Monday, November 12, 2007

I'm curious about Naomi Klein's new book

"The Shock Doctrine". From the articles she's written that have described what she calls the process of economic restructuring based on "shocks", like this one from The Nation, the book seems to be unnecessarily confused. She includes a lot of good information on how American neoliberal economists helped to destroy the economies of South America, but instead of plainly and humbly saying that this is just what capitalism does she seems to feel that there needs to be a kind of hook that makes it all work better. Enter the notion of shocks, i.e. that neoliberalism can only be imposed through a window opened by traumatic shocks, like a dictatorship or a natural disaster. This can be easily disproved with one word: NAFTA. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which imposed neoliberal doctrines on Mexico, passed without any sort of shock to Mexico allowing it in. It even passed with the PRI, the official party of the state, still in control of the political system (something that would only change eight years after the passage of NAFTA). I don't understand why exactly the notion of shcoks is necessary. It superficially fits things like hurricane Katrina and attempts to profit off of it, but in the larger picture the notion of shocks being in any way necessary for the imposition of neoliberal capitalism is just not tenable. What about the WTO? You can go around and scavenge for information about any transition to neoliberalism that supports the thesis, and come up with some marginal things, and put them together, but that doesn't mean that the thesis is anything else but wishful thinking.

Unfortunately this tendency, to not just say that it's capitalism that's causing the problems of globalization but to attach some stylish concept to the idea, has been with Naomi Klein's work since "No Logo", which although inspiring to many people nevertheless talked about globalization in terms of French philosophy regarding branding. None of this is necessary, and although presenting things in a format that avoids putting things purely in terms of the "C" word may get her more mainstream acceptance it takes away from her work and puts it more into the category of self interested groveling.

[on edit: globalization and intervention is a case of the velvet glove and the iron fist that it conceals. Proposals are tried first in an attempt to get countries to sign onto neoliberal reforms, then friendly persuasion, then more radical action like economic embargoes and trade sanctions, then fomenting coups, up to the most radical step of actually creating either a proxy war, like in Central America in the '80s, or directly invading a country. This isn't a new concept, but it sums up what's behind the concept of "the Shock Doctrine" better and more concisely than Naomi Klein does it, with less confusion and less philosophical blurriness. Plus, Noam Chomsky has written at least ten books about this very topic, making Klein's 'revolutionary' conception of disaster capitalism redundant in the extreme]

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