Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Shock Doctrine

Another book has been added to my Need to Read list. Naomi Klein has written a book called The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism in which she claims that governments and corporations have begun to use disasters to further their own agendas. She talked with the AVClub about it recently.

The book is an alternative history of the triumph of a set of ideas. That this set of ideas has triumphed is actually an incredibly uncontroversial thing to say. We call this globalization, or the age of globalization. And it's been documented many times, but differently. We do know that over the past 35 years there has been an incredible sea change in the way the world economy functions. This has been advanced through bureaucratic institutions like GATT and the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and that's why it sort of goes, usually, by the friendlier name "globalization" or "free trade." But, beneath those phrases are a set of policies that call on countries to lower their trade barriers, to privatize industries that had been in the public domain, and that require cuts to social spending. The fact that this change has happened is not controversial. We know that there has been a dramatic change. It has minted billionaires in every country where it has triumphed. As soon as you privatize the entire economy in Argentina, Mexico, Russia—it creates an oligarchic class. What we're all struggling with right now is the legacy of these policies and the fact that it has opened up this dramatic income gap between the winners of this economic model and the losers, the people who have been excluded from it. That has been the disconnect of the Bush years, of the Bush administration saying the economy has been doing well where people are going, "Well, it really doesn't feel like it's doing well." The answer is that it really was doing well for the Bush administration and their friends.

I'm really not advancing a "great man" theory of history, or some idea of a back-door conspiracy, I just think this is the way history works. After the market crash in 1929, the tide really did turn in favor of the middle class and workers. We saw a period over 30 to 40 years where the middle class rose to unprecedented levels in the United States, but not just in the United States, in any country that adopted these types of policies. And it really did work, in terms of creating class mobility. But it really did eat into profits and this stage that we've been living in since Reagan is really about the people in the highest income brackets saying, "We want our New Deal. We don't want to share so much." The basic demands of this counterrevolution, or this revolt of the elites, have all been about taking back those gains—breaking unions, being able to pay lower wages, having the freedom to scour the world for the lowest wages—and it's really been a liberation movement—the liberation of capital from all constraints.

So, is that a conspiracy? I don't see that as a conspiracy, I actually just think this is the way the tides of history work. It swings in one direction; it swings in the other direction. I don't think it's any more of a conspiracy than the New Deal was a conspiracy. Interests do organize and launch movements and campaigns and have tactics and win victories. It's worth looking at how they do it.

Read the whole thing. It is very fascinating. I would also recommend The Corporation, a great documentary about the history of corporations from their beginning 150 years ago as small, limited operations to the global megaliths they are today. The creators paint a devastating picture of something we all need to be more aware of.

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