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149 of 229 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A twisted and frequently inchoate rant, 9 May 2008
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This review is from: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Paperback)
Seven years ago, while still a university student, the must read book at my alma mater was Naomi Klein's `No Logo.' A probing and insightful look into the way that corporations were taking over our high streets and lives, it was at once pertinent and relevant. I had only lived in London for a couple of years, and already witnessed how its high streets were transmogrifying into `any street/ any town'. In barely 18 months the coffee shop culture I had once loved had been wrecked by Starbucks, one of Klein's principle targets. Though those who said it was the `defining tome' of its generation or the `handbook of the anti-globalization' movement overstated its importance, `No Logo' was an outstanding and memorable book, a must-read, even.

Now, we have `The Shock doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism' the long awaited follow up to `No Logo'.

Naomi Klein writes that this started out as a book about the privatization of the war on terror and became something else. `The truth [of its content] seems so bizarre,' she writes in an early chapter. It is `a book about shock. About how countries are shocked - by wars, terror attacks, coups d'etat and natural disasters . And then they are shocked again - by corporations and politicians who exploit their fear and disorientation of this first shock to push through economic shock therapy. And then how people who dare to resist this shock politics are, if necessary, shocked for a third time - by police soldiers and prison officers...'

The premise and scope of the book are thus ambitious and promising. Klein's thesis is certainly original and thought-provoking. Unfortunately she is unable to support it without making ludicrous jumps between historical events, drawing incorrect conclusions, using cursory evidence, and painting a picture of a vast right wing global conspiracy that often verges on the ludicrous.

The target for most of her ire is Milton Friedman and the so-called Chicago School of economists, that have influenced the policy of every world leader from Augusto Pinochet to Margaret Thatcher to George W Bush. Alas, Klein gives the Chicago School far too much importance. She doesn't recognize them for what they are: academics, whose work is only ever taken and modified to suit the needs of the country it is applied to. The Chicago School has never changed the fate of a single country - only those that have employed their strategies have done that.

The picture Klein paints is one in which the Chicago School spend forty years traveling the world, coercing global politicians - many of whom are portrayed as dozy or unwitting - into implementing their theories. According to Klein these men are fanatics that live for the stripping down and privatization of the global economy. Omnipresent is Friedman, who is portrayed as a sort of `Dr Evil' figure pulling the strings behind this cabal. The impression one gets, if taking this thesis at face value, is not unlike that behind the infamous nineteenth century anti-Semitic tome `The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' which made out that the world was governed by a global Jewish conspiracy. Replace the Jews with Chicago School economics professors and you have the updated version - The Shock Doctrine.

To support this theory Klein twists and turns global historical events to fit her narrative. The context of the Cold War is ignored completely with regards events in the 1960s 70s and 80s (of course all US foreign policy was pretty much dictated by the Chicago School, wasn't it?). Mrs Thatcher launches the Falklands War not to defend British sovereign territory, but to allow her to privatize British state utilities. (That the Argentine defeat led to the overthrow of the hated military junta, a target of Klein in an earlier chapter is conveniently overlooked). The necessary reforms to bring the rotten and bankrupt former Communist countries up to date are lambasted at every turn. Poland, which underwent a particularly harsh form `shock therapy', and Russia, which was undermined by the corruption of the Yeltsin era, are the only examples given; not the Baltic states, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic or Slovakia whose transitions were all smoother and are wealthy and well-integrated members of the EU 25 (an inconceivable notion in 1989). None of this would be extreme enough to fit her narrative.

Ignored also are the unquestioned success stories of those countries that have brought in liberal economic reforms, some modeled on the Chicago school. What of Ireland, once the sick man of Europe and now its richest country after oil rich Norway? Why not give some context on the reforms in Britain, where, pre-Thatcher, it was a strike ridden, ineffective country on an inexorable downward spiral? Why no mention of the colorlessness, economic pallor and corruption of the communist world?

There are other inconsistencies and twisted facts too. The South American junta leaders are (rightly) lambasted for their corruption. But when the IMF and World Bank get successor regimes to sign reforms designed to stop future leaders using the state treasuries as their current accounts, it is seen as part of the Chicago School's conspiracy.

Klein's use of figures can be sketchy too. She uses the NASDAQ and how it reacts `positively' to terrorist attacks to show how it suits those wicked capitalists for bad things to happen. Thus it jumps 7 points the day of the 7/7 bombings in London (she doesn't point out that this was about 0.2%) and 11.4 points the day a terror plot was thwarted in the UK the following year. This is obviously because it suits banks for bad stuff to happen because we live in a disaster economy, not because it might be down to ordinary fluctuations (not even that the jumps were anything out of the ordinary). She is rightly angry that an incompetent former governor of New Mexico is put in charge of post-invasion Iraq's educational program. But in contrasting New Mexico and Iraq's literacy rates, she uses figures from 1985.

She is better on her original subject - the privatization of the Iraq war. The corrupt, idiotic and wholly inefficient rule of the Bush administration is a perfect target, and her account of its work in Iraq, and also New Orleans, is a reminder of what a good journalist she can be. The chapters dealing with the betrayal of the Tsunami hit populations of South Asia are good - but then she spoils it with trying to draw it into her tirade against Friedman and the Chicago School.

It is only these parts that save the Shock Doctrine from oblivion. The rest is an uneven, frequently inchoate and self righteous rant that is utterly unconvincing if you read between the lines. Unfortunately there are those that will take everything she writes at face value, and repeat and adopt her many ludicrous stances. That is why this work is so detrimental to those - like me - seeking social justice in this world and ultimately a panacea to those she lambastes.
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Showing 1-10 of 43 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 May 2008, 14:04:38 BST
T. D. Welsh says:
I wonder if the actual book is longer, or shorter, than this review? 8-)

Posted on 26 May 2008, 22:33:05 BST
inkslug says:
It seems from your review that you yourself have some kind of agenda. None of your criticisms hols any water and this will be blatantly exposed by anyone who reads this. To compare this book or anything in it to 'The Potocols' is absolutely ridiculous, hilarious and irresponsible with equal measure.

Who the hell are you? You should be ashamed of your 'fantasy' review of this important text. And at the very least provide some proof in regard to your accusations...oh no of course you can't b ecause you're talking out of a very large posterior.

Posted on 7 Jun 2008, 15:02:10 BST
Granted, Klein is partial. As is anyone making a case.
Similarly, 'academic' instigators of the unquestioning idea that capitalism is the same as freedom cannot be declared innocent!
But that such ideas then go on to develop a life of their own, with their own particular local resonances, etc is certain.
It then makes little sense to rant against those initially responsible. Even if exposing them is important.
The adequate response is to counter them with something superior, which Klein fails to achieve.

A contrasted reading of Milton Friedman himself ("Money") and Marcel Mauss ("The Gift") may better equip us to do so.

Posted on 28 Jun 2008, 13:09:19 BST
I don't have time to give a full response. But one small part:

"Mrs Thatcher launches the Falklands War not to defend British sovereign territory, but to allow her to privatize British state utilities."

No, the book does not say this. Perhaps that is what you read (or want to read) into the text?

Klein is hardly the first person to observe that (a) the Falklands War was preventable, and (b) the Falklands War saved Thatcher's political career. What you do with that information depends on your judgement of her character...

Posted on 4 Jul 2008, 01:04:59 BST
Why do people get so pointlessly and blindly heated?? This is a sensible and balanced - and critically astute review. His comparison to "the protocols" is perfectly valid, for it attempts to place NK's analogy into a broader historical and equally convenient context. To lambaste him for that is just wrong - he isn't an anti conspiracy conspiracy theorist....

The jumps NK makes are there to be seen. Political repression is not a by product of economic liberalisation. The political executive of a nation chooses how it fulfils it civil liberties - or removes them - not a hashed application of Chicago School economics...NK is a very good journalist - and notably less good economic commentator.

Posted on 19 Aug 2008, 00:14:14 BST
Last edited by the author on 19 Aug 2008, 00:41:58 BST
Iorras says:
What of Ireland indeed? I have the misfortune to live here. What a disasterous divided country? Rich urban, poor rural. Ireland's economic boom was built on false pretences and widespread corruption, selfishness and stupidity with thicko Bertie Ahearne at the helm. Now (glee!) Dublin is beginning to suffer too - employment in rural Ireland has been impossible, now the disease has hit Dublin too. 'Rich' bums still drive around in fossil fuel guzzling SUV's and take up two parking spaces everywhere they go - ignorant, selfish and greedy yobs blissfully oblivious that they are causing global heating (those sort of things will not affect them or their children??!!??) Excuse me?? Why not mention the colourlessness, economic pallor and corruption of the capitalist world? Ireland hasn't even got the cop on of Norway who gain economically from their fossil fuel reserves. We give it away to the global capitalists intent on destroying every living thing on earth shortly. God help Ireland. Nobody else seems to be capable of doing so. AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Jul 2009, 03:27:44 BST
Last edited by the author on 14 Jul 2009, 19:21:20 BST
S Wood says:
Damo the Great - comparing Naomi Kleins book to The Elders of the Protocol of Zion is not "sensible and balanced" it is quite simply smear by association. Your statement regarding "Political Repression" is somewhat myopic, and given the role in say Chile (where the "political executive" was replaced in a coup supporting by the U.S) its palpably absurd. The point regarding Political Repression and Neo-Liberalism is simply this - that to have a Neo-Liberal regime (whether devised and ran by Chicago School Economists or not) always takes services away from the poor and is followed by a polarisation of wealth. The poor generally arent to happy about this, organise, protest,etc. If the "political executive" wishes to continue down the Neo-Liberal line he will have to repress those organising against his "reforms" or bin the "reforms". Not too difficult a concept to understand?

The pompous reviewer himself seems to have misunderstood the book fundamentally, his claims "That is why this work is so detrimental to those - like me - seeking social justice in this world. . ." appears (given his prelidiction to smear Klein with the analogy to "The Elders of the Protocol of Zion" and to generally misrepresent the book) to be merely rhetorical.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jul 2009, 07:32:01 BST
Jim says:
Actually you entirely misrepresent what I say. I likened it to the Protocols because the notion that you can have a cabal of individuals - be they Jews, Chicago School economists, or lizards (see David Icke) is simply absurd. The book is an unhelpful adolescent rant, simple as that.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Aug 2009, 21:27:30 BST
Last edited by the author on 4 Sep 2009, 20:36:55 BST
S Wood says:
To bring up "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is pretty mendacious, that book is widely discredited conspiracy theorising and extremely poisonous to boot and bears little or no relation to reality and much to European anti-semitism. To use it as an example of Kleins approach regardless of what you think of the book is unhelpful, underhand and mendacious. Kleins book is nothing like the "Protocols" either in approach, technique or language: she simply makes the point - quite rationaly - that the Chicago School of Economic Theory (Neo-Liberalism) has an ideological hegomony amongst policy circles, is peculiarly advantageous to certain strata of society and illustrates this with a number of examples. She further more states that during desperate times (some natural disasters: Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina; others political upheavals-Russia early 90's, Bolivia mid 80's, Chile in 73,etc) these ideas are forced upon peoples with little or no thought to what they think about them. I think the evidence stands up, so do the majority of the reviewers on Amazon. You don't.

Postscript: Having re-read the book it is also obvious that a good deal of your other criticisms are either a result of being unable to comprehend the written word, or outright mendacity. A few examples:

You say "Omnipresent is Friedman, who is portrayed as a sort of `Dr Evil' figure pulling the strings behind this cabal." - this interpretation could only result from a highly imaginative distortion of the book: their is NOTHING in the actual text of the book that implies anything of the sort.

You say "Mrs Thatcher launches the Falklands War not to defend British sovereign territory, but to allow her to privatize British state utilities." Again not what Klein is saying which is that the deeply unpopular Thatcher Government used the popularity that the jingoistic war in the South Atlantic provided her, stoked up by the Murdoch press, to win the 1983 election with a landslide and gave her the political room to implement an Neo-Liberal agenda. To be fair to you she might have mentioned the dissaray in the Labour party, and the split that formed the SDP - but without that emergency, which earlier Thatcher policies had made more likely, the Thatcher government of 1983 onwards would have not been able to privatise the state in such a drastic manner.

You: "There are other inconsistencies and twisted facts too. The South American junta leaders are (rightly) lambasted for their corruption. But when the IMF and World Bank get successor regimes to sign reforms designed to stop future leaders using the state treasuries as their current accounts, it is seen as part of the Chicago School's conspiracy." This is fanciful guff, do you really think that was all the IMF "reforms" included? Apart from anything else, the structural adjustment regimes were heavily corrupt, ask the Argentines about Carlos Menems corruption, or the Peruvian President or the Russians about the swizzling family Yeltsin.

You: "Klein's use of figures can be sketchy too. She uses the NASDAQ and how it reacts `positively' to terrorist attacks to show how it suits those wicked capitalists for bad things to happen . . ." This again falls into the "is he dim or disingenous?" camp of statements. Klein does not make this assertion, what she does say that in earlier times such as 11/09/2001 the stock market went belly up but during more recent times (eg 7/7/05 and other more recent terrorist attrocities) the stock market has just, as it were, shrugged its shoulders.

To call this book an "adolescent rant" is just nonsense, the above review is more like a middle aged cynics extended whinge. I suspect the reviewers commitment to social justice is purely rhetorical.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Sep 2009, 18:59:21 BST
Jim says:
Let's get this straight: you didn't like my response so you re-read a 500 page book and made notes to prove me wrong. How very humbling that you so took my review to heart!

I stand by my review and I think you misrepresent what I say. 88 people out of 120 say it's a helpful review; I presume that the majority of them a Klein fans, so I'll take that as validation, thanks.
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