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The Shock Jock Queen by Jay Knott (02/25/09)       ⇌ (The Crisis)       

Naomi Klein's recent book 'The Shock Doctrine - the Rise of Disaster Capitalism' aims to show how the 'elites' have recently discovered how to profit from the disasters they cause (such as wars) or which happen naturally (such as tsunamis). Here is Alexander Cockburn's review:


and here is a review of his review by a chap called George Eaton at Warwick University:


Cockburn's points are

This doesn't leave much of  Klein's theory. If the proletariat can use disasters too, it is better to figure out how, rather than playing the victim game, and her claim that there is some sort of new doctrine at work in modern capitalism is simply false. George Eaton defends her, claiming that Cockburn's review is

 "another blow to Cockburn’s standing following his recent denial of man-made climate change..."


Seriously, Cockburn is one of a rare breed who doesn't worry about his 'standing'. He's not going to be intimidated by hacks like Eaton slipping in the loaded word 'denial' in place of 'skepticism'. Eaton does manage to fairly sum up one of Cockburn's points thus: "you're onto nothing new Naomi", but somehow misses the fact that he is right. Eaton claims that in listing the numerous shocking things capitalism has done before the shock doctrine was formulated, Cockburn misses Klein's point -

"Klein’s specific objective is to document how disaster capitalism relates directly to the neoliberal counter-revolution that culminated in the 1980s" -

which amounts to saying Klein tries to justify her argument by giving examples of when her argument is correct - which she does, but that of course proves nothing. Klein's awestruck fan then claims that Cockburn fails to mention Klein's section on natural disasters. Really? This is what Cockburn says:

"Capitalists try to use social and economic dislocation to advantage, but so do those they oppress. War has been the mother of many a positive social revolution, as have natural disasters. The incompetence of the Mexican police and emergency forces after the huge earthquake of 1985 prompted a vast popular upheaval. In Latin America there have been shock attacks and shock doctrines for 500 years. Right now, in Latin America, the pendulum is swinging away from the years of darkness, the death squads and Friedman’s doctrines."

This reminds me of the point I want to make. Klein et. al. complain about capitalism not being democratic. Trouble is, it IS democratic. The USA did, it is true, back military regimes in Latin America, but since the nineteen-seventies, has changed every one of them for a parliamentary democracy. It has invaded Iraq and installed a parliamentary democracy. It has invaded Afghanistan and installed a parliamentary democracy. Unlike Klein, Cockburn notices inconvenient truths like the fact that the huge country of India was shocked into neoliberalism without wars or tsunamis, but via democratically elected governments. This is because he uses the method of trying to find counter-examples, rather than examples, of a theory.

I suppose I ought to read Klein's book myself before making a final pronunciamento on the subject, one which will settle the issue throughout blogosphere now and forever, and Naomi Klein will read it and say how clever I am.


Well, I tried. I got to about page ten. "I started researching the free market's dependence on shock four years ago, during the early days of the occupation of Iraq" she writes. Then she describes jetsetting around the world to scenes of devastation, and always finds the same thing - businessmen trying to take advantage of the crisis, backed up by pundits who say shock is good for business. As I guessed, her method proves nothing - it just consists of finding examples which support her hypothesis. Of course businesses try to make money in a crisis - they do the same when there's not a crisis. There are theorists who say shock can be good for business - there are as many who promote stability.

On the other hand, radicals since Marx, have always seen crises, wars, etc. as harbingers of revolution. Revolutionaries, not reactionaries, are the more consistent promoters of 'shock doctrine'.

The only time she finds evidence which disproves her argument, she doesn't notice. In Iraq, she finds corporations who have made lots of money out of the chaos. Much of this money was made because of the US government's failure to allow competitive bidding - it just gave contracts to Haliburton and so on. Competitive bidding is one of the hallmarks of neoliberalism - giving government contracts and taxpayers' money to the companies which can do the job most cheaply. The Iraq disaster isn't an example of shock in the service of neoliberalism. The occupation was not driven by rational capitalist interests.

Klein's book is testimony to something she has pointed to - the 'dumbing down' of the left. Hopefully, she'll do better next time.


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Disaster Capitalism hits Chile (03/01/10) by Jay Knott: