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.