Measuring the “Shock”

You can attest that a concept has become fairly popular when it is used by educated laymen/laywomen in very different circles. Obviously, Naomi Klein’s idea of a “Shock doctrine” is all over the place since we learnt about the tragic earthquake disaster – and its consequences –  in Japan. This morning, I heard on the French public radio a political analyst talking about fears that international institutions may apply to Japan the “shock doctrine”, a word, he noted, that “economists like to use frequently”. In addition, the same concerns were expressed by a Facebook friend of mine as soon as Friday morning who wondered whether the World Bank was going to impose Japanese people a “Chicago School-like Shock therapy” (emphasis added). She is not an economist or a social scientist but a film editor and a street artist. Tiago, I think it is time to revive your “the Evil that economists do” paper!

PS : I refrained from using as illustration one of these terrifying earthquake or desolate lands pictures that have circulated all over the net. I feel uneasy with the ambiguity existing in their intense dissemination, as if people were both appalled and fascinated in an unhealthy way by the Japanese drama. Anyway, you can still donate to one of the organizations that are working on relief and recovery in the region.

2 thoughts on “Measuring the “Shock”

  1. Shock doctrine goes back at least as far as Lenin, and Chicago School has no monopoly on it! Rahm Emanuel recently said that it would be a shame to waste a crisis that could be exploited for major political change. Always thought Klein overdid this argument.

  2. I agree with you, Ross. I must say that I have not read Klein’s book in its entirety but I have seen the documentary which was drawn from it and was annoyed by some of its assertions: Friedman is depicted as Hayek’s disciple, Cheney and Rumsfeld are said to be Chicago School students, Chicago boys seem to be trained by Friedman in person, etc. In fact, the main argument is built on one sentence from Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, which is taken out of context. Overall, what I saw was a confusion between Friedman and the Chicago School as a whole on one hand, and on the other hand, a conflation of conservative politics and free-market economics. But besides these oversimplifications, what strikes me is that it seems to work in the popular imagination. As a result, I see the words “Chicago School” being frequently associated with all the recent disasters. The idea that laissez-faire capitalism has its responsibility in the current situation or that big corporations (backed by evil economists) could benefit from it is now well spread and I think we can link that to Klein’s argument. Can economists overturn the argument? Are they willing to do so? And if they did, would they be audible?

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