Book Review: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

I learned quite a lot from the financial models of modern capitalism. I always found these models to be severely lacking in common sense (not that it’s a good reason to ditch them), and to be used in a malicious way, imposing laws and lowering protections for no good reason. A model is only as good as the assumptions that it makes. Any decision made based on the model results without considering them is ridiculous.

And I knew that politicians imposed some of these laws after a shock. We can see that after the terrorist attacks in Europe in the last decade, but I didn’t realise that their security laws were actually entirely part of the neoliberalism doctrine. Enters this book.

Content and opinions

The book is split in 7 main parts with subchapters, and I will talk about each part separately, as they basically are split by historical periods.

The first part explores what Naomi Klein establishes as the basis of a shock therapy. I found it so crazy that the US have let doctors shock the brains of patients, under sometimes stupid pretenses, and even the fact that the doctor, Ewen Cameron, thought a shock would reset a brain is ridiculous. Have you tried to do that on a chip? It will fry it. Don’t you think a brain would also get injured from it? But the goal was not to cure people, but to enslave them… The chapter about Friedman is also enlightening. It’s typically the kind of capitalistic approach to society that has also given us the climate crisis and oil and gas companies hiding the fact that they knew they would kill the planet. As long as they benefit from the situation…

The second part starts the crazy effect that neoliberalism had on the planet. Enters Argentina and Pinochet. I didn’t realise at the time that the torture side of the well known dictatorship was related to the economical side of it. But it’s not a wonder, really. Trickle down doesn’t work, the only thing that goes down is people’s level of living on average, and richer people getting richer. But it’s interesting to see this in the context of modern politics as well, as the book was written more than a decade ago.

In part 3, after the effect of this doctrine in South America, I was wondering, how come did this hit the UK so much. And then I remembered Thatcher as well. I recently saw a play about her interactions with the late Queen Elizabeth II. Clearly, Thatcher lacked empathy (the fact that she slept just 4 hours like US president Reagan correlates maybe the lack of sleep with lack of empathy…) and as soon as she had a pretense, applied neoliberalist ideas to the UK, ideas that we suffer from to this day. Actually almost 50 years ago, there are new strikes, but this time, I hope the train workers, nurses and everyone else come out of these actions with more pay and more protection. I was quite amazed at the fact that Jeffrey Sachs, who we will follow until the end, didn’t realise what part he played in Bolivia’s history. Or maybe he did. Too many American people think they know better (and it will show even more after in the book, I mean, even what they call them shows how much they think about themselves… Canadians are Americans as well, but we only think about Americans as people from America, go figure…), and they sometimes alck the understanding of a situation, listening to people and… empathise… “Help yourself and God will help you” is a saying that tell you all you need to know. What we are doing is our God given right, and if we were not allowed to do it, God would help you. Not even realising that in the process, they switched from worshiping God to Mammon…

In part 4, we start to see how the distortion of reality allowed the IMF and World Bank to impose neoliberalism in help packages, Even if governments wanted to find a middle ground, they would be forbidden to do so by the financial markets and the fact that even at the time, everything was started to be interconnected. I think that in this part, we can see why the occidental world failed at preventing the Ukraine war, with Russia and China using lessons learned from this period described in this part to turn against their “master”, by using their weaknesses against themselves. And if we look at what happened before the war, we can see that neoliberalism was still at work, slowly eroding the status quo and then screaming wolf.

After this, we tackle the disaster aspect of neoliberalism. Basically the equivalent of the military industrial complex, but for disaster, still managed by most of the same companies. When we also look at the way the contractors are used, the actual people doing the work are payed at a minimum, and there are lots of waste in the process. What I find amazing is that some people say that public companies are less efficient than the private sector. This is fundamentally untrue. All old systems tend to rot, public or private. On top, a private company has a duty to its shareholders and not to the taxpayers, which means that a public company, with regular reforms, will be far more efficient tan a private company. Anyway, a very good explanation of the process.

In Part 6, we arrived at the Iraq situation. And that’s when shock and awe didn’t work as expected. To say that the attitude of the USA have created the situation there is an understatement. The problem, I think, is that they have not realised it. The only thing that this created is more adversaries for the USA, defiance towards the international bodies and less freedom for everyone.

The last part tackles more recent events and disasters, the application of part 5. To be fair, I didn’t know most of what happened, but I’m not surprised. Trickle down never worked and will never work (seriously, Liz Truss, you need to open your mind one day, you can’t even apply shock doctrine properly, the world has evolved since the Thatcher era). What I find interesting, for instance in Sri Lanka, is that it’s the tourism industry that won, but if there are resources to be retrieved, then they would get destroyed by the other side of neoliberalism (to be fair, there is nothing that will survive, not even humanity…).

That being said, the book ends on an optimistic note in the conclusion, with prediction for the future, like the fact that France rejection of the EU treaty would lead to a slow liberation. The opposite happened. Hollande and then Macron have gone on deregulating and selling things that should be public. In the UK, deregulation has lead to low housing quality and numbers. It lead to Russia attacking Ukraine using exactly the same principles as the US, with kind of a Chinese ally (and she was happy Putin was elected president). The Republican party state is also a consequence of their actions.


To be fair, this is a grim book. There may be hope at the end, but let’s say that the damage has been done. The planet has been damaged by the lies of the corporations, and now our actions are always going to have to go against the companies that have benefited from neoliberalism.

Good luck planet Earth.

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