Peter Vincent on Naomi Klein's 'The Shock Doctrine'
- November 10, 2008 1:06 PM |
- By Michael Hlinka
Money Talks is a daily business column from CBC radio.
By Peter Vincent, a writer based on Saltspring Island
About half way through Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, it dawned on me that this was the most exciting book I had ever read, that didn’t involve murder or full frontal nudity. Actually, that’s not entirely true. There are plenty of murders in here, most involving doomed South American presidents or unlucky factory workers . . . or Iraqi civilians or Thai fishermen.
These are the ones that, according to Ms. Klein, have paid the price of giant companies such as Haliburton, or industrialized wealthy nations imposing Milton Friedman economic theories on otherwise perfectly content developing countries.
Mr. Friedman won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976, based on his idea that unfettered capitalism is the panacea to the inequities of the world. Based at the University of Chicago, his economics department spawned thousands of disciples who spread his doctrine to the four corners of the planet.
In this important book, Ms. Klein chronicles the disastrous results behind the so-called Chicago School. I hate to simplify the game plan into a sound byte, but it goes something like this - a country or region has to experience some sort of cataclysmic disaster. It could be natural, as the case of the December 2006 tsunami or Hurricane Katrina. Or it can be man-made, as in the string of coup d’etats that happened in South America in the early 70s, or the break-up of the Soviet Union. Or the Iraqi war, where the term “Shock and Awe” became a household term.
When the local population or government is in a state of complete confusion and disorientation, you send in the economists. Agencies such as the International Monetary Fund would offer large loans to rebuild the country, but only if the government imposed the Friedman-style economic model. That meant selling off government controlled natural resources such as oil and minerals, sometimes even water and sanitation infrastructures, to private companies, almost always foreign multinationals.
That resulted in a lot of pain to the working class, in the form of soaring unemployment and out-of-control inflation when government price controls were removed from basics such as gas and food. Of course this leads to civil unrest, which needs to be suppressed by mass executions or citizens simply disappearing. Or Abu Ghraib prison. Or Tian An Men square.
Naomi Klein goes through an exhaustive laundry list of countries that have undergone this disastrous globalized gold rush, from Argentina to Poland to China, India, and Korea. You name any emerging country and you will see the hand of Milton Friedman.
Ronald Reagan carried around one of Friedman’s books during his presidential campaigns. “Reganomics” was all about Milton Friedman.
The result is the current economic global meltdown, which Ms. Klein foresaw in early 2007. She writes, "The U.S. government is barreling toward an economic crisis, in no small part thanks to the deficit spending that has bankrolled the construction of the privatized disaster economy."
Last week Alan Greenspan stood before a Senate Committee and pretty much admitted that the Friedman world view that he based his policies on during his tenure as head of the U.S. Federal Reserve was seriously flawed.
Naomi Klein’s polemic should be required reading for all economics students. Come to think of it, it should be required reading for all those CEOs serving time behind bars for their part in this current rollercoaster ride. And for those out there who need a little dose of nationalism, the author is a dyed in the wool Canadian. Be very proud.
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