Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Shock Doctrine

Shock DoctrineNaomi Klein and Alfonso Cuarón have created a powerful short film to promote Klein's new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

I am a huge fan of Cuarón's Oscar-winning Children of Men, and like Klein, worry that the horrific refugee camps it portrays are easily imaginable in a future Britain over-run by millions fleeing climate catastrophe in the developing world.

I also greatly enjoy Klein's work. No Logo is beautifully written — although I agree with The Economist that Klein's central thesis is wrong, and that brands allow consumers to make more ethical purchasing decisions than is possible with unbranded commodity goods. Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, no snout-in-trough capitalist, similarly argues that investment by multinational companies is an essential step to raising countries out of poverty.

Klein/Cuarón's short film is a powerful indictment of the US torture techniques honed over decades and unleashed with a vengeance by George Bush. However, I think Klein is again wrong to link this torture so centrally with the global advance of free-market economics. It is clear that US support for Augusto Pinochet's coup against socialist Salvador Allende led to a dictatorship of torturing fascists whose governing programme included radical reform of that country's economy. However, it is twisting history to argue that Boris Yeltsin's brave squashing of an attempted Communist coup against Mikhail Gorbachev was linked to his later economic reform programme and its unfortunate promotion of gangster capitalism.

Inter-cutting scenes of electroshock therapy with pictures of Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan will sadly lead many to dismiss the whole film as hysterical nonsense. This is unfortunate, given the more sophisticated debate it should provoke on democratic control of economic reform. Still, it will doubtless sell millions of books.

UPDATE: Jonathan Fenby explains in today's Guardian why Klein is also wrong to cite China in support of her "shock therapy" thesis.

UPDATE 2: "The fall of the Soviets is a crime against democracy? What has that woman been smoking?" —Tim Worstall

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