The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

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The bestselling author of No Logo shows how the global ?free market? has exploited crises and shock for three decades, from Chile to Iraq

In her groundbreaking reporting over the past few years, Naomi Klein introduced the term "disaster capitalism." Whether covering Baghdad after the U.S. occupation, Sri Lanka in the wake of the tsunami, or New Orleans post-Katrina, she witnessed something remarkably similar. People still reeling from catastrophe were being hit again, this time ...

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The bestselling author of No Logo shows how the global “free market” has exploited crises and shock for three decades, from Chile to Iraq

In her groundbreaking reporting over the past few years, Naomi Klein introduced the term "disaster capitalism." Whether covering Baghdad after the U.S. occupation, Sri Lanka in the wake of the tsunami, or New Orleans post-Katrina, she witnessed something remarkably similar. People still reeling from catastrophe were being hit again, this time with economic "shock treatment," losing their land and homes to rapid-fire corporate makeovers.

The Shock Doctrine retells the story of the most dominant ideology of our time, Milton Friedman’s free market economic revolution. In contrast to the popular myth of this movement’s peaceful global victory, Klein shows how it has exploited moments of shock and extreme violence in order to implement its economic policies in so many parts of the world from Latin America and Eastern Europe to South Africa, Russia, and Iraq.

At the core of disaster capitalism is the use of cataclysmic events to advance radical privatization combined with the privatization of the disaster response itself. Klein argues that by capitalizing on crises, created by nature or war, the disaster capitalism complex now exists as a booming new economy, and is the violent culmination of a radical economic project that has been incubating for fifty years.

Author Biography
Naomi Klein is the award-winning author of the acclaimed international bestseller No Logo and the essay collection Fences and Windows. An internationally syndicated columnist, she co-created with Avi Lewis, The Take, a documentary film.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
What do Milton Friedman, Augusto Pinochet, and Iraq have in common? Naomi Klein offers a defiantly partisan deconstruction of Friedman's Chicago School of economics and its open embrace of natural and manmade crises (e.g., Hurricane Katrina, coups in Chile and other South American countries in the '70s and '80s, Russia's communist implosion in the '90s, the U.S. occupation of Iraq) as key opportunities for its accolytes to swoop in, jolt a dazed populace with free market shock therapy, and quickly consolidate power while crushing dissent. If her reach seems sometimes to exceed her grasp -- she finds the electrical torture devices used by the juntas advised by Friedman's "Chicago Boys" a natural outgrowth of the advisers' economic shock doctrine -- she succeeds in showing how, in the age of globalization, free market precepts are being appropriated to build corporatist oligarchies that ride roughshod over our most cherished democratic ideals.
John le Carré

Impassioned, hugely informative, wonderfully controversial, and scary as hell.
San Francisco Chronicle William S. Kowinski

Bold and brilliantly conceived . . . Klein may well have revealed the master narrative of our time.
Howard Zinn

This is a brilliant book, one of the most important I have read in a long time.
The New York Times Book Review Joseph E. Stiglitz

Klein provides a rich description of the political machinations required to force unsavory economic policies on resisting countries and of the human toll. She paints a disturbing portrait of hubris, not only on the part of Friedman but also of those who adopted his doctrines, sometimes to pursue more corporatist objectives.
Arundhati Roy

A brilliant, brave, and terrifying book. It's nothing less than the secret history of what we call the 'free market.' It should be compulsory reading.
The Huffington Post Arianna Huffington

Pulls the curtain back on free-market myths and exposes the forces that are really driving our economy . . . Klein's book is powerful and prophetic. . . . A brilliant dissection.
Seymour M. Hersh

Naomi Klein is one of the most important new voices in American journalism today.
author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Jeremy Scahill

The Shock Doctrine is the defining, covert history of our era.
Joseph E. Stiglitz
One of the world's most famous antiglobalization activists and the author of the best seller No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, Klein provides a rich description of the political machinations required to force unsavory economic policies on resisting countries, and of the human toll. She paints a disturbing portrait of hubris, not only on the part of Friedman but also of those who adopted his doctrines, sometimes to pursue more corporatist objectives.
—The New York Times
Shashi Tharoor
The Shock Doctrine is a valuable addition to the corpus of popular books that have attempted to rethink the big ideas of our post-Cold War age. Francis Fukuyama's notion of the "end of history"—the idea that all societies would be governed by liberal democracy and free markets—started the process of reflection; Samuel Huntington's concept of the "clash of civilizations" underpinned much of the anxiety that followed the realization that reports of history's demise were exaggerated. Thomas Friedman's celebration of the flatness of the globalized world is now countered by Klein's argument that when disasters flatten societies, capitalists see opportunities to profit and spread their influence. Each thesis has its flaws, but each contributes to the contest of ideas about the shape and direction of our current Age of Uncertainty. For this reason, and for the vigor and accessibility with which she marshals her argument, Naomi Klein is well worth reading.
—The Washington Post
This is an ambitious book, an accomplished book, and an important one, too. It makes contributions in several key ways.
Mark Engler
Publishers Weekly

The neo-liberal economic policies-privatization, free trade, slashed social spending-that the "Chicago School" and the economist Milton Friedman have foisted on the world are catastrophic in two senses, argues this vigorous polemic. Because their results are disastrous-depressions, mass poverty, private corporations looting public wealth, by the author's accounting-their means must be cataclysmic, dependent on political upheavals and natural disasters as coercive pretexts for free-market "reforms" the public would normally reject. Journalist Klein (No Logo) chronicles decades of such disasters, including the Chicago School makeovers launched by South American coups; the corrupt sale of Russia's state economy to oligarchs following the collapse of the Soviet Union; the privatization of New Orleans's public schools after Katrina; and the seizure of wrecked fishing villages by resort developers after the Asian tsunami. Klein's economic and political analyses are not always meticulous. Likening free-market "shock therapies" to electroshock torture, she conflates every misdeed of right-wing dictatorships with their economic programs and paints a too simplistic picture of the Iraq conflict as a struggle over American-imposed neo-liberalism. Still, much of her critique hits home, as she demonstrates how free-market ideologues welcome, and provoke, the collapse of other people's economies. The result is a powerful populist indictment of economic orthodoxy. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Klein (Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate, 2002, etc.) tracks the forced imposition of economic privatization, rife with multinational corporate parasites, on areas and nations weakened by war, civil strife or natural disasters. The author follows John Perkins (Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 2004) and others in pointing an alarmed finger at a global "corporatocracy" that combines the worst features of big business and small government. The difference is that Klein's book incorporates an amount of due diligence, logical structure and statistical evidence that others lack. As a result, she is persuasive when she links past and present events, including the war in Iraq and trashing of its economy, to the systematic march of laissez-faire capitalism and the downsizing of the public sector as both a worldview and a political methodology. Klein fully establishes the influence of U.S. economist Milton Friedman, who died in November 2006, as champion of the free-market transformations that occurred initially in South America, where Friedmanite minions trained at the University of Chicago in the 1960s worked their wiles on behalf of some of the 20th century's most repressive regimes. On to China's Tiananmen Square, then to the collapsed Soviet Union, where oligarchs soared and the underclass was left to starve in the 1990s. More recent developments include forcing private development on the tsunami-ravaged beachfronts of South Asia and junking the public-school system in favor of private charter schools in post-Katrina New Orleans. Just as provocative is Klein's analysis of the Bush administration's rampant outsourcing of U.S. governmentresponsibilities, including the entire "homeland security industry," to no-bid corporate contractors and their expense-laden chains of subcontractors. Her account of that methodology's consequences in Iraq, as mass unemployment coincided with the disbanding of a standing army whose soldiers took their guns home, leaves little doubt as to why there is an enduring insurgency. Required reading for anyone trying to pierce the complexities of globalization.
The New York Times on No Logo

A movement bible. on No Logo

Klein is a sharp cultural critic and flawless storyteller. Her analysis is thorough and thoroughly engaging.
From the Publisher
"Klein tracks the forced imposition of economic privatization, rife with multinational corporate parasites, on areas and nations weakened by war, civil strife or natural disasters….pointing an alarmed finger at a global “corporatocracy” that combines the worst features of big business and small government…. Klein’s book incorporates an amount of due diligence, logical structure and statistical evidence that others lack….[P]persuasive…Provocative…. Required reading for anyone trying to pierce the complexities of globalization."
—Starred Kirkus review

"Impassioned, hugely informative, wonderfully controversial, and scary as hell."
—John le Carre

"Naomi Klein is one of the most important new voices in American journalism today, as this book make clear.  She has turned globalism inside out, and in so doing given all of us a new way of looking at our seemingly unending disaster in Iraq, and a new way of understanding why we got there."
—Seymour M. Hersh, Pulitzer prize winning investigative journalist for The New Yorker

"This beautifully written, very readable book will change the disgusting history it so calmly chronicles"
—Peter Carey, author of Oscar and Lucinda and Theft: A Love Story

"Her argument is well-documented, logical, riveting, and convincing."
—Jane Smiley, author of A Thousand Acres and Ten Days in the Hills

"This masterful book is a measured but furious call to arms.  Naomi Klein is Antigone before the King, the antidote to the feeling of inevitability that says that we must accept murder as a legitimate economic policy… A spectacular triumph."
—John Cusack, actor/filmmaker

"The Shock Doctrine is, simply put, a book without peer, an epic and riveting work whose message must be heard. With the persistence of a journalist, in the best sense of the word, and the rigor of a scholar, in its truest incarnation, Naomi Klein offers nothing short of a new paradigm for understanding politics…. Her book is honest, urgent and necessary to read. Through its eloquent writing, searing analysis and remarkable breadth, we confront the hubris and zealotry of envisioning a blank slate and being left, time and again, with a scorched earth. The Shock Doctrine is an essential book; only Klein could write it."
—Anthony Shadid, Pulitzer Prize winning Iraq correspondent for The Washington Post

"Naomi Klein is in the best tradition of I.F. Stone and Upton Sinclair, a muckraker who digs in where others accept the surface. I love her stuff and as a 20th Century man, I salute a 21st Century woman."
Studs Terkel, historian and author of Working

"A revelation! With unparalleled courage and clarity Naomi Klein has written the most important and necessary book of her generation. In it she exposes liars, murderers and thieves, ripping the lid off the Chicago School economic policy and its connection to the chaos and bloodshed around the world. The Shock Doctrine is so important and so revelatory a book that it could very well prove a catalyst, a watershed, a tipping point in the movement for economic and social justice."
—Tim Robbins

"Naomi Klein is an investigative reporter like no other. She roams the continents with eyes wide open and her brain operating at full speed, finding connections we never thought of, and patterns which eluded us. She shows us, in clear and elegant language, how catastrophes -- natural ones like Katrina, unnatural ones like war -- become opportunities for a savage capitalism, calling itself “the free market,” to privatize everything in sight, bringing huge profits to some, misery for others. To ensure the safety of such a system, it becomes necessary to constrict freedom, to assault human rights. The torture chambers for some then match the torturing of the larger society. This is a brilliant book, one of the most important I have read in a long time."
—Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United State

"Naomi Klein has written a brilliant, brave and terrifying book. It's nothing less than the secret history of what we call the 'Free Market'. It should be compulsory reading."
—Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things

"Naomi Klein as a writer is an accusing angel. This life-saving book, packed with thinking dynamite, provokes and instills a calm. It reveals a striking parallel between CIA prisoner interrogation technique and the blackmailing technique of the World Bank and I.M.F. for imposing disaster capitalism across the world; both want to induce by shocks a loss of identity. Hence calm is a form of resistance. A book to be read everywhere."
—John Berger, author of G, winner of the Booker Prize, and Ways of Seeing

"Naomi Klein's exposé is certain to be sensational…. She rips away the 'free trade' and globalization ideologies that disguise a conspiracy to privatize war and disaster and grab public property for the rich few. She is brilliant on the malevolent influence of Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago's Economics Department in promoting global privatization. She offers an excellent explanation for the failure to repair New Orleans after Katrina. Hers is a long-needed analysis of our headlong flight back to feudalism under the guise of social science and 'freedom.'"
—Chalmers Johnson, author of The Blowback Trilogy.

Praise for No Logo

"A movement bible."
The New York Times

"Klein . . . takes the mounting anecdotal evidence and places it in an analytical context that is articulate, entertaining and illuminating. . . . Her Canadian perspective allows her a spacious view of the terrain that many U.S. critics, obsessed with empire, often lack."
The Globe and Mail

"No Logo is an intelligently written and superbly reported account of a culture that has moved from selling products to hawking brands . . . A couple of chapters in, your mind is already reeling. Klein can write: favouring informality and crispness over jargon . . .convincing and necessary, clear and fresh, calm but unsparing."
The Guardian

"A riveting conscientious piece of journalism and a call to arms. Packed with enlightening statistics and extraordinary anecdotal evidence, No Logo is fluent, undogmatically alive to the contradictions and omissions, and positively seethes with intelligent anger."
The Observer

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312427993
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 6/24/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 70,815
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.14 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Naomi Klein is the award-winning author of the acclaimed international bestseller No Logo, which The Literary Review of Canada named one of the hundred most important Canadian books ever published. She is also the author of the essay collection Fences and Windows. With Avi Lewis, she co-created the documentary film The Take, which was an Official Selection of the Venice Biennale and won the Best Documentary Jury Prize at the American Film Institute's Film Festival in Los Angeles. She is a contributing editor for Harper's, a reporter for Rolling Stone, and writes a regular, internationally syndicated column. She has won the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. She is a former Miliband Fellow at the London School of Economics and holds an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of King's College, Nova Scotia. Born in Montreal, she now lives in Toronto.

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Read an Excerpt

I met Jamar Perry in September 2005, at the big Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dinner was being doled out by grinning young Scientologists, and he was standing in line. I had just been busted for talking to evacuees without a media escort and was now doing my best to blend in, a white Canadian in a sea of African- American southerners. I dodged into the food line behind Perry and asked him to talk to me as if we were old friends, which he kindly did.

Born and raised in New Orleans, he'd been out of the flooded city for a week. He and his family had waited forever for the evacuation buses; when they didn't arrive, they had walked out in the baking sun. Finally they ended up here, a sprawling convention centre now jammed with 2,000 cots and a mess of angry, exhausted people being patrolled by edgy National Guard soldiers just back from Iraq.
The news racing around the shelter that day was that the Republican Congressman Richard Baker had told a group of lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans' wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: "I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities." All that week Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a "smaller, safer city" - which in practice meant plans to level the public housing projects. Hearing all the talk of "fresh starts" and "clean sheets", you could almost forget the toxic stew of rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the highway.
Over at the shelter, Jamar could think of nothing else. "I really don't see it as cleaning up the city. What I see is that a lot of people got killed uptown. People who shouldn't have died."
He was speaking quietly, but an older man in line in front of us overheard and whipped around. "What is wrong with these people in Baton Rouge? This isn't an opportunity. It's a goddamned tragedy. Are they blind?" A mother with two kids chimed in. "No, they're not blind, they're evil. They see just fine."
One of those who saw opportunity in the floodwaters of New Orleans was the late Milton Friedman, grand guru of unfettered capitalism and credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary, hyper-mobile global economy. Ninety-three years old and in failing health, "Uncle Miltie", as he was known to his followers, found the strength to write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal three months after the levees broke. "Most New Orleans schools are in ruins," Friedman observed, "as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity."
Friedman's radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans' existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions.
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans' school system took place with military speed and precision. Within 19 months, with most of the city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.
The Friedmanite American Enterprise Institute enthused that "Katrina accomplished in a day ... what Louisiana school reformers couldn't do after years of trying". Public school teachers, meanwhile, were calling Friedman's plan "an educational land grab". I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, "disaster capitalism".
Privatising the school system of a mid-size American city may seem a modest preoccupation for the man hailed as the most influential economist of the past half century. Yet his determination to exploit the crisis in New Orleans to advance a fundamentalist version of capitalism was also an oddly fitting farewell. For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock.
In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism's core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as "the shock doctrine". He observed that "only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change". When that crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. Some people stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters; Friedmanites stockpile free-market ideas. And once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the "tyranny of the status quo". A variation on Machiavelli's advice that "injuries" should be inflicted "all at once", this is one of Friedman's most lasting legacies.
Friedman first learned how to exploit a shock or crisis in the mid-70s, when he advised the dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Not only were Chileans in a state of shock after Pinochet's violent coup, but the country was also traumatised by hyperinflation. Friedman advised Pinochet to impose a rapid-fire transformation of the economy - tax cuts, free trade, privatised services, cuts to social spending and deregulation.
It was the most extreme capitalist makeover ever attempted anywhere, and it became known as a "Chicago School" revolution, as so many of Pinochet's economists had studied under Friedman there. Friedman coined a phrase for this painful tactic: economic "shock treatment". In the decades since, whenever governments have imposed sweeping free-market programs, the all-at-once shock treatment, or "shock therapy", has been the method of choice.
I started researching the free market's dependence on the power of shock four years ago, during the early days of the occupation of Iraq. I reported from Baghdad on Washington's failed attempts to follow "shock and awe" with shock therapy - mass privatisation, complete free trade, a 15% flat tax, a dramatically downsized government. Afterwards I travelled to Sri Lanka, several months after the devastating 2004 tsunami, and witnessed another version of the same manoeuvre: foreign investors and international lenders had teamed up to use the atmosphere of panic to hand the entire beautiful coastline over to entrepreneurs who quickly built large resorts, blocking hundreds of thousands of fishing people from rebuilding their villages. By the time Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was clear that this was now the preferred method of advancing corporate goals: using moments of collective trauma to engage in radical social and economic engineering.
Most people who survive a disaster want the opposite of a clean slate: they want to salvage whatever they can and begin repairing what was not destroyed. "When I rebuild the city I feel like I'm rebuilding myself," said Cassandra Andrews, a resident of New Orleans' heavily damaged Lower Ninth Ward, as she cleared away debris after the storm. But disaster capitalists have no interest in repairing what once was. In Iraq, Sri Lanka and New Orleans, the process deceptively called "reconstruction" began with finishing the job of the original disaster by erasing what was left of the public sphere.
When I began this research into the intersection between super-profits and mega-disasters, I thought I was witnessing a fundamental change in the way the drive to "liberate" markets was advancing around the world. Having been part of the movement against ballooning corporate power that made its global debut in Seattle in 1999, I was accustomed to seeing business-friendly policies imposed through arm-twisting at WTO summits, or as the conditions attached to loans from the IMF.
As I dug deeper into the history of how this market model had swept the globe, I discovered that the idea of exploiting crisis and disaster has been the modus operandi of Friedman's movement from the very beginning - this fundamentalist form of capitalism has always needed disasters to advance. What was happening in Iraq and New Orleans was not a post-September 11 invention. Rather, these bold experiments in crisis exploitation were the culmination of three decades of strict adherence to the shock doctrine.
Seen through the lens of this doctrine, the past 35 years look very different. Some of the most infamous human rights violations of this era, which have tended to be viewed as sadistic acts carried out by anti-democratic regimes, were in fact either committed with the intent of terrorising the public or actively harnessed to prepare the ground for radical free-market "reforms". In China in 1989, it was the shock of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the arrests of tens of thousands that freed the Communist party to convert much of the country into a sprawling export zone, staffed with workers too terrified to demand their rights. The Falklands war in 1982 served a similar purpose for Margaret Thatcher: the disorder resulting from the war allowed her to crush the striking miners and to launch the first privatisation frenzy in a western democracy.
The bottom line is that, for economic shock therapy to be applied without restraint, some sort of additional collective trauma has always been required. Friedman's economic model is capable of being partially imposed under democracy - the US under Reagan being the best example - but for the vision to be implemented in its complete form, authoritarian or quasi-authoritarian conditions are required.
Until recently, these conditions did not exist in the US. What happened on September 11 2001 is that an ideology hatched in American universities and fortified in Washington institutions finally had its chance to come home. The Bush administration, packed with Friedman's disciples, including his close friend Donald Rumsfeld, seized upon the fear generated to launch the "war on terror" and to ensure that it is an almost completely for-profit venture, a booming new industry that has breathed new life into the faltering US economy. Best understood as a "disaster capitalism complex", it is a global war fought on every level by private companies whose involvement is paid for with public money, with the unending mandate of protecting the US homeland in perpetuity while eliminating all "evil" abroad.
In a few short years, the complex has already expanded its market reach from fighting terrorism to international peacekeeping, to municipal policing, to responding to increasingly frequent natural disasters. The ultimate goal for the corporations at the centre of the complex is to bring the model of for-profit government, which advances so rapidly in extraordinary circumstances, into the ordinary functioning of the state - in effect, to privatise the government.
In scale, the disaster capitalism complex is on a par with the "emerging market" and IT booms of the 90s. It is dominated by US firms, but is global, with British companies bringing their experience in security cameras, Israeli firms their expertise in building hi-tech fences and walls. Combined with soaring insurance industry profits as well as super profits for the oil industry, the disaster economy may well have saved the world market from the full-blown recession it was facing on the eve of 9/11.
In the torrent of words written in eulogy to Milton Friedman, the role of shocks and crises to advance his world view received barely a mention. Instead, the economist's passing, in November 2006, provided an occasion for a retelling of the official story of how his brand of radical capitalism became government orthodoxy in almost every corner of the globe. It is a fairytale history, scrubbed clean of the violence so intimately entwined with this crusade.
It is time for this to change. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a powerful reckoning with the crimes committed in the name of communism. But what of the crusade to liberate world markets?
I am not arguing that all forms of market systems require large-scale violence. It is eminently possible to have a market-based economy that demands no such brutality or ideological purity. A free market in consumer products can coexist with free public health care, with public schools, with a large segment of the economy - such as a national oil company - held in state hands. It's equally possible to require corporations to pay decent wages, to respect the right of workers to form unions, and for governments to tax and redistribute wealth so that the sharp inequalities that mark the corporatist state are reduced. Markets need not be fundamentalist.
John Maynard Keynes proposed just that kind of mixed, regulated economy after the Great Depression. It was that system of compromises, checks and balances that Friedman's counter-revolution was launched to dismantle in country after country. Seen in that light, Chicago School capitalism has something in common with other fundamentalist ideologies: the signature desire for unattainable purity.
This desire for godlike powers of creation is precisely why free-market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters. Non-apocalyptic reality is simply not hospitable to their ambitions. For 35 years, what has animated Friedman's counter-revolution is an attraction to a kind of freedom available only in times of cataclysmic change - when people, with their stubborn habits and insistent demands, are blasted out of the way - moments when democracy seems a practical impossibility. Believers in the shock doctrine are convinced that only a great rupture - a flood, a war, a terrorist attack - can generate the kind of vast, clean canvases they crave. It is in these malleable moments, when we are psychologically unmoored and physically uprooted, that these artists of the real plunge in their hands and begin their work of remaking the world.
Torture: the other shock treatment
From Chile to China to Iraq, torture has been a silent partner in the global free-market crusade. Chile's coup featured three distinct forms of shock, a recipe that would re-emerge three decades later in Iraq. The shock of the coup prepared the ground for economic shock therapy; the shock of the torture chamber terrorized anyone thinking of standing in the way of the economic shocks.
But torture is more than a tool used to enforce unwanted policies on rebellious peoples; it is also a metaphor of the shock doctrine's underlying logic. Torture, or in CIA parlance, "coercive interrogation", is a set of techniques developed by scientists and designed to put prisoners into a state of deep disorientation.
Declassified CIA manuals explain how to break "resistant sources": create violent ruptures between prisoners and their ability to make sense of the world around them. First, the senses are starved (with hoods, earplugs, shackles), then the body is bombarded with overwhelming stimulation (strobe lights, blaring music, beatings). The goal of this "softening-up" stage is to provoke a kind of hurricane in the mind, and it is in that state of shock that most prisoners give their interrogators whatever they want.
The shock doctrine mimics this process precisely. The original disaster - the coup, the terrorist attack, the market meltdown - puts the entire population into a state of collective shock. The falling bombs, the bursts of terror, the pounding winds serve to soften up whole societies. Like the terrorised prisoner who gives up the names of comrades and renounces his faith, shocked societies often give up things they would otherwise fiercely protect.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Blank Is Beautiful: Three Decades of Erasing and Remaking the World     3
Two Doctor Shocks: Research and Development     27
The Torture Lab: Ewen Cameron, the CIA and the Maniacal Quest to Erase and Remake the Human Mind     29
The Other Doctor Shock: Milton Friedman and the Search for a Laissez-Faire Laboratory     59
The First Test: Birth Pangs     89
States of Shock: The Bloody Birth of the Counterrevolution     91
Cleaning the Slate: Terror Does Its Work     121
"Entirely Unrelated": How an Ideology Was Cleansed of Its Crimes     144
Surviving Democracy: Bombs Made of Laws     161
Saved by a War: Thatcherism and Its Useful Enemies     163
The New Doctor Shock: Economic Warfare Replaces Dictatorship     177
Crisis Works: The Packaging of Shock Therapy     194
Lost in Transition: While We Wept, While We Trembled, While We Danced     213
Slamming the Door on History: A Crisis in Poland, a Massacre in China     215
Democracy Born in Chains: South Africa's Constricted Freedom     245
Bonfire of a Young Democracy: Russia Chooses "The Pinochet Option"     275
The Capitalist Id: Russia and the New Era of the Boor Market     310
Let It Burn: The Looting of Asia and "The Fall of a Second Berlin Wall"     332
Shocking Times: The Rise of the Disaster Capitalism Complex     355
Shock Therapy in the U.S.A.: The Homeland Security Bubble     357
A Corporatist State: Removing the Revolving Door, Putting in an Archway     389
Iraq, Full Circle: Overshock     409
Erasing Iraq: In Search of a "Model" for the Middle East     411
Ideological Blowback: A Very Capitalist Disaster     431
Full Circle: From Blank Slate to Scorched Earth     456
The Movable Green Zone: Buffer Zones and Blast Walls     485
Blanking the Beach: "The Second Tsunami"     487
Disaster Apartheid: A World of Green Zones and Red Zones     513
Losing the Peace Incentive: Israel as Warning     535
Conclusion: Shock Wears Off: The Rise of People's Reconstruction     560
Notes     591
Acknowledgments     667
Index     677
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 78 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 21, 2010

    A chilling and eye-opening read

    In this chilling history of deregulated capitalism gone wild, Naomi Klein shows how Milton Friedman and his followers have taken advantage of chaos--caused by coups d'etat, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters--to transform tragedies into lucrative profit ventures.

    The strategy? When the population is in a state of shock and trauma, quickly push through your desired economic policies: privitization, deregulation, and cuts in government services. If some brutality is required along the way, so be it.

    While this topic has been covered by others, Klein offers a detailed chronicle of "shock treatment" doled out by Friedman and his friends from the Chicago School of Economics (with help from the World Bank and the IMF) over the last several decades, beginning in the wake of Pinochet's bloody coup in Chile, then moving on to other South American countries, followed by countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In case after case, she offers a peek at the players behind the scenes and the heartbreaking human costs.

    Klein gives nods to Keynesianism here and there (wish that would have been explored more), but her own orthodoxy does bleed through in parts, thus the deducted star. It's only a few pages before the end of the book that she briefly acknowledges, for instance, that pure socialism has also often been implemented and maintained using brual methods.

    Still, it's a compelling book and a must-read for anyone who wants to understand more about the innerworkings of this ongoing phase of history.

    10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 9, 2009

    One of the worst books on politics and economics I've ever read.

    The book starts out with how the Katrina disaster represented the common saying "crisis brings about change" and how this change was introducing the concept of "charter school vouchers" to taxpaying citizens rather than forcing a public school system on them. First, it is common knowledge that crisis brings about change, which can be for both good (e.g., the American Revolution) and bad (e.g., the rise of Hitler). Contrary to the author's arguments, there is nothing inherently evil about this. Second, there is nothing inherently evil about the concept of private charter schools replacing public schools. As the US private university system is the admiration of the world, the US public secondary school system is generally viewed as weak and even corrupt, largely due to protected tenure granted by a teacher's union. Is it so bad to let secondary schools also compete? Lastly, the author should consider a course in basic economics. The Govt doesn't create value. High union teacher wages are paid by the people, not by Govt. Competition is, or at least should be, a part of life. Some social engineers like the author wish it was otherwise. Being a long time and avid reader of social, economic and political history, I'm truly perplexed as to why this book received such rave reviews. To me, it was painful reading by a naive author.

    9 out of 47 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A lot of material

    I thought the book was very informative. The topic covered filled in a lot of blanks that I had in history. It completely explains why most of the world hates America and rest doesn't trust us. But that more than echos my personal opinions of corporate America. Pure greed, with the money squeezed from the lives of its workforce and customers. Hopefully more people will read this book and others like it. So if you are one of the 1% of Americans that own 95% of the wealth of this country, you probably wont like this book.

    7 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Why the world hates the US

    There are some aspects of this book that are a bit of a stretch. But all and all it is an interesting explanation of what has happened in parts of the world, via US monetary Policy with the IMF and world bank and how they have raped countries in the name of capitalism. It also explains to me how the middle class came under attack, and how it is being destroyed by former US administrations, and no one is apt to save it.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 9, 2011

    Don't waste you time

    I finished reading The Shock Doctrine several weeks ago and wanted to write a review at that time but felt that in fairness to the author I might wait, allow myself the opportunity to think on what she presented. I can say now I was not persuaded by her book. This book is largely the opinion of Naomi Klein an opinion largely unsupported by any empirical evidence, not that she even considers that important. She uses verbal tricks in place of evidence the best example is that she says poor people in Chile used up about half their income after free market economic policies were implemented to buy bread, where as previously Government Employee's used less than 15 percent of their income to buy bread. What a lovely comparison Government Employee's under a Marxist system with poor people under a capitalist system. Why didn't she compare Government Employee's before to Government Employee's after or poor people before to poor people after, my guess is that it would not portray things the way she wanted them to be. Did she lie probably not, does she intend to mislead I would say absolutely.
    For those who don't want to waste time by reading the whole book you can read just a few pages and get the message she intends to portray. Her and her fellow elites know what is best for you. When Milton Friedman suggested that Katrina presented an opportunity to do things different, and suggested now might be the time to try school vouchers and "privatize" education. Ms. Klein then suggests we should restore things back to their original conditions and rebuild the public schools that have failed New Orleans poor for generations. Why would she not want to try something different, why would she condemn others to a failed system of education? One in which neither she nor her elite friends who praised her book would expose their own offspring.
    She condemns a man for one misrepresented statement. A man who won the Nobel Prize for doing something unlike some have for doing nothing or making propaganda films. This same person whom she portrays as uncaring for the poor was anything but that uncaring person she claims he was, any one statement can be taken out of context and Ms. Klein does it over and over again. This same person she condemned very much thought we should relieve those in "grinding poverty". The method she proposes has been tried over and over in the course of mankind's time here on earth, and it has been an abject failure time and time again. She thinks big corporations are the problem, and they well should be watched and punished for wrong doing, but her solution about having a bigger more powerful government has proven to be a bigger disaster which has led to the death of millions.
    Her biggest misrepresentation is she attributed to Mr. Friedman the following statement "it is impossible to do good with other people's money". What he in fact said was that "in order to do good with other people's money you must first do something bad, that is, take it from them by force". Ms. Klein is a socialist/Marxist/Leninist pure and simple and has no problems lying and deceiving to advance her ideology, much as Lenin did in his book Imperialism. If you wish to learn something beneficial instead of this book try "Visions of the Anointed" by Thomas Sowell it would certainly be time better spent.

    3 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 21, 2009

    Beware of that which you do not know

    This is a very enlightening book and also very disturbing. I learned a lot from it and it is full of history I did not learn and gives me a new
    perspective on world governments' economies, including our own.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 7, 2009

    great book

    From the start it is stimulating to find someone who shows you the other side of economics. Those who are unaware of real business tactics and what has almost decimated the economy read this. It is not too difficult to understand. She is very good in explaining the process of naked capitalism.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2008

    more from this reviewer


    On a disaster tour of the world's wrecked economies, Naomi Klein uncovers the deliberate sacking of sovereign states as intrinsic to the beloved trickle-down economics of the Chicago School. From Chile under Pinochet to Iraq under Bremer to New Orleans under water, Klein explains the wholesale corporate takeover of governments and it's aftermath. A primer for today's economic meltdown.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2010

    Great Book

    This book was really great and in debth with detail. When buying this book another book "Life After Foreclosure" by Dean Wegner came up and together I feel both books have taught me so much about the nation we live in.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Strives for balance but can't help but be political.

    My 1 star rating is a bit deceptive. It is only so low becuase the subject matter of this book is simply not up my alley. I did force myself to go through all 589 pages despite all the little voices in my head telling me to move on.
    In all fairness, this book is very well reaearched and written. The subject matter delves heavily into economics and global economies. Simply not my area of interest. There is much to be learned from this book in a historical context. Howver I did find a lot of the conclusions of the authors reasearch to be politically slanted and open to serious debate.
    This is problably a great book for a liberal democrat economist.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2014


    Should be required reading for anyone who is concerned about the USA and the monopolies that are now firmly in control of our government. The illusion of free choice is an illusion that must be disrupted. A truly free market should protect all but as we constantly see, only the rights and wishes of the 1% are protected.
    Reagan (with Friedman's help), and every president since, have sold out the American people to the highest bidders.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2013

    Naomi Klein isn't a stylist. Her sentence at the opening of Chap

    Naomi Klein isn't a stylist. Her sentence at the opening of Chapter 12 ("The Capitalist ID") is about as close as she gets to stylistic writing: "On the day I went to visit Jeffrey Sachs in October 2006, New York City was under a damp blanket of gray drizzle punctuated, every five paces or so, by a vibrant burst of red."

    No, she's not an English-language stylist. She's a Canadian journalist. And a damned good one, at that! And one who'd put a lot of journalists -- assuming they'd not simply been told to look the other way on the possible cause of a virtually worldwide financial crisis -- to shame in papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post, not to mention in magazines as august as The Atlantic. (Let's not even mention the networks, shall we? They're better at expounding upon popular trends and telling tragic doggie stories.)

    Could it be that the party (for many, though certainly not for all of us) here in these United States was just too long and too good from the end of WW II until now? Even Eisenhower -- a conservative if there ever was one -- publicly recognized the arrival of the military-industrial complex. Is this new brand of disaster capitalism really anything more than the "logical" evolution of that complex?

    I have a confession to make: I of course knew the name `Milton Friedman' and something about his reputation; I also knew the reputation of the University of Chicago (albeit more for its History Department than for its Economics Department); I, myself, am a graduate of the Philosophy Department of Columbia University. All of this notwithstanding, I was absolutely ignorant of any of this economic shock treatment -- from Chile and Argentina, to Poland and Russia, then on to Asia, to Iraq (where our behavior has been beyond despicable) and the Middle East, and back home again to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

    I owe Ms. Klein a humble vote of gratitude. And it was only thanks to a fellow Greek writer, whose own country is now on the verge of financial collapse, that I even found out about Ms. Klein's book.

    Don't make a comparable fool out of yourself through similar (and similarly unpardonable) ignorance. Buy this book and read it cover to cover! Yes, we're talking history here; but we're also talking current events -- events that could bring not only the entire developing world to its knees, but also these hallowed United States and our gracious neighbor to the north. And all because of one man, one misbegotten ideology, one group of protégés, acolytes, disciples -- and yes, I'll say it -- intellectual toadies known as `The Chicago Boys.'

    And the IMF and the World Bank, many of whose policy makers are obvious lackeys in the service of that same `School of Chicago' ideology if not to something even more sinister? Pfff!

    One caveat to all of the above: I've never read the original works of Milton Friedman. Nor did I ever attend any of his classes while he was still alive. I trust Ms. Klein to have reported as accurately as she has documented. If not, shame on me for being so gullible and impressionable.

    And one last thing: we all know the wide gulf that exists between the original teachings of Jesus and the way Christianity, through various churches and sects, has chosen to interpret and propagate those teachings over the centuries. Would Jesus Christ call himself a Christian by today's standards of Christianity? Karl Marx once famously said he was no Marxist. Would Milton Friedman, given the demonic evolution of his economic theory, still call himself a Friedmanite? I fear, given his comment in the Op Ed section of The Wall Street Journal as recently as September 15, 2005 (p. 410) that he would.

    The news in the concluding chapter ("Shock Wears Off: The Rise of People's Reconstruction") is good: all is not lost. Let's hope that Ms. Klein's optimism is not as much in error as my original ignorance. Let's hope that society -- and Rousseau's original concept of the social contract -- are not yet lost.


    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 1, 2013

    Over the course of the last 40 years I've watched via the media

    Over the course of the last 40 years I've watched via the media a number of historic changes unfold like the end of apartheid in South Africa, Allende's election in Chile, and the fall of Poland's Communists.   Given the people taking over I was very surprised at the outcomes.  Ms. Klein brings a new lens to this history and suddenly these events not only make sense, but they are clearly linked together.   This book is an eye-opener.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2012

    A must read, if you got the guts.

    This book sheds light on a lot of issues e.g Govt, companies, etc. I found it very detailed. Ms Klein did a great job.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2012

    She says what we're all thinking

    Every now and then a liberal economist will write about some evil of globalization, some manner in which Western financiers stole something of value from a poorer nation by imposing a depression on it, and will hedge against the obvious conclusion with "But they didn't mean to, it's just an unfortunate byproduct of their ideology."

    But she goes beyond making the accusation and provides tons of proof that the "they're evil" approach explains random, seemingly unrelated events better than the "they're stupid" explanation. Klein takes the reader through events in countries all over the globe, explaining how economic pain was used to drive through reforms that the countries themselves didn't want - reforms that the richer countries had often already rejected - in an attempt to get their hands on the long-term wealth of the country in question. Sure, you can still try to believe that all this looting, occurring for decades and performed by hundreds of people in disparate locations, happened just by chance, but that would be ignoring the most obvious explanation.

    The title comes from the strategy for changing Russia from a communist to a free market economy, which resulted in billions of dollars being taken out of Russia and put in Swiss bank accounts, a loss of 1/3 of GDP, and a massive increase in poverty. Even the IMF has admitted to mistakes in its advice to Russia, but if they're admitting to that much, how bad were things from the inside?

    It's a long book but you don't have to be familiar with economics or global 20th century history to get the point. In fact, its biggest strength is that its willing to explain everything for newcomers to these discussions.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2012

    An Important, Necessary book

    One of the most important book of the 20th century. Klein's researchis impeccable, and though some of her conclusions aren't necessarily where I mighthave thought to go, it doesn't change the fact that she proves the overall thesis of the book. This is a horrifying look into the twisted results of glorifying greed, the people who benefir from it and the people qho ultimately pay for it. I am, of course, over simplifying things, but this is the kind of book that is changing the way people look at the world and waking them up fro ma long slumber.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 15, 2011

    Excellent leftist interpretation

    Excellent radical liberal critique of the Chicago school politics of the 8s and 90's

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2009

    Shock Doctrine

    I found the ideas to be very stimulating from the first couple of pages. Tried to put the book down so I wouldn't gobble it up in one reading.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2009


    Noami Klein has written a superb book,with god research,with quotes from official documents,from actions and expressions of CEO's of companies that benefit from privatization and the role of the U.S. government granteeing exploitation in the Thirld World and within the U.S. itself.It also exposes the intelectual role of the "School of Chicago" assisting totalitarian governments and U.S. corporations in exploitation of human beings around the globe.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Incredible book

    Klein puts the pieces of America's recent history and involvement in the dirty wars of South and Central America, globalization, the spread of free market ideology, the Iraq war, and the corporatization of the global economy. It's a riveting story that all Americans should read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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