Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Shock Doctrine

Why would I bring a book on the "The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" to Rome?  What might Noami Klein's The Shock Doctrine possibly have to do with Mussolini and fascism and historic preservation?

I think I brought it to remind myself -- or convince myself -- that my political commitments (to public higher education, to challenging the free market, privatization regime that has come to dominate so much of our lives) and my academic interests (historic preservation and the politics of the past) are linked, are mutually supportive, fit together in a way that is something more than bipolar.

This book is the clearest and most powerful reconceptualization of the past forty years of international political economy. It argues, very simply, but so convincingly, the following:

"The fundamentalist form of capitalism has always needed disasters to advance...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 thirty-five 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 deliberate intent of terrorizing the public or actively harnessed to prepare the ground for the introduction of radical free-market "reforms." (p. 11)

I was stunned to realize how little I understood how tightly linked were free-market reform ideologies pushed by Milton Friedman and the "Chicago Boys" (the University of Chicago economics department) and repressive dictatorial regimes, and the regimes of torture and repression.  I had fallen into the belief that these were "entirely unrelated" developments in the 1970s and 1980s, in the ironic words of Orlando Letelier, assassinated Chilean President Salvador Allende's Ambassador to the United States, who was himself murdered by Augusto Pinochet, with the apparent approval of the CIA.

More than ever, the trip that Eve and I organized to Argentina with UMass students in 2011 was wise to pair students of architecture and historic preservation with students of labor studies.  We effectively were looking at efforts to remember and rebuild in the long wake of the destruction wrought by the shock doctrine as applied in Argentina -- economic shock of free-market reforms, which were prepared and furthered by ruthless murder and terrorizing of those deemed to be obstacles in the way of reform.

It was a hopeful trip, in the sense that we saw remarkable grassroots memorial efforts, new museums, and met activists committed to recovering and interpreting the memory of the violent repression in the 1970s, and we visited and met with activists who took back -- or rather "occupied" -- factories where they worked, but which some distant multinational investor hoped to close down as part of some accounting gimmick. These were combined struggles, which the activists in both arenas recognized to be parts of a whole, a doctrine of shock that the country is still recovering from.

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