Milton Friedman's terrible legacy

Issue 

The Shock Doctrine

By Naomi Klein


Allen Lane, 2007

576 pages, $32.95 (pb)

Milton Friedman's death was greeted by a tide of obituaries in the mainstream press in support of the world renown "libertarian" economist. Yet very few cared to mention the various example countries he had made his work over his life. Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine takes a look behind the work of a man that has helped bring neoliberalism into the lives of millions — with devastating results.

Klein tracks the history of Friedman and his Chicago school's exploits throughout the world, as they attempted to create a blank slate model country on which to impose their neoliberal agenda. A comparison is drawn between the use of shock therapy on humans to what the Friedmanites tried to impose on nations.

The idea of "disaster capitalism" comes from the way Western capitalists now use disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis and war as an opportunity to create more business for themselves. Today, many industries, like vultures on a dead carcass, thrive on such misfortune and therefore have an interest in its continuation.

Despite the rhetoric of libertarianism, implementing Friedman's policies relied on a scared population and often required dictatorships, like that of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile from 1973 to 1990. Millions have been murdered or disappeared in the efforts to implement this very anti-democratic prescription. Despite this, Friedman is held up as a demi-god to economics students throughout the world to this day.

As Klein points out, many people would like us to believe that these shocking examples of capitalism at its greediest, from Iraq to New Orleans to Russia to South Africa and beyond, are simply caused by a few bad apples or maybe even be part of an elaborate conspiracy. But these excuses give too little credit to those who developed the ideas and to those whose interests they were serving. The ramifications of disaster capitalism have also been used as an opening by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

The Shock Doctrine shows us how far capitalism has come and how unsustainable the idea of unlimited growth has proved. I would be surprised if someone could walk away from this book and not want to change the world in which we live. A must for all economics students and those that are yet to grasp the devastating nature of capitalism.

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