The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Naomi Klein

Book cover

I picked this up because I read Klein’s more recent book, “This Changes Everything,” and liked it quite a bit. Actually, after TCC, I first picked up Klein’s older book, “No Logo.” But I stopped reading that after about a chapter because it wasn’t keeping my interest. I feel like Klein’s development as a writer is evident through these three books. She moves from being a sort of aggregative journalist toward having her own well-thought-out and strongly argued ideas.

As the middle book of the non-trilogy, TSD falls in the middle of that continuum. Klein clearly has a story that she wants to tell: basically, that extreme free-market policy measures in countries around the world have most often been passed in situations of societal “shock”, such as Pinochet’s Chile, where the people are unable to mount an effective opposition. She marshals quite a lot of evidence in support of this thesis from a wide variety of countries, from South America to the former Soviet bloc to Iraq. I think that there is a lot of truth to it. However, I also felt that she left out or glossed over some extremely relevant material in the interest of not threatening her main thesis. For example, I feel that Reagan and Thatcher are not sufficiently addressed. She does talk about Thatcher a bit in the context of the Falklands War, but that is hardly a “shock” on the order of the coup against Allende or the Iraq war. I don’t have the book handy now, but she talks about Reagan little to none. I think it would be interesting and informative to talk more about exceptions to the general patterns she identifies. Another issue that came to mind is that, while her thesis may be true, the same may also be true of extreme left-wing economic policies. I can cut her a break to some extent for not talking about this, since it is largely right-wing economics that has been on the rise over the past half century. But again, I think it would make for a more nuanced and compelling picture to talk about that other side as well. Perhaps I am asking Klein to write an academic book instead of a popular one, as I’ve been known to do.

I did learn a great deal from this book about the politics of the South American “Southern Cone” of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil during the 1970s-1980s, and was able to talk with a Chilean friend about it at some length. It’s incredible to me that I learned almost nothing of these very brutal right-wing dictatorships, either through school or through popular culture. It’s partly the time period I’m sure–just recent enough not to be covered in history class, too long ago to be in the news–but I have to wonder how much it also has to do with these events just not being talked about that much in the US because of our government’s unsavory involvement. Probably also to some extent a general American inattention to developing countries. But it’s a similar feeling to what I had when learning about Trujillo in the Dominican Republic from reading “Oscar Wao”–like man, how come nobody ever told me about this??

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars