In Naomi Klein’s new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism she lays bare the truth behind George Bush’s Modus operandi in pushing through radical free-market reforms. The entire Bush Presidency has been about economics and the playbook was written by Milton Friedman.
Friedman believed in a radical vision of society in which profit and the market drive every aspect of life, from schools to healthcare, even the army. He called for abolishing all trade protections, deregulating all prices and eviscerating government services.
These ideas have always been tremendously unpopular, and understandably so. They cause waves of unemployment, send prices soaring, and make life more precarious for millions. Unable to advance their agenda democratically, Friedman and his disciples were drawn to the power of shock.
Shock and Awe was not just a clever turn of phrase. It was a peak inside their playbook!
In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as “the shock doctrine”. He observed that “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”. When that crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. Some people stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters; Friedmanites stockpile free-market ideas. And once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the “tyranny of the status quo”. A variation on Machiavelli’s advice that “injuries” should be inflicted “all at once”, this is one of Friedman’s most lasting legacies.
Video and text are posted from the excellent interview Amy Goodman did with Naomi Klein today over at Democracy Now
Goodman introduced the interview with:
Pinochet’s coup in Chile. The massacre in Tiananmen Square. The collapse of the Soviet Union. September 11th, 2001. The war on Iraq. The Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Award-winning investigative journalist Naomi Klein brings together all of these world-changing events in her new book
These are all examples of a society in shock and an open opportunity to advance this radical fantasy free market that Bush and his Neo Con advisors want. Unpopular and next to impossible to implement democratically they rely on shocking the body politic when it is most vulnerable.
From the very beginning Ms. Klein has had Bush’s number as evidenced by this blistering expose Baghdad year zero from September of 2004. In that article for Harpers she explains how “Economic Shock Therapy” would work in Iraq.
In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.
With this new book -extensive excerpts available- she expands on the thesis and gets to the heart of what is behind so many of the perplexing polices of the Bush administration. Put simply in their minds “blank is beautiful” If an economy and society can be wiped out by whatever means, bombs, hurricane, tsunami, whatever, it creates the blank slate that allows them to execute Friedmans playbook. We could not understand why they would let New Orleans fall apart so completely in the days after the storm. The sad truth is that is exactly what the wanted. It did not make sense to us that they let Baghdad fall into chaos in those first few weeks of American occupation. It made perfect sense to those who wanted a clean slate to work with.
Some insight into why there was so little official interest in stopping the looting has since been provided by two men who played pivotal roles in the occupation – Peter McPherson, the senior economic adviser to Paul Bremer, and John Agresto, director of higher education reconstruction for the occupation. McPherson said that when he saw Iraqis taking state property – cars, buses, ministry equipment – it didn’t bother him. His job, as Iraq’s top economic shock therapist, was to radically downsize the state and privatise its assets, which meant that the looters were really just giving him a jump-start. “I thought the privatisation that occurs sort of naturally when somebody took over their state vehicle, or began to drive a truck that the state used to own, was just fine,” he said. A veteran bureaucrat of the Reagan administration and a firm believer in Chicago School economics, McPherson termed the pillage a form of public-sector “shrinkage”.
His colleague John Agresto also saw a silver lining as he watched the looting of Baghdad on TV. He envisioned his job – “a never-to-be-repeated adventure” – as the remaking of Iraq’s system of higher education from scratch. In that context, the stripping of the universities and the education ministry was, he explained, “the opportunity for a clean start,” a chance to give Iraq’s schools “the best modern equipment”. If the mission was “nation creating,” as so many clearly believed it to be, then everything that remained of the old country was only going to get in the way. Agresto was the former president of St John’s College in New Mexico, which specialises in a Great Books curriculum [which emphasises an education based on broad reading]. He explained that although he knew nothing of Iraq, he had refrained from reading books about the country before making the trip so that he would arrive “with as open a mind as I could have”. Like Iraq’s colleges, Agresto would be a blank slate.
Here is a link to a short film promoting the book:
Also from Youtube here is the first of a 6 part video of Ms. Klein talking about her book:
In a recent speech, also archived on Democracynow.org, Naomi dropped my favorite quote in recent memory.
We who say we believe in this other world need to know that we are not losers. We did not lose the battle of ideas. We were not outsmarted, and we were not out-argued. We lost because we were crushed. Sometimes we were crushed by army tanks, and sometimes we were crushed by think tanks. And by think tanks, I mean the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks.
cross posted at Daily Kos