Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thoughts on Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine

I have only read a hundred pages of Naomi Klein's shocked doctrine, but I thought that it was a very valuable work so far. It should not be judged either as an work of economic history as an all-encompassing theory of capitalism.

Even so, pointing out the commonality between New Orleans, Chile, and Iraq was very valuable. Making such a point does not exclude a certain degree of voluntarism associated with capitalism. Rather, it exposes an unseemly side of capitalism that is not frequently discussed.

The connection between the dreadful psychological experiments in Montréal and Hayek in Chile is not necessarily fanciful.

The author was grateful that I pointed out to her that Hayek spent the last years of his life developing The Sensory Order, a book that expanded on the ideas of Donald Hebb, who began the work that culminated in the atrocious psychological programming of Ewen Cameron.

I am halfway through another fascinating book, written by two very conventional economists on the history of world trade.

Findlay, Ronald and Kevin H. O'Rourke. 2007. Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).

I have not yet reached the period of the Industrial Revolution, so thoroughgoing capitalism was not yet part of the story. The following quote suggests the flavor of the book:

xviii-xix: "The greatest expansions of world trade have tended to come not from the bloodless tatonnement of some fictional Walrasian auctioneer but from the barrel of a Maxim gun, the edge of a scimitar, or the ferocity of nomadic horsemen .... For much of our period the pattern of trade can only be understood as being the outcome of some military or political equilibrium between contending powers."


Anonymous said...

i heard naomi's interview on democracy now about the book----i thought it was more analytic and interesting than the more newslike stuff usually there. (and hence a treat).

however, thinking about it, my main problem with the shock doctrine idea is that 'crises' are also typically used by a non-oligarchic capitalist group commonly termed 'the left' (i believe). the 'general strike', the 'revolt' or 'revolution', or various other 'insurrectionary'/protest events are used to try to disrupt business as usual, so 'the left' can institute its plan. Like the status quo or right, usually they fail to completely institute their program.

so my view is more like doug henwood's in LBO, which is that there are often more, or as many, things in common between movements (and times) than or as differences. of course 'strikers' often have less financial capital to work with, and may aim for more endogenous reasons rather than acts of God a la katrina. ((i share DH's view that trying to seperate an era of 'globalization' or 'neoliberalsim' from previous eras which were simply 'interacting market democracies' is simply an arbitrary convention----clearly different from natural, invariant absolutes such as distinguish 1AD and -1AD (or 1BC) up to a gauge transformation.)

(the general principle may be that a 'leftist' is the younger version of the 'rightist', like caterpillars are to butterflies. Freud showed some never develop and hence become pathologies, or emerging markets.)

there seem to be 2 well known naomi's, a klein and a wolf. both write on fascism too. (a concept similar to 'globalization'.) a simple assumption is they are the same, perhaps complementary like an electronic doublet. as parity invariance is broken, naomi=/ i moan, but its close, and nature tends to be imperfect. one can never forget the cash-/in-/ doctrine which serves as missing links between crises.

it could be the same mindset that produced shock treatment (and timothy leary, the unabomber---who volunteered, milgram's experiments, psyops of jerrold post, possibly j. nash, ad nauseum) were related to the 'hubris' of the various eras, but the connection is a bit stretched at times.
nowadays its mri and neuroeconomics, also called crap---gotta get a PhD in something if you dont have a bestseller. from my view it could be that less evident micro-psychological or microfascist 'traditions' (slavery, religion, school...) may have also had macro manifestations not documented by naomi.

one would have to hit wikipedia to know (as a start). i think tyler cowan pointed out on his blog that all of wikipedia took less time to create than one year of watching TV in the usa. however, i dought most editors wrote from scratch. some may have even been schooled, and eaten some indian s/corn.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Trade as political. Yes.
I wanted to purchase a drug. In order to do this the pharmacy insisted that I needed a prescription from the doctor. The doctor said that members of the public couldn't obtain a prescription from him unless they made an appointment to see him. And yes, an appointment could be made within the next day or two, but only for that purpose. That is, the appointment must be limited to discusion about the condition that relates to the drug one is seeking at the time, absolutely nothing else. If it were to be extended to other complaints then it would be necessary to book two appointments. One for the script and another in two week's time for the other stuff. Even then, the doctor would not guarantee that he would be seen at the time the appointment was booked or at anytime within that hour.

Then there is the struggle involved when a doctor is payed to diagnose and prescribe the appropriate drugs and treatment. I won't go into that!

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


There certainly are links between these phenomena and also there is no defending the footsying around with Pinochet that both Hayek and Milton Friedman engaged in. However, it would appear that you have misled Naomi Klein, who sometimes reminds me of Michael Moore, someone I tend to sympathize with, but who blunderbusses about publicly with non-facts on occasion.

In any case, it is not true that Hayek spent his last years working on The Sensory Order, or that he derived it from Hebb. It was published in 1952 and he died in 1991. Now, it is true that Hebb's most famous book, The Organization of Behavior was published earlier, 1949, but it is also the case that Hayek's ideas came from his experiences as an ambulance driver in WW I, and that he began working on his book before Hebb's came out (see Bruce Caldwell's _Hayek's Challenge_ on these matters). Hayek's work was parallel to Hebb's, indeed predated his.

Hayek shifted to that work and his work on information after the failure of his capital theory, as found in his Pure Theory of Capital, 1941, the last gasp of his early phase, and the last gasp of the original Austrian capital theory that argued for the separate existence of capital as a source of value based on the concept of "roundaboutness." To his credit, Hayek basically understood the problem of reswitching, without naming it that, and that it undermined this simple-minded view. It pushed him to move off that whole approach into his later period. Unsurprisingly, Pure Theory of Capital is the book by Hayek least liked or read by Austrian economists.


Michael Perelman said...

I was aware that Hayek began that work much earlier, then abandoned it before the took it up late in life.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


Not "late in life." Try "in middle age." It was published in 1952 when he was in his 50s, with nearly another 40 years to go. It is true that he returned to some related themes in the 1970s, but the main work was in middle age, drawing on insights from his youth.