Naomi Klein's New Book a Lightning Rod

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the Toronto Star

Naomi Klein's New Book a Lightning Rod

Her new book, The Shock Doctrine, details the rise of disaster capitalism with painstaking care, showing how big business often steps in after global misery

by
Vit Wagner

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, a painstakingly detailed analysis of how corporations manipulate natural and manmade disasters to line their pockets and further their privatizing agenda, is not a marginal, academic treatise by a lefty think tank targeted at a small, like-minded audience.0904 07

It is a book by a bestselling writer and activist who also happens to be one of the anti-globalization movement's most recognizable faces. It's also a book that comes with its own promotional documentary, a short directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In other words, instead of being consigned to pointy-headed discussion in unread academic journals, it is a book that has the potential to become a lightning rod of controversy and debate.

The distinction is not lost on the writer, Naomi Klein, the 37-year-old Toronto author of the momentous 2000 manifesto No Logo, an influential book that produced its share of detractors and converts. On the one hand, No Logo provoked a backlash from the editors of The Economist magazine, who devoted a 2002 cover story to refuting its Nike-bashing thesis. On the other, it inspired the popular rock band Radiohead to ban corporate signage from its shows.

"The usual response of the economic establishment is to ignore people like me and hope we go away," says Klein, during a recent interview in the Toronto offices of her Canadian publisher, Random House.

"That was the initial response to No Logo. It was either patronizing pats on the head or it was, `Ignore her. Don't encourage her.' It was only after No Logo sold a million copies that The Economist took it on."

The Shock Doctrine, published worldwide today in seven languages, will be an even tougher pill for Klein's detractors to choke down. In it, Klein assails the legacy of Milton Friedman, the late, Nobel Prize-winning Chicago economist beloved by conservatives for his unequivocal belief in the supremacy of the private sector, even as a means of delivering traditionally public services such as health care, education and drinking water. The book argues that since the public doesn't necessarily share the Friedmanite faith, corporations seize on the disorientation caused by situations of turmoil and upheaval to inflict their privatizing agendas.

Examples range from the way in which the Friedman doctrine was implemented in Chile after the 1973 coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, to the more recent displacement of Sri Lankan fishers who were prevented by resort developers from returning to their villages in the aftermath of the 2003 tsunami.

Klein began connecting the dots in her own mind at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. At the time she and her husband, filmmaker and former TV host Avi Lewis, were living in Argentina, a country then emerging from its own period of economic shock therapy. She was struck by how closely the original reconstruction plans for Iraq conformed to the shock formula.

The 560-page argument, which also deals with the privatization of post-communist economies in Poland, Russia and China, the reliance of the Israeli private sector on security-related entrepreneurship and other subjects, is bolstered by nearly 70 pages of footnotes, citing more than 1,000 sources.

"I expect the release of the book to be a battle. And the endnotes are my body armor," says Klein, who will further defend her thesis during a public interview Thursday at the UofT's MacMillan Theater.

"When you are introducing ideas that are new and in some cases quite radical, you need major backup if you want to reach beyond a small section of the population. Hopefully, the people who don't need as much convincing will bear with me because if the book were more anecdotal and less carefully sourced it would make it that much easier for the people who want to get me."

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