Why our rulers love disasters – The Shock Doctrine

I mentioned it in a post, time ago, and again in my last post about Mandela, but now I want to do a post introducing the excellent book of Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. It was published in 2007, right before the economic “crisis” that was going to begin a few months later and continues nowadays.

The Shock Doctrine - Naomi Klein

It has been written a lot about this “crisis”, but you will not get a complete understanding about what it’s happening if you don’t know the ideas Naomi develops in her book. Because what it’s happening nowadays at Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain (PIGS, as English-speaking media daintily name us) and to some extent through the Western world, isn’t new. It happened decades ago, in Chile, when Nixon and Pinochet overthrew the democracy.

Pinochet implemented the capitalism in its current radical way, usually named neoliberalism, by first time… torturing and killing thousands of persons, that’s right… but it was worth, if you ask to financiers, bankers and their propagandists. For example, The Wall Street Journal in an editorial about the last coup in Egypt: “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet”; and twenty-two years ago, The Economist and The Washington Post also advised Gorbachov to imitate Pinochet.

Augusto Pinochet
Augusto Pinochet


The torture laboratory: Ewen Cameron

But the starting was even earlier, in 1950’s, when the psychiatrist Ewen Cameron (1901 – 1967) and the economist Milton Friedman (1912 – 2006) develoved their works, works that have changed the world. Friedman is the father of neoliberalism, the economic doctrine that is devastating the world, and below we’ll know more about him.

The following are the principal coercive techniques of interrogation: arrest, detention,  deprivation of sensory stimuli through solitary confinement or similar methods, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility and hypnosis, narcosis, and induced regression. (KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation, 1963)
Ewen Cameron
Cameron Wikimedia


The eminent psychiatrist Ewen Cameron, president of the Canadian, American and World Psychiatrist Associations, is the creator of the psychological basis in which the shock doctrine rests, and also methods of psychological torture that the CIA has been using since then (mainly in Latin America) and continues using (Abu Ghraib, Task Force, Tiger, Tikrit, Faluya, Guantanamo): electroshocks, sensory deprivation, barbiturates, LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs, even curare to paralyse the victims.

Cameron practised his techniques on his patients at McGill’s Memorial Institute, experimenting for Project MKUltra, a CIA-directed mind control program. They were patients with minor problems such as anxiety disorders and postpartum depression… but they were much worse after Cameron’s “treatment”, some of them in permanent coma, others schizophrenic.

After years of destroying lifes of the patients, the program didn’t work as mind-control or brainwashing method, but eventually led to the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual (1963), a CIA manual for “coercive counterintelligence interrogation of resistant sources” (in a word, torture), later updated in the Human Resource Exploitation Manual (1983).

This is the individual shock, to break will and brain of individual victims, and it’s the matter of the first chapter in Naomí’s book. The rest is about the economic shock therapy.


The other Dr. Shock: Milton Friedman


“Milton is the embodiment of the truth that ideas have consequences.” (Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense, May 2002, speaking at tribute to Milton Friedman)

Let’s come back to neoliberalism, the modern capitalism. Chile was the first practical application of the Shock Doctrine in a country, imposing Friedman neoliberalism by terror. Soon it was repeated all around the world: Indonesia with Suharto, Uruguay with Bordaberry, Argentina with its generals, Russia with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ‘Asian Tigers’ with their financial crisis, US with the 9/11, Iraq with the invasion, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries with the 2004 tsunami, European Union with the current economic “crisis”…

Poster with missing Argentinian
some of the 30.000 dissapeared in Argentina between 1976 and 1983 to impose neoliberalism – image by Emmanuel Frezzotti

The Nobel Prize in Economics Milton Friedman, acclaimed by his faithfuls as “the most influential economist of the 20th century”, explained the basis of the Shock Doctrine in this paragraph:

Milton Friedman
Friedman – Wikimedia

“Only a crisis -actual or perceived- produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

And Friedman insisted when the Katrina destroyed New Orleans. He was 93 years old then, but was so excited by this disaster that he couldn’t let this opportunity get away, and wrote for The Wall Street Journal (the newspaper of Pinochet fans, as we saw above):

“Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.” (George W. Bush took his advice and the public school system in New Orleans was privatized)

That is the core of neoliberalism. They need crises to impose their changes that in other circumstances would be impossible, because these changes harm the vast majority of the population. Any disaster is welcome, like a Pinochet or a Videla torturing and killing, a war, a tsunami, a hurricane, a terrorist strike or a financial crisis. People is frightened, paralyzed, in shock, and will not react or will not react enough quick. Then it’s the opportunity to do the Friedman’s holy trinity:

deregulation, privatization and cuts to social spending

It’s the time to demolish the welfare state, the time to carry out a redistribution of wealth from low and middle classes to super-rich, and it must be done as quick as possible, a “shock policy” as Friedman names it. This is the Shock Doctrine.


The rise of Disaster Capitalism


The Shock Doctrine film
The Shock Doctrine film

“One will have to ask whether it could conceivably make sense to think of deliberately provoking a crisis so as to remove the political logjam to reform.” (John Williamson, economist who coined the term Washington Consensus, 1993)

“There is a growing consensus about the idea that a large enough crisis may shock otherwise reluctant policymakers into instituting productivity-enhancing reforms.” (Michael Bruno, World Bank Chief Economist, 1995)


Therefore, that’s the reason for the current “crisis”. It started at 2008 and continues yet. In Europe, at the countries where the Shock Doctrine is being applied during the last five years, people wonder how rulers can be so incompetent, don’t they notice that their measures are worsening all? Of course they notice it, but they are getting their objective: to use a crisis -actual or perceived- to produce real change, as Friedman said.

Deregulation, privatization and cuts to social spending, welfare state is being dismantled, 99% is poorer and 1% is much richer. Rulers (financiers, bankers, politicians) aren’t failing in the management of the crisis, they are succeeding, getting their real goals. Because to reduce unemployment isn’t a goal, neither to reduce poverty, neither to improve or keep the quality of life of 99%; enrich even more the wealthiest 1% is the goal. It’s not incompetence but greed with no limits.

“What Asia needs is more bad news to continue to put pressure on these corporates to sell their companies.” (Jay Pelosky, strategist at financial services corporation Morgan Stanley, during the Asian financial crisis, 1997; 24 million people lost their jobs, suicide rate increased more than 100%, riots caused over 1.200 deaths, child sex trafficking grew enormously, and Jay Pelosky earned money)


I don’t want to end this review without mentioning one of the concepts that Naomi repeats in her book, and that is confirmed again and again with the chapters about Bolivia, Poland, China, Russia… other authors like Noam Chomsky have written about this concept as well: Democracy and Neoliberalism are not compatible. In every country where the Shock Doctrine has been applied there was or there is a fight, Democracy vs Neoliberalism. One of the neoliberal economists, Anatoly Chubais, who helped to crush Yeltsin’s Russia with the Shock Doctrine, claimed it clearly: “In order to have democracy in society, there must be a dictatorship in power” (here democracy means free market, of course, the only freedom that matters for neoliberals).

“Mr. Camdessus, the blood is so much, you know, it runs in rivers. It dries up too; it cakes all over me; sometimes I feel that there is not enough soap in the whole world to cleanse me from the things I did do in your name and in the name of your predecessors, and under your official seal” (Davison L. Budhoo – Dear Mr. Camdessus. Open Letter of Resignation From the Staff of the International Monetary Fund, May 18 1988) http://www.naomiklein.org/files/resources/pdfs/budhoo.pdf



I highly recommend to read the book. In Naomi Klein’s site is available an excerpt from the introduction to read online.For those who prefer a film, there is a documentary adaptation, made in 2009 by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross. However, as usually happens with the adaptations from books, the movie is shorter and more superficial.

English (trailer):

Spanish (complete):


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