Tag Archives: Milton Freidman

Who Can Stop the Shape Shifters? Naomi Klein, You’re Freaking Me Out

(Crossposted at dailykos.com and thanks to all who got it on the recommended list all morning.)
Uncle Miltie Friedman wrote in 1982

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.

This is the statement that lies at the heart of what Naomi Klein calls “The Shock Doctrine” in her new, brilliant, courageous and genuinely frightening book on Milton Friedman and his Chicago Boys’ repackaging of feudalism.  Shape shifters, she calls them.  (I’ve been a fan of Klein’s gift for wording things since I discovered her in 2004.)  From the atrocities in Chile that began on September 11, 1973 to Iraq to the Tsunami to Katrina, Friedmanomics has shape shifted, Klein says, into “disaster capitalism”.  But whatever shape it takes it remains committed to the unholy “policy trinity” of “the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending.”

I am officially freaked out.  Naomi Klein’s book “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” is the perfect book to read for Halloween.  It will set your hair on fire.  The first chapter alone “The Torture Lab:Ewan Cameron, the CIA, and the Maniacal Quest to Erase and Remake the Human Mind” will have you running for a stake and a cross.  The descriptions of torture in the bowels of McGill University in the 1950’s that are still taught and practiced today are bone chilling.  The second chapter, “The Other Doctor Shock” focuses on Milton Friedman deep down in his  economics lab in the basement at the University of Chicago. It will fill you with dread as you watch him develop his science of selfishness with his Changelings from South America.  They waited restlessly for the world to fall out of love with John Maynard Keynes and one of his successors, John Kenneth Galbraith, and their annoying responsible and reasonable versions of capitalism.

But they finally got their chance and Chapters 3-5(States of Shock, Cleaning the Slate, and “Entirely Unrelated: How Ideology Was Cleansed of Its Crimes)  will have you sweating and looking behind your back furtively searching for green Ford Falcons coming to whisk you away, Ha Ha.  These are the tales of kidnappings, beatings, and killings of thousands of social workers, union leaders, college students, soup kitchen workers, musicians, artists; well, just about anybody who got together in a group to change things as simple as students protesting bus fares or doctors in clinics for the poor.  One doctor said that they told him “The poor won’t have any goody-goodies to look after them anymore” as they applied electric shocks to his gums, nipples, genitals, abdomen and ears.”  It was literally the idea of kindness that they wanted to destroy.

These are the chapters where Klein shows how Uncle Miltie and his Chicago Boys were complicit in the terror and death that came with the coups in South America in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  This is Klein’s most important achievement connecting the economic theories of Friedman to reigns of terror necessary to implement his theories.  Unlike the Nobel Committee that awarded Friedman a Nobel Prize for economics in 1976 and then a year later awarded Amnesty International the Nobel Peace Prize for exposing human rights violations in the countries that embraced Friedmanomics, Klein connects the two.  Friedman continued to claim that he only offered “technical advice” to Pinochet and others.  When he visited Pinochet after the coup of September 11, 1973, “he called the economic experiment ‘a miracle'”. If it was so great, then why did they need all the repression and cruelty? 

But brave people tried to disprove this.  Orlando Letelier, who had been President Allende’s Ambassador to Washington when the coup occurred, exposed Pinochet and Friedman in an article for “The Nation” in 1976.  He said that the “establishment of a free private economy and control of inflation a la Friedman” cannot be done peacefully. It had to be enforced, and in the Chilean context that could be done only by the killing of thousands, the establishment of concentration camps all over the country, the jailing of more than 100,000 persons in three years… Regression for the majorities and ‘economic freedom’ for small privileged groups are in Chile two sides of the same coin.” And most chilling of all he wrote that there was “an inner harmony” between the “free market” and unlimited terror (Shock Doctrine: page 99). One month later he was blown up on his way to work in Washington D.C.

Aristocrats or Democrats, said Thomas Jefferson
“There is no humane way to rule people against their will”, Klein says paraphrasing Simone de Beauvoir.  It’s not just about excesses and abuses, but about an “all pervasive system.”  Sergio Tomasella, “a tobacco farmer and secretary-general of Argentina’s Agrarian Leagues who was tortured and imprisoned for 5 years” described what happened most eloquently when he testified on human rights abuses.

“Foreign monopolies impose crops on us, they impose chemicals that pollute our earth, impose technology and ideology.  All this through the oligarchy which owns the land and controls the politics.  But we must remember?the oligarchy is also controlled, by the very same monopolies, the very same Ford Motors, Monsanto, Philip Morris.  It’s the structure we have to change.  This is what I have come to denounce. That’s all.”


What we need is a good ad campaign
Klein quotes an ad in “Business Week” written by Burson- Marsteller who did PR for the Argentine Junta  in 1976.  “Few governments in history have been as encouraging to private investment…We are in a true social revolution, and we seek partners. We are unburdening ourselves of statism, and believe firmly in the all important role of the private sector.”  Victor Emmanuel, the Burson-Marsteller guy in charge of selling Argentina’s new Junta controlled economy said,  “A lot of innocent people were probably killed, but given the situation, immense force was required.”  Yes, Klein says, it takes cataclysmic change “when people, with their stubborn habits and insistent demands, are blasted out of the way” for the kind of freedom that Friedman longed for but the kind of freedom that has no love of democracy.

I’m going to stop here. I’m about a third of the way through the book.  I want to come back to the phrase that Naomi Klein picks out as the theme; “the actions taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”  Which ideas are lying around now?  Which ones should we use for the coming deepening crisis?  Which presidential candidates have the right ideas for our times right now?

For my money, it’s Edwards with his fresh takes on the ideas that made  Democrats the party of “The four freedoms” and “the fighting faith”. How did we used to define freedom? What did we have faith in?  The free market?  No, we had faith in our work made with the sweat of our brows. We had faith in our ability to take risks and achieve much. We had faith in our community. We had faith in our family and its future.  We had faith in each other to be there in a crisis whether it was fire or flood or marauders. We had faith in our nation to preserve our freedom of thought and speech. Most of all, we had faith in ourselves to do the right thing but also that we could do the harder work of loving our neighbors as ourselves. Can we revive this fighting faith?

What are the ideas that inspire you?