreign adventure," the last gasp of empire jingoism, the Falklands War bailed her out. The author says that next step in the global transformation occurred with: "the colonization of the World Bank and the IMF by the Chicago School was a largely unspoken process, but it became official in 1989 when John Williamson unveiled what he called `the Washington Consensus'". The policies were thereby exported to Poland, Russia, and South Africa, each receiving its own chapter. The betrayal of the stated goals of the African National Congress, and the acceptance of the previous debt by the black-majority government, was particularly heart-breaking. The standard technique is to claim that the economic policies are not political, but technically and scientifically objective. Natural disasters, such as Katrina in New Orleans, and the tsunami in Sri Lanka, are likewise viewed as `opportunities' to "shock" the populace into accepting Chicago School doctrines, such as school privatization and fancy beach resorts. Klein also covers the economic "homeland security bubble" in the States, and does a brilliant job describing how these same policies were implemented in Iraq, a country with intermittent electric and water supplies, but a 15% flat tax rate was implemented, and constitutional changes were made so that it would be hard to reverse the "free market" policies, including selling off their oil reserves. The last chapter is devoted to the increasing resistance developing to such policies. Her book was completed prior to the economic melt-down in the United States in 2008, so, no doubt, it is greater now, but the political implementation of that discontent is still held in abeyance.
Klein's book has garnered numerous 1-star reviews; I've read them all, and could find very little of merit. Mainly they were the standard attacks from true-believer acolytes of the "magic" of the markets, despite the evidence, in particular of the last two years. Klein has written a remarkable, lucid book on why we are in the fix we are: Definitely 6-stars.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on November 15, 2010)
107 of 115 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2008
This book has shocked me thoroughly. In Denmark, we currently have a liberal government slowly dismantling our welfare system, which some would say is about high time since we have the highest taxes in the world. But reading the Shock Doctrine I have become a staunch believer in a social democratic society. I will happily pay my high taxes if I can trust my government is spending them right. The alternative is not an option for me. A happy society is one where all people have true opportunities, where very few are poor, and where those who are not able to fend for themselves are helped to lead a decent life by the society.
What is so ironic about Naomi Klein's revelations is the fact that the US shout out to anyone who cares to listen that they are defending democracy and want to spread it to the Middle East and elesewhere. Yeah sure. What hypocracy! The Shock Doctrine reminds us that the US have been behind the dismantling of some 12 democracies around the world for pure economic and geopolitical self-interest. My estimate is that most of those countries would today have been well functioning, prosperous democracies instead of poor developing nations traumatized by former cruel dictatorships installed by the US.
I don't know about you Americans, but I'm sure ready for CHANGE :O)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2009
I happened upon this book by chance and it sounded interesting so I bought it and I couldn't put it down. It reads like a good thriller and even moreso because it is true.
The first part about the shock treatments in the Canadian hospital was a little slow but when she really gets into the meat of the book you'll see how that fits in. It is a real roller coaster ride and very disturbing, yet it is a book that should be required reading in all secondary schools and/or universities.
If everyone read this book it would change the world, and for the better. This book makes you understand all the chaos, endless invasions and wars, assassinations, and coups that have gone on around us in this world for so many decades and why. It is extremely well documented and resourced.
Other books ("Confessions of an Economic Hitman", by John Perkins, books by Chalmers Johnson and Noam Chomsky et al) give excellent backup to this book, but "The Shock Doctrine" is the most "shocking" and comprehensive of all.
BUY THIS BOOK AND READ IT! You'll never think the same about this world again.
91 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2008
This is my first ever review on Amazon. No book has ever moved me to want to take action before like The Shock Dcotrine. Ok, so writing an Amazon review isn't going to change the world but getting as many people as possible to read this book is a step in the right direction.
A friend who recommended the book to me said it was powerful, but I wasn't prepared for just how powerful. Page after page I felt real physical rage and disbelief at how these horrific and world changing events have been happening for decades (and continue to happen) and yet have remained so under the radar of most of us.
Describing the contents of the book has been done very eloquently in other reviews, so I won't repeat that here. But I will just say PLEASE, whatever your political colour, however sceptical you are, PLEASE read this book, it will change how you view the world.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2014
I always take the time to read the worst rating of reviews on Amazon to try and get a balanced perspective of the books I read; especially when I think the book was as well documented and argued as this one. Ultimately, I have to give a 5-star review to this book (I would prefer 4.5, but this is not possible), not necessarily because I agree mostly with Ms Klein, but more because the writing is fluid, the content interesting and well-documented (not only by herself, but by a whole team that worked for her) although I tend to think the latter parts of the book are mired with rhetoric that is meant to please a left wing readership: a kind of "power to the people" chant that is more a political (-correct) statement than the detailed and researched evidence that seems to constitute the majority of the book and seems to be a sentiment echoed by a growing sub-section of Western population worldwide.
It is a pity she didn’t portray this book as a documentation of modern ‘neo-colonialism’ – the servitude of the many for the increased benefits of a super-rich few, irrespective of what country they live in today. But having lived in Southern Africa and India and travelled all through Asia, Africa and South America, her perspective seems to be extremely close to the perspectives of those locals, notably in terms of the “current events” and historical information that they seem to relay, which is not part of our mainstream Western news. Notably, she states these 20th Century historical facts, not merely stating names, dates and events, but by providing the reader with a compelling motive for the actions of Western countries’ governments. In this sense, it seems to be an interesting reference of the 20th Century history of developing nations.
All in all, I reckon for those interested in this book, the central thesis she defends and argues in this book is (p. 87): "[... Pinochet's] Chile under Chicago School Rule was offering a glimpse of the future of the global economy, a pattern that would repeat again and again, from Russia to South Africa to Argentina: an urban bubble of frenetic speculation and dubious accounting fuelling superprofits and frantic consumerism, ringed by the ghostly factories and rotting infrastructure of a development past; roughly half the population excluded from the economy altogether; out-of-control corruption and cronyism; decimation of nationally owned small and medium-sized businesses; a huge transfer of wealth from public to private hands, followed by a huge transfer of private debts into public hands."
Her book efficiently documents the following causal relationship. Social democratic tendencies in the developing world were painted as “communist”. Most of these nations have had natural resources which these soc-dem (“social democratic” or ‘pink’, i.e. not red/communist, using the official term) governments wanted to use for the benefit of their people, rather than for the benefit of enormous multinational companies. The US then spear-headed the toppling of these governments and their replacement because they constituted a “communist threat” and were replaced with bloody dictatorships where the beneficiaries of the new “free trade” agreements were the multinationals and a handful of “elite” dictators and their close entourage and “partners in crime”. These agreements with dictators were sealed with loans to develop the country (rather than using the money from the commercialisation of the said natural resources) that were ultimately paid (and are still being paid) by those individual tax-payers that were suppressed by their imposed dictatorships. All in all, it is a beautiful documentation of how western industries have been developed on the blood of the people and natural riches of these developing countries.
It would have been interesting if Ms Klein would have looked at the protectionist soc-dem of India (disregarding temporarily its inner inequalities due to their undying and archaic caste system) and how it was able to build into a now modernising and strengthening economy. Since an overwhelming part of the natural resources had already been extracted by the time the British declared its independence, the US and other nations did not see India as a country worth trying to “take over” by covert means. Furthermore, when India was looking for developmental aid, it often turned to communist nations, notably Russia, since the US was trying to tie aid with the inception of military bases in India. The latter was unacceptable to the Indian government and this perceived leaning towards Russia for aid was often viewed as India being pro-Russia or pro-Communist. Nonetheless, the protectionism stance of the Indian government has allowed its domestic industry to grow by-and-large through its own domestic demand, then they started opening up the economy in the late 80s early 90s through joint ventures of foreign and domestic companies into finally what we see today as a free, capitalist market we see in many Western countries (once again, to be considered with a good pinch of salt, considering there is such an enormous difference in wealth and income in India’s population).
On the other hand, there are several points I think she does not note of and might be important for readers for trying to reconcile her perceived “extremist” standpoint, as noted in some of the 1-star valuations of this book:
1. There seems to be a quite big chasm between the attitudes of American individuals, who in my experience have a good, kind and moral nature and the truly brutal, murderous and ‘profit-mongering at the price of indigenous foreign citizens’ 20th Century foreign policy the US has conducted post WWII.
2. Having read about Milton Friedman’s opinions and listened to many of his interviews, it seems that free-trade policies (based on Adam Smith's absolute and comparative advantages) and monetarism has been hijacked by an elite (worldwide, not just the US) in order to grant big companies an unfair advantage over any smaller or less powerful individuals or groups by means of open competition in a market where there isn't equal means/capacity. Milton Friedman seems to be an individual whose theories had the benefit of individuals at heart, including their freedom. The individuals that claim they have implemented his theories have done nothing more than just found an academic to build a smokescreen of excuses to implement a shadow agenda. I believe the problem with practical implementations of Friedman’s theories, is one I have notably seen for the last 5 years of last century in South Africa: individuals’ advocacy and claims to rights without the acquiescence of related responsibilities. Friedman, unfortunately, considered humans to be “rational”, which might have even underlying assumptions of maturity, open-mindedness and civic responsibility, foregoing the notion that profit-maximising might also entail the desire and use of power to obtain “a free lunch”, rather than make an effort and work in order to increase or gain profit. In his own words, using also the appropriate econometric jargon, Friedman states that capitalism is a necessary condition for freedom, but not a sufficient one. This is where practical applications of his theories have completely deviated from the theory, something that Ms Klein makes no mention of or allusion to.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 February 2014
I will just go ahead and add to the din of approval out here. This is a total tour-de-force: thematically and historically. I have yet to come across a more comprehensive and concerned summary of the economic-political sphere post second world war. Had begun the book with some trepidation as Klein enlisted in detail the torture tactics perfected and exported by Dr Cameron in Canada thinking this seems like an over-written account of an analogy she is forcing down my throat. But I was completely wrong. There are no analogies here, just informed deductions. Deductions from accumulated evidence of systematic use of force and shock to impose free markets on the world-in-transition. All the bloody political coups, the failed wars, the pig-headed Chicago Boys driven foreign and economic policies, the freewheeling profiteering in the now-established disaster complex: all a result of those three pillars of neoliberalism: privatisation, deregulation and spending cuts: just watching them unfold here in country after country had my head spinning.
Lucid, gripping, laced with hard evidence and references, if this impassioned, yet objective account (no! it is not a Leftist rant!) does not lead you to have a political conscience or give you a perspective of the underlying web of economics on which our society of borders and institutions functions, nothing will. Klein's book is a wonderful springboard to understanding world politics as they just unfolded and continue to unravel. Spotting the patterns in seemingly disparate news items and the hidden capitalist agendas become that much easier after dipping into the particulates of the misery and mayhem designed and unleashed on countries the world over from South America, Asia, Middle East, Europe and finally, the home-ground US of A. A cracking document of our times!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2008
Read and weep - Klein exposes the real power behind the world throne and the shoddy, extraordinary greed of the few who are happy to make money from the world's poor. Oh actually - BY making the rest of the world poor. The compelling story of how Milton Friedman's Chicago Boys realised that catastrophe gave them a vital window of opportunity in which to snatch and grab, in countries worldwide, starting with some "experiments" in Latin America. It's no news to economists, but it is to the rest of us - governments in "transition", such as Poland under Solidarity, were forced to seek help from the World Bank and IMF, only to be told that essential loans came with unbearable hardship and economic ruin for their citizens. Forced privatisations of state companies, all price controls lifted, so that essentials like bread and milk became unaffordable, and massive layoffs/unemployment. But the deal was always: accept our terms, or forget about securing loans - which these countries (like S.Africa, like Russia) needed to deal with the inherited debts of previous dictatorships. A rock and a hard place indeed. And guess who was controlling the IMF? And making all the money from buying up ex-state companies, only to sell them on for huge profit, or close them down so there'd be no competition for the American companies coming in? And that's before Klein even gets to discussing Iraq. Essential reading. Especially in the Big Brother age, when politicians would like us all to be looking the other way.