The Shock Doctrine: Naomi Klein’s Aid to Abusive Governments

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In her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, author Naomi Klein unveils her opinions on the perhaps not so surprising tactic of abusive governments everywhere: the use of coups, regime changes, and disasters to push radical agendas that could not be pursued during normal circumstances. She coins the phrase “disaster capitalism” to refer to this pattern of destruction or distraction paired with policies designed to transfer power or wealth to corporations.

Klein cites examples from regions and disasters across the world, including the United States and the 9/11/2001 terror attacks, the Southeast Asian tsunami, and the Hurricane Katrina destruction of New Orleans. She also covers examples of economic disasters created by government changes in countries all over the world, including Argentina, Chile, Poland, Russia, and China. Throughout her book, she lays the blame for nearly all of these messes used to spread bad government policies on economist Milton Friedman and his theories.

This book got an review of 4 out of 5 stars. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for the real reasons that it is worth reading, it was because the readers were fooled by Klein’s words.

Defaming Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman

Klein portrays this modern pattern of disaster paired with corrupt policy changes intended to give benefits to corporations as emerging from the teachings of economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago School of Economics. Friedman spread the thinking that democracy and capitalism go hand-in-hand. But he was an advocate for libertarian ideals such as small governments and avoiding excessive government social spending, not government-backed corruption and repression of citizens. Klein has managed to distort Friedman’s thinking by portraying him as man who dreamed up ideas to pillage countries and abuse populations for the wealth and power of private corporations and their government allies.

Friedman was an advocate for limits on government power and size. Ideas he supported included an American volunteer military rather than forced conscription. He advocated termination of the US Post Office’s monopoly on mail delivery to allow competition to improve services and drive down prices. He even supported discussion of legalizing marijuana, hardly a position commonly associated with power-hungry and control-focused government officials.

Yet Klein seems to think that because Friedman was an influential economist whose small governments ideas were widely applied means that he was somehow in favor of big corporations controlling everything for their financial benefits with governments being their servants. Further, she strangely believes he is an advocate for using disasters as a means for governments to transfer power to corporations.

Klein even tries to spin Friedman’s position against George W. Bush’s war in Iraq into a portrayal of the war being used to implement policies to hand over power and wealth to big corporations that benefit from the war. In reality, Friedman warned about governments misusing wars to institute bad policies and argued against them doing so. In particular, he was very much in opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

Klein spends most of her book blaming Friedman for abuses that he opposed. It is as if she is so obsessed with her hatred of corporations and George W. Bush that she is desperate to find a convenient scapegoat to whip for all she dislikes. She became confused into thinking that since Friedman liked limited government and was an economist that he therefore was an advocate for government corruption and incompetence for the benefits of corporations. She got her scapegoat to whip by pushing truth out a 20th floor window, not caring it might crush innocent readers below. In the process, she has become obsessed with whipping Friedman every opportunity she can create.

Distracting from Real Nature of Abusive Governments

As a detractor of abusive governments everywhere, I agree with Klein that governments tend to abuse their citizens for reasons of power, control, and wealth. But she’s wrongly blaming Milton Friedman, often using historical revisionisms, warped statistics, and bizarre distortions to make her case. Her little kernels of truth punctuate pages of distortions, making it hard to know which is reality and which is fiction. You as the reader will have to do some research on your own to get real value out of this book.

Klein’s analysis focuses too much on falsely blaming Friedman and fails to go far enough in exposing the corrupt and evil nature of government power everywhere regardless of the type of regime or economy. The use of disasters and distractions to push extreme agendas isn’t a problem exclusive to democratic nations, nor to capitalist nations. Nor was this tactic created by Milton Friedman.

Examples of Disaster and Policy Change Outside Capitalist Democracies

For instance, China’s Communist Party of the past wasn’t receptive to democracy and its economy was certainly not capitalist. But its leaders surely knew how to use distraction and disaster to manipulate situations to find and crush opposition and strengthen its control. Chairman Mao Zedong’s Hundred Flowers Campaign encouraged open discussion of opposing views. Potential opponents of Mao let their ideas flow, thinking they would help build a new and better China. Mao quickly used their openness to identify and then incarcerate or execute his opponents across the nation. Mao wasn’t after money, nor was he out to enrich corporations. Greed for power or fear of loss of control are the problems in such situations.

Mao’s next major campaign was the Great Leap Forward that was intended to modernize the Chinese economy. Instead, it created a famine that killed tens of millions of people as they struggled to follow ridiculous Maoist edicts about making steel in their backyards and raising crop production via insane methods sure to fail. China was weakened, yet the cult of Mao remained strong.

Only several years later, the Cultural Revolution was launched to fight the “liberal bourgeoisie” enemies inside the Community party. The movement destroyed the enemies of Mao and his wife’s Gang of Four. Red Guards, typically fanatical youths, were empowered to destroy the intelligentsia of China, thus further securing the Maoist grasp on the nation.

All of these power plays involve no capitalism and no democracy. What they do involve is corruption, greed, selfishness, and disregard for the welfare of others. Governments the world over, including Western capitalist and democratic nations such as the United States and Canada, share these same basic principles of operation with totalitarian dictators and socialist nutcases.

Deng Xiaoping

Twisting Modern Chinese History

Klein discusses the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in Beijing, China. Shockingly, she totally distorts their meaning with the goal of supporting her theories with falsehoods. The protests were triggered by the death of Hu Yaobang, a reformer backed by Deng Xiaoping who was ousted by his enemies because they disliked his penchant for liberal economic and political reforms. The protestors were upset about government corruption and wanted various reforms, but didn’t have a consensus on what they were. Yet Klein portrays the protesters as being against economic reforms and that the government cracked down on them because of it. In this, she is 180 degrees out of sync with reality.

The government cracked down on the protesters not because they were against economic reforms, but because the Community Party was still filled with Mao-influenced politicians who were terrified of the implications of communist governments falling in Europe and who were willing to do just about anything to crush opposition, including slaughtering and imprisoning thousands of citizens as “counter-revolutionaries”. If anything, the crackdown at Tiananmen resulted in a reduction of economic liberalization, not an increase as Klein tries to mislead her readers. It wasn’t until 1992 when a retired Deng Xiaoping started to push for returning to the path of economic liberalization using capitalist ideas that China’s current capitalist-style economic boom got started.

In contrast to Klein’s opinions associating democracy and capitalism with disasters, the modern Chinese government that is more supportive of capitalism seems to be intent on handling disasters much more competently and with less intent to use them as distractions or excuses to further their own power or that of corrupt friends. This is a strong argument against much of Klein’s reasoning. She’s confused the form of problems in some disasters with the general root of the problem: greed, corruption, selfishness, self-righteousness, and disregard for human rights and lives shared by abusive governments the world over.

Abusive Government Actions

Even though The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism has an analysis that is far from spot-on, but it is worth reading to understand examples of how supposedly free nations are controlled by governments that in fact are abusive, manipulative, and do not represent the best interests of their populations. The United States is just one of many examples of such nations. But to extract these pearls, the reader must overcome Klein’s distortions of reality and obsessions about Milton Friedman and corporations.

Excessive Focus on Economics

Klein focuses too much on economics and political repression and not enough on destruction of societies by other means. To her credit, she does point out that state security agencies such as the United States Department of Homeland Security are often created and further enabled using disasters as an excuse for discarding civil liberties and enabling corruption on massive scales.

However, much of the current method of maintaining power over populations in Western nations is based upon abuse of families. Western governments today aim to destroy nuclear families and forcibly bind their former members to the government’s teats in victim dependency relationships using welfare, harmful “child protection” systems, abusive domestic violence laws, and prisons. This has lead to extremist feminism, banning fathers from families, treating children as property of the state, incarceration of huge numbers of people as criminals, and the general climate of brainwashing the populations of supposedly free nations to be afraid of men, overlook and even enable child abuse and spousal abuse by women, and to trust and depend upon the government.

Sadly, Klein’s money-centric thinking provides a distraction from much more serious threats to freedom and the best interests of citizens. Money is ultimately just a means to power, control, and security. Putting government in charge of families is the means to control the past, present, and future. When a child grows up distrusting family and thinking the government is there to protect him or her, the government has created a loyal subject that is readily controlled. Money can’t buy that, destroying families can.

Klein’s Orwellian Spin-Job

Perhaps the single biggest reason to read The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is that it is a fantastic example of fiction masquerading as fact. Despite calling attention to many real atrocities and abuses, Klein manages to completely distort reality and spin it into something that has just enough resemblance to the truth that many people are confused into believing it.

Orwell’s 1984 mentions a number of famous oxymoronic phrases:

War is peace.
Slavery is freedom.
Ignorance is strength.

Klein doesn’t have Orwell’s skillful audacity to spell out any such oxymoronic phrases, but her whole book is fashioned of Orwellian doublethink and newspeak. She has done a masterful job of distorting reality by misportraying history, selectively quoting misleading statistics, and trashing Milton Friedman as a complicit supporter of abusive governments. She’s wrongly made him out as a villain responsible for what he argued against.

This book should be a “required read” as an example of the brainwashing and reality distortion tactics of abusive governments and their unwitting shills like Klein. Either Klein was aiming to help abusive governments cover up after themselves by scapegoating their opponents and misrepresenting the actual lessons of history, she’s so obsessed with her anti-corporation / anti-Bush mindset, or perhaps she is truly clueless of reality. Whatever the case, this book is a fine example of how to lie with facts. But to get the real value out of it, readers will have to invest time to fact-check to discern the lies from the facts. For students of history, that exercise would be beneficial as it clearly shows how well some disingenuous people can pull the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting.

Finally, it seems ashame to financially reward Naomi Klein for being so duplicitous. Instead, see if you can check this book out from your local library to get your practice in discerning fact from fiction.

Further Reading

Defaming Milton Friedman: Naomi Klein’s disastrous yet popular polemic against the great free market economist

China’s Rocket to Modernity: Why “socialism with Chinese characteristics” looks a lot like capitalism

Other Books by Naomi Klein

No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs

Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate

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