three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
By: 
Naomi Klein
user_rating: 
0

The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

A-The Shock DoctrineIs it possible that capitalism wreaks more havoc than good? Journalist Naomi Klein, an antiglobalization activist, argues that Milton Friedman and the Chicago School’s brand of neoliberal economics (free markets, privatization) thrives on natural disasters, foreign invasions, political upheavals, economic turmoil, and war, mostly in poorer areas. These catastrophes cripple economies, governments, and public institutions, allowing the private sector to rework a landscape—and to benefit from it. In the former Soviet Union, oligarchs bought the economy; in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina transformed poor, black neighborhoods into neighborhoods ripe for white capital; in Thailand, the tsunami of December 2004 enabled developers to scoop up valuable beachfront property. No matter how injurious it is to these societies, disaster capitalism, Klein argues, just might be the new economy.
Metropolitan Books. 558 pages. $28. ISBN: 0805079831

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"With a bold and brilliantly conceived thesis, skillfully and cogently threaded through more than 500 pages of trenchant writing, Klein may well have revealed the master narrative of our time. And because the pattern she exposes could govern our future as well, The Shock Doctrine could turn out to be among the most important books of the decade." William S. Kowinski

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Klein isn’t an economist but a journalist, and she travels the world to find out firsthand what really happened on the ground during the privatization of Iraq, the aftermath of the Asian tsunami, the continuing Polish transition to capitalism and the years after the African National Congress took power in South Africa, when it failed to pursue the redistributionist policies enshrined in the Freedom Charter, its statement of core principles. These chapters are the least exciting parts of the book, but they are also the most convincing." Joseph E. Stiglitz

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Here is why this book, angry as it is, deserves a wide audience: It reminds that the purpose of government is to serve the most people as best it can. Under the shock doctrine, Klein argues, the opposite occurs: One class of people comes up with the plan, another does the fighting, and a third, way at the bottom, deals with the fallout." John Freeman

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Klein’s notion of disaster capitalism voraciously feeding on violent disruptions—the antithesis of the conventional wisdom that capitalism requires peace and tranquility to thrive—is a provocative one, partly vindicated by Halliburton’s profit margins in Iraq. But it is also overstated, ascribing sinister motives to behavior generally prompted by more banal and benign (if sometimes wrongheaded) ideas." Shashi Tharoor

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Klein exposes the hypocrisy behind those who promote free enterprise but accept autocratic regimes to carry it out, which makes her book a useful corrective to some of the uncritical celebrations of the spread of globalization since the collapse of the Soviet empire. But her argument constantly overreaches, because her goal is not really to tame capitalism so much as to taunt it." Tom Redburn

Critical Summary

Naomi Klein offers an antidote to those who herald globalization as the great equalizer of nations. The author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, Klein links disparate events throughout the 20th and 21st centuries—the collapse of the Soviet Union, the atrocities in Chile under Pinochet, the post-tsunami crises in Sri Lanka, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the invasion of Iraq—to reveal the two-faced nature of capitalism. Critics agreed that the book—accessible and impeccably researched—is an important contribution to the debate over globalization. Some were less taken with Klein’s thesis, however. The Washington Post noted that Klein sees too many conspiracies instead of "the all-too-human pattern of chaos and confusion, good intentions and greed, playing out in the wake of catastrophes." Yet even Shashi Tharoor, a former UN Under-Secretary General, admitted Klein’s great usefulness in helping us understand "the shape and direction of our current Age of Uncertainty."