Tuesday, December 23, 2008


One of the benefits of long plane rides is the opportunity to read for long stretches of time without too much distraction. For a recent cross-country jaunt to visit the parents and meet my 10-month old nephew, I decided to take on Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

When I subscribed to The Nation I read her column, and I've seen and heard her on various talk shows and other appearences (including her amazing speech at University of Chicago, home of Milton Friedman, the lead character in Shock Doctrine).

The Shock Doctrine, all 460 pages (plus footnotes) was read pretty much on the flights and in the airports. It was as captivating as the press for it made it out to be. Rather than rehash the main points (as has been done in many reviews), I wanted to highlight a couple of other points that stood out.

There’s a sub-story in the book, one that doesn’t get as much (if any) attention – the interconnected web of unintended consequences and the complete divorce of the policy-makers from these unexpected results. A couple of examples....

* the shock-treatment in Russia results in the expatriation of a million Russian Jews to Israel, which then results in a new pool of cheap labor and occupied-territory settlers, which then results in the ability of the Israeli government to shut-out the Palestinians from coming to Israel to work which results in more poverty among the Palestinians which then contributes to more suicide bombings and other terrorism.

* the trumped-up Asian money crisis results in massive unemployment and poverty, which then results in a rise in human-trafficking, sending thousands of young women into forced prostitution (and generates dozens of treacly columns by Nicholas Kristoff...by no means as awful as the human trafficking but worth a mention nonetheless)

* the fragile cease-fire between the government and the Tamil Tigers is derailed by the post-tsunami beach-front land-grab in Sri Lanka.

The reconstruction and reclaimation efforts detailed at the very end are the true free, democratic market -- not the rigged system set up by the IMF, World Bank, multinational corporations, politically-connected oligarchs and the military-backed dictators who prop them all up. People deciding for themselves how to run their affairs, taking back the land that the government-business oligarchs are trying to steal from them. Whether in Sri Lanka, Thailand or New Orleans, it was heartening to see people refuse to give into the disaster capitalists.

It really is a stunning book by virtue of its giving the reader a truly trans-global perspective, both at 30,000 feet and at ground level.

It also reminds me that I need to be careful in my work-life of how I use the term “globalization”. We sometimes use it when talking about how it’s a legitimate imperative to increase the number of international students on campus…that is to give all students a broader perspective in a period of globalization. But clearly the term is quite loaded to people who come from countries where “globalization” is another term for the multinational corporate appropriation of domestic resources, a term that moreso signifies crony capitalism designed to benefit a select few.

1 comment:

EC said...

In 2003, I felt that everyone should have been forced to read Catch 22.

In 2008 (and 2009), the please borrow this a read it book was Shock Doctrine.