THE SHOCK DOCTRINE: THE RISE OF DISASTER CAPITALISM by Naomi Klein (Knopf), 662 pages, $36.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
On September 11, 1973, 34 years ago, a right-wing general named Augusto Pinochet led a bloody coup in Chile. In the fear and violence that followed the military take-over, came the real revolution; a revolution born in the mind of University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman.
Where most of the world saw a war criminal, Friedman and his Chicago boys saw Pinochet as an example for the world - a strongman who would free the market at the point of a gun.
Friedman's doctrine, in practice, puts the pursuit of free markets above all else. If populations descend into poverty under the heel of brutal dictators, well, that's just the cost of doing business. And the best time to impose harsh economic measures on sovereign states is after cataclysmic events like wars or natural disasters that plunge populations into a collective state of shock.
Naomi Klein, whose new book is sure to be highly scrutinized, shows how Friedman's theory of unfettered capitalism, embraced by true believers in Washington and the International Monetary Fund, helped impoverish huge areas of the world.
Citing case after cruel case, Klein demonstrates how Friedman's disciples persuaded willing and unwilling governments to agree to economic shock therapy - privatization, free trade, slashed social spending, deregulation - in exchange for foreign loans and investments they hoped would stimulate their beaten economies.
But instead of prosperity, Russia saw its resources gobbled up in a brutal, fraudulent privatization fire sale that caused greater poverty in an already impoverished nation. In South Africa, the shock doctrine led the ANC to turn its Freedom Charter from a pledge of economic and racial equality to an inconvenient memory.
Klein may be called a conspiracy theorist because she argues that greedy multinational corporations, rightist think tanks and neo-liberal governments are the designers of many international economic disasters.
But even skeptics will be impressed by the weight of statistics, documentation and first-hand quotes she assembles to make her case.