3 november 2008

The Shock Doctrine (Joseph Stromberg)

The core thesis of Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” is that American foreign and domestic policies of the last 30 years have shaped a new corporatism. Corporatism, Klein writes, “originally referred to Mussolini’s model of a police state run as an alliance of (…) government, businesses and trade unions (…) in the name of nationalism.” Latter-day corporatism involves “a huge transfer of wealth from public to private hands, followed by a huge transfer of private debts into public hands.” Neo-liberal corporatism “erases the boundaries between Big Government and Big Business,” while organized labor - indeed all labor - is locked out of the new arrangements. Klein’s case is tightly organized, well presented, and overwhelming in cumulative impact. She makes a complex argument dealing with what are, indeed, complicated matters. Some reviewers complain that Klein forces the evidence into a pattern. They say her treatment of the views of certain psychologists, economists, and military planners and her comparative account of how those views are (were) implemented, are “unfair,” especially to the economists.

But Klein rightly pursues the ideas in question across these fields of knowledge (and action) by analogy - a perfectly good Aristotelian and Thomistic procedure. “Hooding” a captive and “blacking out” an entire city by bombing are analogous, because they are done for the same reason - to disorient and confuse, and so on, through further stages of comparison. The said psychologists, economists, and military planners dwell endlessly on certain themes because they see the world as a manipulable object and proceed from shared mechanistic, Hobbesian, positivist premises, whereby actual people are mere atoms, objects, or empty ciphers on indifference curves. We cannot be surprised that these experts’ activities complement one another in real life and reveal an indifference to “unforeseen consequences,” while a kind of mathematical Platonism underlies the supposedly “empirical” performances. Shared themes include “shock,” “shock therapy,” crises as experimental opportunities, and “clean slates” (Hobbes’s “clean paper”) on which to plot out new worlds. They talk this way; Klein makes nothing up.

Klein follows these common threads from the “free-market” Chilean tyranny, through Mrs. Thatcher’s rather mixed reforms, phony “privatizations” in Poland and Russia, the half-mad U.S. invasion of Iraq, with more phony “privatizations,” dispossession of small-holders in Sri Lanka, and “state failure” in New Orleans, where school vouchers were imposed while the city rotted. The Sri Lankan case must suffice here. There, long-established fishermen, having survived the tsunami, were barred from their beach holdings, so that resort hotels favored by the World Bank, U.S. operatives, and investors might expand. This is precisely what a Chicago Law and Economics (Coasean) judge would do. The fishermen are “socially inefficient.” They got no “growth.” Away with their land! They may come back in the reformed “free market” as waiters and busboys. One key to the new order, I would add, is this: By excluding war-making capacity (“defense”) from the concept of “state” by implicit definition, Republican “anti-statists” create a desert mirage. We can wrangle over smaller government any time; no one can reasonably hold that we are getting such a thing now from those in power, sundry “privatizations” notwithstanding.

Klein somewhat overplays the verbal opposition of “public” and “private.” The current rulers set up expensive contractors to coordinate already expensive defense-industry suppliers. This done, the contractors - clothed in state power - are no longer exactly “private”; neither are they “public” like the post office. Our “free market” reformers may answer for any conceptual confusion. And here, Klein may not see that the contractor fad is partly about empowering the Unitary Executive - shielding its operations from congressional oversight. But she is quite right to see numerous threats to democracy. I would add that imposing “spontaneous orders” by debt-leveraging, “privatization,” or invasion amounts to right-wing social engineering - not an especially “conservative” vocation. Neither are “privatizations” - amounting to confiscations on the scale of Henry VIII - conservative. Our current regime calls to mind institutionalized Whig corruption after 1689, when (in E. P. Thompson’s phrase) England was a “banana republic,” everything was for sale, and income migrated upwards via the state.

There are some problems of language throughout the book. Reading it, one might think the author deplores any conceivable free markets whatsoever. Klein uses “capitalism” and “free market” to refer to assertions made by policymaking ideologues merchandising corporatist and imperial policies. I wish she had somehow separated official rhetoric from other possible, face-value meanings of these words, by putting them in quotes or occasionally writing “state-capitalist.” This is, in any case, an important, insightful book. Naomi Klein’s specific critique of new-wave corporatism outweighs any disagreements some might have with her “third way” politics. Accordingly, I hope people read the book before falling into predictable, knee-jerk reactions as they too often do.

Deze boekbespreking verscheen ook in het magazine "The Freeman".

Meer boekrecensies van Joseph Stromberg op www.fee.org.
Meer teksten van Vincent De Roeck op www.libertarian.be.


At 3/11/08 10:18, Anonymous Anoniem said...

Typisch! Deze recensie is beter dan het boek zelf!

At 3/11/08 10:19, Anonymous Anoniem said...

Naomi Klein verkoopt gewoon larie en apekool. En maar in complottheorieën en achterkamerpolitiek blijven geloven! Haar "no logo" getuigde al van feitelijke nonsens, maar dit gaat er nog meer over.

At 3/11/08 13:11, Anonymous Anoniem said...

Los van mijn persoonlijke aversie voor de persoon Naomi Klein vind ik de thesis in dit boek van haar nog wel te pruimen. ik geloof zelf ook dat overheden hun macht bestendigen op de kap van angstige burgers en dat overheden er baat bij hebben om af en toe de burgers angst aan te jagen. terreurdreigingen en het spelen met veiligheidstoestanden (code oranje enzo) maakt daar geheel deel van uit. De link met het kapitalisme is me dan weer veel minder duidelijk, maar een boek van Klein zonder een sneer naar het vermaledijde globalisme/kapitalisme zou niemand hebben kunnen geloven.

At 3/11/08 18:40, Blogger Kri.st said...

Lees de kritieken van Johan Norberg of Klein maar eens. Kan je onder andere hier vinden.


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