Thursday, October 2, 2008

Overwhelming


The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein

It is difficult to write about a book with such a huge amount of information as The Shock Doctrine. This was recommended by several of the speakers at the PCUSA Peacemaking Conference that I attended last July. I am glad I read it, even though it is a sobering and scary book. It is meticulously researched and well-written. Another factor in the difficulty in writing about it is the climate in our country right now. Like it or not, we are embedded in a capitalist culture, and to point out any of the flaws in the system puts one at risk of being labeled a "commie" or "someone who hates America." I am not a Communist (nor a Socialist for that matter), and I love this country as much as anyone. However, to think we are blameless in creating the economic chaos in the world (and here in our own country) is to place our heads in the sand.

What Klein does is give us a brief education on the economic theory of Milton Friedman - someone whom we could fairly call a capitalist fundamentalist. His mantra was (he died in 2006) deregulation, privatization, and drastic cuts in social spending. He was famous for coining the phrase "It is impossible to do good with other people's money." He taught for years at the University of Chicago, and he had disciples come from all over the world to learn about his economic theories. They then went home (to Latin America, Russia, South Africa, and China, among other places) to impose Friedman's doctrine as quickly as they could. Of course the results were always the same - massive loss of jobs, mind blowing inflation, and the shredding of any kind of social safety net for the most vulnerable people.

After she outlines Friedman's theory, Klein traces 35 years of economic history through the various countries that implemented Friedman's ideas, usually in a cold turkey, overnight way. Naturally, the result was economic chaos. What is really disconcerting to read about is the hypocritical way the United States has acted about democracy. We claim to want other countries to enjoy the same political freedoms that we have, but in numerous countries we have stood in the way of democracy when elected leaders did not want to conform to the Friedmanite economic agenda. I have written before about my puzzlement about this - we seem willing to provide arms, funding, and international recognition to any lowlife as long as they are not a Communist (or even a Keynesian).

Klein also shows, through documentation and interviews, how the "Chicago School" of economists recognize that the "easiest" way to force through sweeping economic changes is to implement them when people are reeling from some kind of trauma (a military coup, a tsunami, a terrorist event) and are too disoriented to even realize what is happening until it is too late, let alone protest what is going on. Furthermore, in many cases (Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Poland, and Russia, for example) people are kept in a state of terror by the threat of torture, abduction, and death. When people are this frightened, they lose the will to fight back. Even sadder, this type of extreme capitalism is not beneficial for the vast majority of people. A handful of people get fabulously wealthy, and everyone else just gets poorer.

Maybe I am naive, but it is hard for me to grasp the idea of people lying in the weeds and waiting in a predatory way to impose the economic policies of their choosing. I would be reading along in Klein's books and would just think "This cannot be true." But her sources are reliable, not crazy conspiracy theory types. It is disheartening to think that so many players on the world stage are unconcerned with the common good - I thought working for the common good was what leadership was all about. Silly me.

As I say, I am no Communist, even though some would probably call me that just for reading the book in the first place. We all know the excesses committed by Stalin and other Communist leaders - it seems that all systems, no matter how idealistic they start out to be, get corrupted by human greed and, yes, sin. Our mistake here in the U.S. has been to think that capitalism is immune from that same type of excess. The Shock Doctrine cautions us against that type of blindness, and helps us see that any kind of economic system, if allowed to run totally free and unchecked, is likely to go awry in awful ways. Extremism in any guise is not a good thing.

Klein ends her book on a much needed hopeful note, citing examples of Latin American countries and other places that have begun to recover from Friedmanism. It is heartening that more recently some countries have refused to capitulate to economic "reforms" being forced upon them. In spite of the mess that we have made of the world, I continue to be optimistic about humanity for the long haul. Maybe I am naive when it comes to the world of economics, but I remain hopeful that we can find a middle ground between fundamentalist capitalism and the repressive specter of Communism. God help us.

Reverent Reader

3 Comments:

At 10/9/08, 6:43 PM , Blogger Ruth said...

Thanks for this.

 
At 10/10/08, 1:13 AM , Blogger jledmiston said...

I'm so impressed you read this stuff. All my "I'm only an English major" insecurities kick in. Love your blog.

 
At 10/30/08, 7:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leslie,

Milton Friedman was a Nobel Prize winner. He is a very good reason why this country has prospered. A lot of socialist do not agree with him because he contradicts their beliefs. He has explained very clearly why the The Great Depression lasted as long as it did. No, the New Deal did not work, it just prolonged the Depression. Yes, Chile did bring some of his students to help change their economy. I have friends in Argentina who still think Chile's accomplishpments were genious.
You don't have to be naive about Economics open your mind and read from others who do not agree with yourself.
Yes, greed is the root of all evil and it can reside anywhere. Do not hold Capitalism at fault. Capitalism has enabled people to rise from the lower class to the middle to the upper class. Socialism does not allow it. One has to be willing to work but we are commissioned to do that anyway. One of the reasons why so many immigrants have prospered in the USA.

Christ stated give to Ceasar to which is Ceasar. He never stated depend on the government. He just said pay your taxes. But he commissioned his disciples to go serve him to make fishers of men. He never commissioned the government to serve or do anything. I come from the mindset that capitalism provides a greater opportunity for the sheep to serve the weak, the hungry, the needy, etc. This serves a greater purpose for we are to be the light, not a government who doesn't represent HIM.

I realize you have been conditioned to think otherwise, but consider it. As a country, we have been blessed. As I have traveled outside of the USA, I have not found a socialist or communist country to have experienced so much. We as a nation have been truly blessed. Lets not forget it. Times might be tough today, but we can overcome it. The mortgage crisis has been brewing for about 14 years when they removed or lessened restrictions. The bubble finally popped. Greed contributed because these mortgage backed securities had more risk behind it due to these lessened restrictions from 1995. They didn't perform as previous mortgage backed securities but they sold them as if they were the same. People turned a blind eye and both Parties were involved.

 

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