Interview with Naomi Klein
Talking about war, free-market fundamentalism and a breed of politicos who thrive on disaster
KENNETH WHYTE | September 10, 2007 |
Naomi Klein, author of "No Logo", and Alfonso Cuaron, director of "Children of Men", present a short film from Klein's book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." www.shockdoctrine.com
There's a school of thought that free markets and democracy go hand in hand and together they make people free and prosperous. You're arguing that free-market ideology has triumphed around the world not because people have embraced the market but because the ideology has been imposed on them, often in moments of distress. Furthermore, these moments of distress have sometimes been created by governments as a pretext to bring in free-market policies. To top it all off, the policies haven't really worked. They've just enriched the people who introduced them. How's that for a summary?
That's pretty good. I would quibble with a few things. I don't know that there are examples of the governments themselves creating the crises.
Okay. Is violence inherent in capitalism or is that something that's recently mutated out of capitalism as it's been practised over the last several hundred years?
I think you can make that argument. But the book is really looking at a war between different kinds of capitalism. It's about a battle of ideas between Keynesianism -- a mixed economy, which is what we have in this country -- and what I describe as a fundamentalist strain of capitalism which has an objection to the very idea of mixed economy. When these sort of fundamentalist capitalists get their way what is constructed is not capitalism at all, it's actually corporatism, China being one example ...
Give me the attributes of fundamentalist capitalism.
They're almost the attributes of every fundamentalist: the desire for purity, a belief in a perfect balance, and every time there are problems identified they are attributed to perversions, distortions within what would otherwise be a perfect system. I think you see this from religious fundamentalists and from Marxist fundamentalists, and I would argue that [Austrian economist Friedrich] Hayek and [University of Chicago economist Milton] Friedman shared this dream of the pure system. These are brilliant mathematicians, in many cases, so it looks perfect in their modelling. But I think anyone who falls in love with a system is dangerous, because the world doesn't comply and then you get angry at the world.
So you have these economists advocating for this pure form of capitalism -- what is the attraction of disasters to these people?
Well, disasters are moments where people are blasted out of the way, where they are in a state of shock, whether they're scattered -- as after a hurricane hits in New Orleans -- or just picking up the pieces after having been bombed, or their entire world view has just been shattered -- as after Sept. 11. These are malleable political moments. And there is an awareness that disasters create these opportunities, so you have a whole movement -- much of it standing at the ready within the think-tank infrastructure. I think of these think tanks as sort of idea-warmers -- they keep the ideas ready for when the disaster hits. Milton Friedman said that only a crisis, real or perceived, produces real change, and when that crisis hits, the change that occurs depends on the ideas that are lying around.
Let's talk about Chile. This is a country that ... when was it, about 1970, Allende was elected. He was a social democrat, socialist, comes into power but doesn't get along with the United States, is seen to be friendly to Castro and the Soviet Union, and successive American presidents are highly suspicious of him.
It was Nixon and Kissinger together. I end the book with a quote from a declassified letter from Kissinger to Nixon where he says that the threat of Allende was not about any of the things they were publicly saying at the time -- that he was cozying up to the Soviet Union, that he was only pretending to be a democrat and that he was going to turn Chile into a totalitarian system. Kissinger writes the real threat is the problem of social democracy spreading. The Soviet Union was a convenient bogeyman. It was easy to hate Stalin, but what was always more of a threat was the idea of democratic socialism, a third way between totalitarian Communism and capitalism.