“The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” In Review

The Book- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

The Author- Naomi Klein

Two ISBN numbers were given:

ISBN-10- 0312427999

ISBN-13: 978-0312427993

Copyright– 2007 (by the author Naomi Klein)

Publisher- Picador

Publisher’s website- www.picadorusa.com


How the book, and by extension this review, is organized.


The book is separated into eight sections (seven main sections and a conclusion), and twenty-one chapters. I am going to break the overview down in a similar matter so it is easy to follow. The eight sections that we will be looking into are; Two Doctor Shocks: Research and Development, The First Test: Birth Pangs, Surviving Democracy: Bombs Made of Laws, Lost in Transition: While We Wept, While We Trembled, While We Danced, Shocking Times: The Rise of the Disaster Capitalism Complex, Iraq, Full Circle: Overshock, The Moveable Green Zone: Buffer Zones and Blast Walls, and the Conclusion.


Section One- Two Doctor Shocks: Research and Development

What you need to know from Chapter One– The book starts with an examination of physical shock treatment, and its long-term and short-term affects on patients. Shock therapy is looked into from multiple fronts: how it is used as torture, how it is used in war, and how it is used as a treatment for mental illness. The chapter focuses on the work of Ewen Cameron, a doctor who thought he could use shock therapy to strip away bad behaviors and traits, and replace them with good behaviors and traits. We are introduced to one of his patients; Gail, who underwent so much therapy she has to write her experiences and thoughts down so she doesn’t forget they happened. Cameron could wipe things clean, but he couldn’t install new things. The book tries to connect the experiences of physical shock therapy to Economic shock therapy.

What you need to know from Chapter Two– The second chapter focuses on concepts we have already encountered within the course: Milton Friedman, and his theories and support of free market systems. It also discusses the creation of an American economic connection with Chile through the Chicago Boys. It’s in this chapter that we are introduced to the themes of the series Commanding Heights, but with a different anti-free market twist. It is a chapter on our government’s intervention within Latin America, and its want to try out shock therapy there.


Section Two- The First Test: Birth Pangs

What you need to know from Chapter Three– This chapter begins with the military take over of Chile by General Augusto Pinochet. It examines Chile in the context of forced economic policy, and links this forced policy to the Chicago school. The book makes its stance that shock therapy, and the Chicago Boys, were a failure. It is stated that what caught the economy of Chile, and kept it from falling, was not shock therapy: it was the fact that Chili hadn’t privatized all of its businesses some were still nationally owned. Other parts of Latin America were discussed, in relation to the Chicago School, and the Chicago Boys including; Argentina and Brazil. The main points behind the chapter were, that violence was used to install bad policies that caused poverty and unemployment to rise.

What you need to know from Chapter Four– Chapter Four had a good deal to do with the “human factor” in Latin American countries. The first portion focused on Orlando Letelier, who was from Chile, and was murdered when he spoke out against what was going on economically and politically in his country. It also discussed the consequences of the military actions that occurred in the area; including charges that were up against leaders like Pinochet. It was a chapter about reveals and cover-ups that focused on who took responsibility for the violence that occurred. It also talked about the type of violence; torture, and psychological abuse that was used. The point of the chapter was to show how far people would go to push their ideals; it seemed to also implicate the Friedman and the Chicago School as standby promoters of the violence.

What you need to know from Chapter Five– Chapter five was rather brief. Its point was to illustrate that Friedman, and promoters of his economic system, acknowledged the violence that occurred in Latin America, but did not find it to be related to the economic policy that they were promoting.


Section Three- Surviving Democracy: Bombs Made of Laws

What you need to know from Chapter Six– This is another chapter with a “counter to Commanding Heights” feel. In brings up Friedrich Hayek and Margaret Thatcher. It discusses Thatcher, and her attempts to free up the market in Britain that really hurt her image. It painted the Falkland War as a positive image adjustment for Thatcher, which it was. The point of these references seemed to be, to ease us into discussions about how crisis is used to manipulate public emotion.

What you need to know from Chapter Seven– This chapter is about Bolivia. It is another example of a country adopting Friedman policies. One of the consistent themes throughout the book is that free market policies, and shock therapy, cannot be put across in a manner that stays in line with democracy. Bolivia provided an example of a country that didn’t fall into violence, but still made choices about its economic system in a manner of backdoor deals and political pushing that would not be supported by democracy. The book also didn’t attribute any existing success to the economic program, instead establishing cocoa and cocaine as what prevented a complete disaster.

What you need to know from Chapter Eight– Chapter Eight is about being sneaky. It discusses getting countries like Argentina to accept programs that they might not under normal circumstances, because they are desperate for money and assistance. This portion of the book seems to be preparing us for future discussions about using desperation as a tool to get economic policies passed, by combining them with some other deal.


Section Four- Lost in Transition: While We Wept, While We Trembled, While We Danced

What you need to know from Chapter Nine– Poland and communism are the main topics of this chapter. It is about communism’s progression to capitalism in countries like China and Poland: with the main focus being Poland, and Poland’s union Solidarity. The main point of the chapter is to illustrate the negative feelings of people who were forced into accepting capitalism after, or during, communism through questionable means.

What you need to know from Chapter Ten– Here we will focus South Africa, and Nelson Mandela. This chapter was about the end of Apartheid, and how the people got power of their government, but lost power over their economy. When the African National Congress was in talks with the National Party (leaders during Apartheid) they felt the most important power to achieve was political power, because political power would give them the ability to change anything they gave up to the other side later. The sad reality is they got trapped in contracts and lost power over their economic system, and with that the ability to really make positive change in their country.

What you need to know from Chapter Eleven– Corruption within Russia was the main focus of Chapter Eleven. It was about the sell-off of companies within Russia that led to the creation of a few elite wealthy, and a larger group of poor. Its purpose was to showcase the failure of shock therapy in a country that was in transition from Communism to Capitalism.

What you need to know from Chapter Twelve– Chapter twelve begins with the Author visiting Jeffery Sachs to discuss his failure to help Russia. Sachs seems to believe that the failure was because the people he usually received financial help from, for countries, had become lazy. The author is setting us up for a theory that she has on markets and market competition in this chapter. The chapter also discusses techniques used in other countries, by people who support free market systems, that look a lot like cutting the countries down so the can be rebuilt to the free markets liking.

What you need to know from Chapter Thirteen– This chapter is particularly interesting. In it the author suggests that Capitalism lost its only rival with the death of Communism. Because it no longer had anything to compete with the Capitalist system lost its good policies, and its will to help other countries; like Russia, and the Asian countries that were struggling at the time. It seemed to suggest that the United States didn’t give money to Russia when they were in need because it was Russia’s fall that allowed Capitalism to rise up as the superior system.


Section Five- Shocking Times: The Rise of the Disaster Capitalism Complex

What you need to know from Chapter Fourteen– Chapter fourteen is very much about privatization, in its various forms, throughout the government. It talks about Donald Rumsfeld and his actions towards privatization of government run organizations. It also discusses how the American military is becoming more privatized: with doctors and security companies subcontracted. The main focus is privatization and the push for it by the government (Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration, etc.) within the government (the military, welfare systems, etc.) Patents and companies holding patents on things like medication were also referenced.

What you need to know from Chapter Fifteen– This chapter is a continuation of points from the previous one. It contains conversations about political leaders, like Dick Cheney, gaining money from investments in companies that profit from the governments actions, like Halliburton. One of the main discussion points was the amount of profits that were being made on things like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Profits made by companies that hold patents that give them a monopoly on a field were referenced as well.


Section Six- Iraq, Full Circle: Overshock

What you need to know about Chapter Sixteen– Chapter Sixteen is about Iraq, and the people of Iraq. The author traveled to the region in order to talk to people about the privatization that was going to occur in Iraq, and their feelings about it. The first chapter on Iraq is about the existence of the war as an aspect of shock therapy. It talked about the shock that the people experienced that separated them from awareness about their political and economic system.

What you need to know about Chapter Seventeen– This chapter was about the “disaster capitalism” aspect of Iraq. It was about exactly how Iraq was being privatized, with 200 companies that were once owned within the country being sold off. `The chapter also focused on the people of Iraq, and their anger and confusion as to what was going on in their country. It also talked about what the people turned to when their country was in shambles: religion, and the affect that it had on the interactions within the country.

What you need to know about Chapter Eighteen– A good portion of this chapter involved the topic of democracy, and democracy in Iraq. One of the declared reasons for the war in Iraq had been to bring a democracy to the country. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be a reality of the situation. Elections in the country were stalled and manipulated, according to the book, by people who wanted Iraq to be a country that supported the free market system, but knew it wouldn’t currently be embraced by the people who were voted in to positions of power.


Section Seven- The Movable Green Zone: Buffer Zones and Blast Walls

What you need to know about Chapter Nineteen– Sri Lanka, Thailand and other countries affected by the tsunami were referenced in this chapter. The main focus was on Sri Lanka and the fishing communities the natives had on the beaches, that the hotels want displaced for their own purposes. When the tsunami came the fishing communities were knocked out, and officials made sure they didn’t get back on the beach. Privatization was also referenced, as it existed before and after the tsunami. Before the tsunami the privatization was being fought, but after it was pushed through.

What you need to know about Chapter Twenty– This was another focus on “disaster capitalism”, this time the location was New Orleans. The focus here also seems to be on shifts from public ownership to private ownership. It seems to suggest a trend between having to rebuild, and rebuilding via privatization. The term “disaster bubble” was used to convey the idea that the private companies that profit from disasters are building up a market that will crash when they don’t have disasters to gain money from.

What you need to know about Chapter Twenty-One– The last chapter covered the nature of aggression. One of the topics was; whether or not every seemingly man-made disaster was set up for moneymaking processes. The general consensus from the book is mankind makes disasters naturally, not intentionally. Religious fighting and fighting over the commanding heights of the economy were both referenced.


Section Eight- The Conclusion

What you need to know about themes in the conclusion– The conclusion is the only chapter of this book that makes you feel hopeful. It references the “people factor”. We are provided with another story from the tsunami of 2004, a story that is very different from the sadness and destruction of the tale of Sri Lanka. People of Thailand got their land back after a similar “land grab” that occurred after the tsunami. People rebuilding their homes by themselves in New Orleans were also highlighted as a glimmer of hope that disaster capitalism won’t always be successful.


About the Author (Naomi Klein)

What do we learn about the author from the book? Naomi Klein seems to get a good deal of her information from investigative journalism. We are introduced to this in the beginning of the book when she interviews the victim of shock therapy (Gail.) She seems to be the most comfortable when she is asking the questions; she also seems to feel free in the manner that she interprets the answers. It was an interesting contrast from the first book I read for the book review, because within that book the author (John Perkins) was speaking from direct experience.


If you want information about author Naomi Klein outside of the book- Click Here


What the Author REALLY wants you to know-

Naomi Klein does not support Friedman’s economic model. Her book seems to be a narration of why you should also not support such a system. If you took away anything at all from the book she would want you to know that the poor, and native people, suffer in developing countries that attempt to put forth free market systems. She supports countries utilizing their own resources, and feels that is a more stable than selling off companies/resources for profit. She seems to want people to re-evaluate the systems that they promote/are a part of.


How it is relevant to this class-

Income inequality is one of the main focuses of the book. In discussion about countries like Russia the separation between the wealthy elite and the poor was discussed in detail. We were also made aware that when “shock therapy” and free market systems were introduced to an area the income gap increased and more people fell into poverty. It also looked into income equality in Asia, African, and in some context our own country (when discussing New Orleans and hurricane Katrina.) It additionally discussed standard of living, especially when talking about the people of the fishing villages in Sri Lanka that were damaged in the tsunami in 2004. This discussion was particularly powerful because it made connections to the real people who were suffering because of the loss of their land: including a mother who was displaced and now struggles to care for her children in what easily would be described as slums.


What was missing-

The wording left a lot to be desired if you are looking for an unbiased wealth of information. A lot of the negative wording was unnecessary, and made the authors writings seem full of agenda. Some of it is accusable, because she is writing with a side in mind, but some of it is over the top. I would have like more focus on places like Sri Lanka, because I feel it was a good illustration of “disaster capitalism”. The portion on Sri Lanka was emotion inspiring, and it was one of the sections that felt the least biased. I feel like less focus on calling out politicians, and more stories about the actual situations and people affected would have benefitted the book.


What I learned and how it has changed me-

I remain still open to the free market system. Klein presented an argument against it that had some strength, but it focused a lot on personal attacks and linking concepts together weakly. It wasn’t enough to shut the door on free market systems in my mind. I learned quite a bit. A lot of the information on terms and economic theory I have learned from the course and my other book review already. I learned a lot I didn’t know previously from the section of South Africa and Apartheid; an example being, I wasn’t previously aware that when the power switch occurred economic power wasn’t handed over with political power. I hadn’t even considered that a government would have political power, but not economic power. I also learned that after the tsunami in 2004 donations that were meant for the people got absorbed into companies and the people only got a fraction of aid.


Would I recommend the book to friends?

I probably wouldn’t recommend the book to my friends. It wasn’t strong enough to be a “need-to-read”.


Outside of the book, where did information from this report come from?

All of the links to articles came from Wikipedia. All of the information came from the book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein.

1 thought on ““The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” In Review

  1. Shelbie Burris

    This was a really good book review. I liked the color coded organization that you used to organize the chapters and sections. I find that kind of thing really helpful when reading a book review because I like to know how what I’m reading fits in to the authors larger story or message. Your summary was also very easy to read and kept me moving efficiently through the book. I thought you provided really interesting information. I liked to hear the account of how various economies were forced into a free market system. I also think you provided accurate economic history around these discussions. You tied in our classrooms discussions well. I fond the review very interesting so I was surprised when you said that you would not recommend the book. Then again, It was probably because I was just reading few pages while you had to read an entire book to get the information.
    Shelbie Burris

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