Klein documents the global spread of neoliberalism from the end of the Second World War through 2006, when the book was published. Backed by the United States, as well as the World Bank and IMF, neoliberalism was pushed upon South America, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Lebanon, and Iraq following severe shocks, including war, inflation, drastic political change, and natural disaster. Similar policies appeared in the United States following 9-11 and hurricane Katrina. Klein describes the neoliberal plan as having three core components:
First, governments must remove all rules and regulations standing in the way of the accumulation of profits. Second, they should sell off any assets they own that corporations could be running at a profit. And third, they should dramatically cut back funding of social programs. —56
In general, Klein argues, people would dismiss these types of pro-corporate/pro-austerity programs out of hand under normal circumstance; the elites who push these measures are opportunists who use (and sometimes deliberately cause or prolong) shocks in order to promote policies that would never be accepted in a “typical” political or economic atmosphere.
Sadly, there are hundreds of pages documenting horrible political, economic, and environmental shocks, resulting in all manner of misery. Many of these were, Klein argues, fueled, deliberately exacerbated, or allowed to fester in order to implant or cement neoliberal policy.
Klein certainly documents many shocks followed by moves toward neoliberal economic policy, but I’m not so sure she’s on to some particularly new dynamic. It seems more likely that elites are pursuing power as they always have. But perhaps the form it’s taking has been uniquely shaped by current economic system in a globalized world.
In a perverse way, what pisses me off the most in this book are not the blatant horrors (i.e., the US supporting an Argentine regime that tortured and murdered) but the more subtle government-corporate alliances. There are many people involved who were not murders or torturers, but nevertheless stole a great amount from society. But they remained members of the elite! They walked around as though they were respectable. Some examples:
The president of Argentina’s central bank announced that the state would absorb the debts of large multinational and domestic firms that had, like Chile’s piranhas, borrowed themselves to the verge of bankruptcy. The tidy arrangement meant that these companies continued to own their assets and profits, but the public had to pay off between $15 and $20 billion of their debts; among the companies to receive this generous treatment were Ford Motor Argentina, Chase Manhattan, Citibank, IBM and Mercedes-Benz. –158
… Argentina’s entire early – 90s shock therapy program was written in secret by J.P. Morgan and Citibank, two of Argentina’s largest private creditors. In the course of a lawsuit against the Argentine government, the noted historian Alejandro almost got Noah uncovered a jaw-dropping 1,400 – page document written by the two US banks for Cavallo in which “the policies carried out by the government from ‘92 on are drawn up… The privatization of utilities, the labor law reform, the privatization of the pension system. It’s all laid out with great attention to detail… –167
How can that kind of thing happen? How can these people not be laughed out of the office when they make that type of suggestion? “Yes—we get to keep all the money, and they take all the debt.” Sound familiar? It’s the same bullshit that happened during the financial bailout after the 2007 crisis. It’s infuriating. Everyone knows it’s beyond the pale to capture and torture political opponents. Why doesn’t that apply to outsourcing all of your risk to the populace while you reap huge rewards?
A more accurate term for a system that erases the boundaries between big government and big business is not liberal, conservative, or capitalist, but corporatist. Its main characteristics are huge transfers of public wealth to private hands, often accompanied by exploding debt, an ever-widening chasm in between the dazzling rich in the disposable poor and an aggressive nationalism that justifies bottomless spending on security. –15
Especially within the US, this is the type of situation I am most worried and frustrated about. But I’m not sure that corporatism (especially in the US) is caused by neoliberalism. It seem more like a special case of corruption, a failure of the rule of law, instead of the result of disaster capitalism per se.
In particular, the corruption and corporatism that has entered the military was shocking to me. The scale of it is truly disconcerting:
At the start of the occupation, there were an estimated 10,000 private soldiers in Iraq, already far more than during the first Gulf War. Three years later, a report by the US Government accountability office found that there were 48,000 private soldiers, from around the world, deployed in Iraq. Mercenaries represented the largest contingent of soldiers after the US military–more than all the other members of the “coalition of the willing” combined –378
Of course Klein didn’t have the hindsight that we do in 2017, but her choice to hold up Venezuela as an example of an alternative economy obviously seems absurd and purely ideological, given the state of Venezuela’s government and economy.
She also points to countries of South America bartering to fill their needs (Cuba sending doctors in exchange for oil, for example) as a model for escaping or improving upon a neoliberal model, but barter (as opposed to a credit/debit/finance/cash system) is the last resort for economic exchange (see David Graber’s Debt—The First 5,000 Years).
And then, for the cherry on top, she discusses Hamas filling a governmental void in an ambivalent light, as if she’s suggesting that they’re a workable alternative to neoliberalism, instead of an extortionist, terrorist group.
Finally, Klein discusses shock therapy itself, describing the procedure as it was used when it was being developed in the medical dark ages, and using the therapy as it was practiced before evidence-based medicine, as a metaphor for the shock doctrine.
This brought electroshock therapy full circle to its earliest incarnation as an exorcism technique. The first recorded use of medical electrocution was biased with doctor practicing in the 1700s. Believing that mental illness was caused by the devil, he had a patient hold onto a wire that he powered with a static electricity machine: one jolt of electricity was given for each demon. The patient was then pronounce cured. 112
This is very unfortunate, because it discredits this shock therapy and paints it as a barbaric and ineffective intervention for mental illness. However, in the modern-day shock therapy is a safe and effective treatment for major depression, that is administered to patients in a human and controlled manner. Shock therapy has already been stigmatized by its portrayal in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and it’s sad that the treatment is still getting this type of coverage as late as 2007 (see Shrinks by Jeffery A. Lieberman).
Ideas per Page:1 3/10 (lower, lots of supporting data for her thesis, but all largely within a similar paradigm)
Related Books: ??
Recommend to Others: If you are looking for an openly biased (not a criticism) work on the topic, perhaps. Don’t’ know enough about the topic to really say. Also watch the youtube documentary of the same name.
Reread Personally: No
Where leftists promised freedom for workers from bosses, citizens from dictatorship, countries from colonialism, Friedman promised “individual freedom,” a project that elevated atomized citizens about any collective enterprise and liberated them to express their absolute free will through their consumer choices. 52
In March 1972, in the midst of Letelier’s tense negotiations with ITT, Jack Anderson, a syndicated newspaper columnist, published an explosive series of articles based on documents that showed that the telephone company had secretly plotted with the CIA and the State Department to block Allende from being inaugurated two years earlier. 65
After several false starts, the opportunity came in October 1965, when General Suharto, backed by the CIA, began the process of seizing power and eradicating the left. The CIA had been quietly compiling a list of the country’s leading leftists, a document that fell into Suharto’s hands, while the Pentagon helped out by supplying extra weapons and field radios so Indonesian forces could communicate in the remotest parts of the archipelago. 67 [the same horrific massacre documented in “The Act Of Killing” and “The Look of Silence”]
Mercedes-Benz (a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler) is facing a similar investigation stemming from allegations that the company collaborated with the military during the 1970s to purge one of its plants of union leaders, allegedly giving names and addresses of 16 workers who were later disappeared, fourteen of them permanently. 109
It was in this loaded context that Amnesty International developed its doctrine of strict impartiality: its financing would come exclusively from members, and it would remain rigorously “independent of any government, political faction, ideology, economic interest or religious creed.” … Since human rights violations were a universal evil, wrong in and of themselves, it was not necessary to determine why abuses were taking place but to document them as meticulously and credibly as possible. 118 – 9
… Torture is an indicator species of a regime that is engaged in a deeply anti-– democratic project, even if that regime happens to have come to power through elections. 125
The remainder of the national debt was mostly spent on interest payments, as well as shady bailouts for private firms in 1982, just before Argentina has dictatorship collapsed, the who did it one last favor for the corporate sector. Domingo Cavallo, president of Argentina’s central bank, announced that the state would absorb the debts of large multinational and domestic firms that had, like Chile’s piranhas, borrow themselves to the verge of bankruptcy the tidy arrangement meant that these companies continued to own their assets and profits, but the public had to pay off between $15 and $20 billion of their debts; among the companies to receive this generous treatment were Ford Motor Argentina, Chase Manhattan, Citibank, IBM and Mercedes-Benz. 158
Sooka said… “ I would do it completely differently. I would look at the systems of apartheid – I would look at the question of land, I would certainly look at the role of multinationals, I would look at the role of the mining industry very, very closely because I think that’s the real sickness of South Africa… I would look at the systematic effects of the policies of apartheid, and I would devote only one hearing to torture because I think when you focus on torture and you don’t look at what it was serving, that’s when you start to do a real revision of the history.” 211
…he [Yeltsin] issued a decree 1400, announcing that the Constitution was abolished in parliament dissolved. Two days later, a special session of Parliament voted 636 – 2 to impeach Yeltsin for this outrageous act (the equivalent of the US president unilaterally dissolving Congress” .… Clinton continued to back him, and Congress voted to give Yeltsin $2.5 billion in aid. 227
When Yeltsin abolished the Soviet Union, the “loaded gun” that had forced the development of the original [Marshall] plan was disarmed. Without it, capitalism was suddenly free to lapse into its most savage form, not just in Russia but around the world. With the Soviet collapse, the free market now had a global monopoly, which meant all the “distortions” that had been interfering with its perfect equilibrium were no longer required. …. Those normal European countries (with their strong social safety nets, workers protections, powerful trade unions and socialized healthcare) emerged as a compromise between communism and capitalism. Now that there was no need for compromise, all those moderating social policies were under siege in Western Europe… 253
In South Korea, the IMF subversion of democracy was even more overt. There, the end of the IMF negotiations coincided with scheduled presidential elections in which two of the candidates were running on anti-IMF platforms. In an extraordinary act of interference with the sovereign nation’s political process, the IMF refused to release the money until it had commitments from all four main candidates that they would stick to the new rules if they want. With the country effectively held at Ransom, the IMF was triumphant: each candidate pledged his support in writing. 270
Beneath the jargon, it was simply an attempt to bring the revolution in outsourcing and branding that he [Rumsfeld] had been part of in the corporate world into the heart of the US military. 284
Anyone can be blocked from flying, denied an entry visa to the US or even arrested and named as an “enemy combatants” based on evidence from these dubious technologies-a blurry image identified through facial recognition software, a misspelled name, a misunderstood snippet of a conversation. If “enemy combatants” are not US citizens, they will probably never even know what it was that convicted them because the Bush administration has stripped them of habeas corpus, the right to see the evidence in court, as well as the right to a fair trial in a vigorous defense 304
In other words, you have corporatism: big business and big government combining their formidable powers to regulate and control the citizenry. 307
Wherever it has emerged over the past thirty-five years, from Santiago to Moscow to Beijing to Bush’s Washington, the alliance between a small corporate elite and a right-wing government has been written off as some sort of aberration – Mafia capitalism, oligarchy capitalism and now, under Bush, “crony capitalism.” But it’s not an aberration; it is where the entire Chicago school Crusade – with its triple obsessions – privatization, deregulation and union-busting – has been leading. 316
When the war moved inside the jails, the military was so short on trained interrogators and Arabic translators that it couldn’t get information out of its new prisoners. Desperate for more interrogators and translators, it turned to the defense contractor CACI International Inc.… whose workers did not need to meet the rigorous training and security clearances required of government employees, [it] was it easy as ordering new office supplies; dozens of new interrogators arrived in a flash. 378-9
In July 2006, Boeing, the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, issued a report on “lessons learned” from the various contractor debacles. It concluded that the problem stemmed from insufficient plan and call for the creation of a “a deployable reserve Corps of contracting personnel who are trained to execute rapid relief and reconstruction contracting during contingency operations” and to “pre–qualify a diverse pool of contractors with expertise and specialized reconstruction areas” – in other words, the standing contractor army. In his 2007 state of the union address, Bush championed the idea, announcing the creation of a brand-new civilian reserve Corps. “Such a core would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad in America needs them,” he said. 381
The emergence of this parallel privatized infrastructure reaches far beyond policing. When the contractor infrastructure built up during the Bush years is looked at as a whole, what is seen as a fully articulated state within a state that is as muscular and capable as the actual state is frail and feeble. This corporate shadow state has been built almost exclusively with public resources (90% of Blackwater’s revenues come from state contracts), including the training of its staff (overwhelmingly former civil servants, politicians and soldiers”). Yet the vast infrastructure is all privately owned and controlled. The citizens who have funded it have absolutely no claim to this parallel economy or its resources. 417
The actual state, meanwhile, has lost the ability to perform its core functions without the help of contractors. Its own equipment is out of date and the best experts have flooded the private sector. When Katrina hit, FEMA had to hire a contractor to award contracts to contractors similarly, when it came time to update the Army manual on the rules for dealing with contractors, the Army contracted out the job to one of its major contractors, and PRI – it no longer had the no-how in-house. 417
Perhaps part of the reason why so many of our elites, both political and corporate, are so sanguine about climate change is that they are confident they will be able to buy their way out of the worst of it. This may also partially explain why so many Bush supporters are Christian and-timers. It’s not just that they need to believe there is an escape hatch from the world they are creating. It’s that the rapture is a parable for what they are building down here… 419
In Venezuela, Chavez has made the co–ops a top political priority, giving them first refusal on government contracts and offering them economic incentives to trade with one another. By 2006, there were roughly 100,000 cooperatives in the country, employing more than 700,000 workers. Many are pieces of state infrastructure – tollbooths, highway maintenance, health clinics – handed over to the communities to run. 455
So Bolivia provides gas at stable discounted prices; Venezuela offers heavily subsidized oil to poorer countries and share his expertise in developing reserves; and Cuba sends thousands of doctors to deliver free healthcare all over the continent, while training students from other countries at its medical schools.… The major benefit is that ALBA is essentially a barter system, in which countries decide for themselves what any given commodity or server service is worth, rather than letting traders in New York, Chicago or London set the prices for them. 456
To the outside world, Solidere was the shining symbol of Lebanon’s postwar rebirth, but for many Lebanese and has always been a kind of holograph. Outside the ultramodern downtown core, much of Beirut lacked basic infrastructure, from electricity to public transit, and the bullet holes inflicted during the Civil War were never repaired on the façades of many buildings. It was in those neglected slums surrounding the gleaming center that has the law built its loyal base, rigging up generators and transmitters, organizing trash removal, providing security – becoming the much vilified “state within a state.” 461
1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.