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On My Reading List: Naomi Klein’s New Book, The Shock Doctrine

October 16th, 2007 · 1 Comment · Activism, Books, Climate Change, Culture, Film, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Infrastructure, Journalism, News, Politics, TV, Video

Shock Doctrine US coverDaily Kos has a review up of Naomi Klein’s new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Harper’s ran an excerpt from The Shock Doctrine in the October issue which was, as the DKos review says, riveting, and immediately put the book on my must-read list. I’m planning to pick up a copy at Women and Children First Books next time I’m over there.

Klein’s 2000 book No Logo forever changed the way I think about branding and advertising — some of you might remember that I devoted an early episode of The Partly Dave Show to pieces inspired by No Logo. Naomi Klein is the kind of writer who helps you to connect dots that you knew were there, but didn’t realize were part of a larger pattern. But that’s just the beginning: Klein then goes on to give you a name for that pattern, fleshes out where it came from and how it got to be so powerful, and helps you see how the pattern has been reshaping the world you live in without your knowledge, and how it’s likely to do so even more dramatically in the future.

Here’s Ms. Klein on Real Time with Bill Maher, talking about the book. This is a great interview, and Klein does a fantastic job of summarizing some of the book’s ideas for Maher’s audience. (Nice line about Giuliani, too.)

And here’s a short film inspired by the The Shock Doctrine that Alfonso Cuarón (director of Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También) scripted in collaboration with Klein, directed by Cuarón’s son Jonas. (There’s also an interview with Cuarón and Klein about how the film came to be.)

If you can get your hands on the October Harper’s I highly recommend reading the excerpt there. (Subscribers can read it on the Harper’s Web site.) Or, okay, here’s an open link to the same excerpt on a Canadian Web site.

A couple of key quotes from the excerpt that get at the book’s main thesis, and why it matters:

“Every time a new crisis hits — even when the crisis itself is the direct result of free-market ideology — the fear and disintegration that follow are harnessed for radical social and economic re-engineering. Each new shock is midwife to a new course of economic shock therapy. The end result is the same kind of unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned, that is on display in Baghdad.”


Not so long ago, disasters were periods of social leveling, rare moments when atomized communities put divisions aside and pulled together. Today they are moments when we are hurled further apart, when we lurch into a radically segregated future where some of us will fall off the map and others ascend to a parallel privatized state, one equipped with well-paved highways and skyways, safe bridges, boutique charter schools, fast-lane airport terminals, and deluxe subways.

In particular, the excerpt lays out how “disaster capitalism” is creating an entire economy, in which enormous private companies like Blackwater take over disaster response and reconstruction, with goods and services concentrated on the wealthy while the poor are left to shift for themselves.

Much more after the jump …

The excerpt opens with a profile of Baghdad, in which the difference between life inside and outside the Green Zone serves as a perfect foreshadowing of the how the new disaster economy will sort us into haves and have-nots. And then goes on to give some clear examples:

The military-industrial complex that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in 1961 has expanded and morphed into what is best understood as a disaster-capitalism complex, in which all conflict — and disaster-related functions (waging war, securing borders, spying on citizens, rebuilding cities, treating traumatized soldiers) can be performed by corporations at a profit. And this complex is not satisfied merely to feed off the state, the way traditional military contractors do; it aims, ultimately, to replace core functions of government with its own profitable enterprises, as it did in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

It happened in New Orleans. Within weeks of Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of government run by contractors that was pioneered in Iraq. The companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar Baghdad gang: Halliburton’s KBR unit received a $60 million contract to re- construct military bases along the coast. Blackwater was hired to protect FEMA operations, with the company billing an average of $950 a day per guard. Parsons, infamous for its sloppy work in Iraq, was brought in for a major bridge-construction project in Mississippi. Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill-all top contractors in Iraq-were handed contracts on the Gulf Coast to provide mobile homes to evacuees just ten days after the levees broke. Their contracts ended up totaling $3.4 billion, no open bidding required. To spearhead its Katrina operation, Shaw hired the former head of the U.S. Army’s Iraq reconstruction office. Fluor sent its senior projec! t manager from Iraq to the flood zone. “Our rebuilding work in Iraq is slowing down, and this has made some people available to respond to our work in Louisiana,” a company representative explained. Joe Allbaugh, whose company, New Bridge Strategies, had promised to bring Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven to Iraq, was the lobbyist in the middle of many of the deals. The feeling that the Iraq war had somehow just been franchised was so striking that some of the mercenary soldiers, fresh from Baghdad, were having trouble adjusting. When David Enders, a reporter, asked an armed guard outside a New Orleans hotel if there had been much action, he replied, “Nope. It’s pretty Green Zone here.”

And then we get a good hard look at how our tax money is fueling the growth of these corporate behemoths that we don’t own, and can’t really control:

Much of the parallel disaster economy has been built with taxpayers’ money, thanks to the boom in privatized war-zone reconstruction. The giant contractors that have served as “the primes” in Iraq and Afghanistan have spent large portions of their income from government contracts on their own corporate overhead-between 20 and 55 percent, according to a 2006 audit of Iraq contractors. Much of those funds has, quite legally, gone into huge investments in corporate equipment, such as Bechtel’s battalions of earth movers, Halliburton’s fleets of planes and trucks, and the surveillance architecture built by L-3, CACI, and Booz Allen. Most dramatic has been Blackwater’s investment in its paramilitary infrastructure. Founded in 1996, the company has used its steady stream of contracts to build up a private army of 20,000 on-call mercenary soldiers and a military base in North Carolina worth between $40 million and $50 million. It reportedly has the ability to field massive humanita! rian operations faster than the Red Cross, and boasts a fleet of aircraft ranging from helicopter gunships to a Boeing 767. (2)

Blackwater has been called “al Qaeda for the good guys” by its right-wing admirers. It’s a striking analogy. Wherever the disaster-capitalism complex has landed, it has produced a proliferation of armed groups that operate outside the state. That is hardly a surprise: when countries are rebuilt by people who don’t believe in governments, the states they build are invariably weak, creating a market for alternative security forces, whether Hezbollah, Blackwater, the Mahdi Army, or the gang down the street in New Orleans.

The reach of the disaster industry extends far beyond policing. When the contractor infrastructure built up during the Bush years is looked at as a whole, what we see is a fully articulated state-within-a-state that is as muscular and capable as the actual state is frail and feeble. This corporate shadow-state has been built almost exclusively with public resources, including the training of its staff: 90 percent of Blackwater’s revenues come from state contracts, and the majority of its employees are former politicians, soldiers, and civil servants. Yet the vast infrastructure is all privately owned and controlled. The citizens who funded it have absolutely no claim to this parallel economy or its resources.

And here’s where it all leads:

At the 2007 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, however, political and corporate leaders were scratching their heads over a state of affairs that seemed to flout this conventional wisdom. It was being called the “Davos Dilemma,” which Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf described as “the contrast between the world’s favourable economics and troublesome politics.” As Wolf put it, the economy had faced “a series of shocks: the stock market crash after 2000; the terrorist outrages of September 11, 2001; wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; friction over US policies; a jump in real oil prices to levels not seen since the 1970s; the cessation of negotiations in the Doha round [of WTO talks]; and the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions” — and yet it found itself in “a golden period of broadly shared growth.” Put bluntly, the world was going to hell, there was no stability in sight, and the global economy was roaring its approval.

This puzzling trend has also been observed through an economic indicator called “the guns-to-caviar index.” The index tracks the sales of fighter jets (guns) and executive jets (caviar). For seventeen years, it generally found that when fighter jets were selling briskly, sales of luxury executive jets went down, and vice versa: when executive-jet sales were on the rise, fighter-jet sales dipped. Of course, a handful of war profiteers always managed to get rich from selling guns, but they were economically insignificant. It was a truism of the contemporary market that you couldn’t have booming economic growth in the midst of violence and instability.

Except that the truism is no longer true. Since 2003, the year of the Iraq invasion, the index has found that spending has been going up on both fighter jets and executive jets rapidly and simultaneously, which means that the world is becoming less peaceful while accumulating significantly more profit. The galloping economic growth in China and India has played a part in the increased demand for luxury items, but so has the expansion of the narrow military-industrial complex into the sprawling disaster-capitalism complex. Today, global instability does not just benefit a small group of arms dealers; it generates huge profits for the high-tech-homeland-security sector, for heavy construction, for private health-care companies, for the oil and gas sectors-and, of course, for defense contractors.

If you want to understand what’s going on in the world as we head into the next decade of disasters, and the opportunism that will follow in their wake, read this book.

Here’s the official site for The Shock Doctrine. Lots of great stuff there.

The Guardian has a mini-site up with more excerpts from the book, and related videos.

Related: an informative DKos post by DHinMI about Blackwater and The Shock Doctrine.

And this post by Miss Laura, on the subject of Blackwater leaving Iraq, puts things very succinctly:

While getting Blackwater out would be a good first step, the entire practice of having highly-paid mercenaries operating as a mostly-hidden auxiliary army needs to be laid bare and ended. People should know the real number of fighters the US requires to maintain the status quo (as if the status quo is worth maintaining) in Iraq, and taxpayers should not be paying grossly inflated salaries for mercenaries to remain unaccountable for their unprovoked violence against Iraqis (and, as DHinMI posted on Friday, for their threats against American troops). This stopgap measure is important to take before more Iraqis are massacred by Blackwater, but the system needs to change.

What she said.


One Comment so far ↓

  • Aaron

    Miss Laura is absolutely right…these paid mercenaries need to be exposed and pulled out. Sadly, the mechanism by which the people used to exercise their power and their voices, our system of checks and balances, is now deceased.

    So what’re we gonna do about it?