- Date published:
10:10 am, May 29th, 2013 - 24 comments
Categories: class war, democracy under attack, economy, human rights, International, john key, poverty, privatisation, same old national, slippery, spin, workers' rights - Tags: neoliberalism, shock doctrine
The documentary The Shock Doctrine (2009)aired on Maori TV last night. It is based on Naomi Klein’s book of the same name. This presents a convincing and well-supported argument of the way “neoliberal” have been imposed on countries since the 1980s by capitalising on a range of natural and human-induced disasters and economic shocks. She exposes the hypocrisy of the the Chicago School-based, “neoliberal” theory compared with the practice. Milton Friedman’s theory claims that with economic liberalisation will come a more democratic and socially liberal society.
It is extremely important to understand the way disasters, wars and economic shocks are used by the wealthy and powerful right wingers to further many of their policies. However, it is important to note that, this is not part of a carefully orchestrated, well-cordinated plan. Rather, it shows how those with a mix of economic, financial and political power opportunistically capitalise on unexpected shocks, while focusing on their own self-serving interests.
As graphically shown in the documentary, the first attempts at imposing the Chicago School model was through the dictatorial regimes in Pinochet’s Chile and Argentina in the 1970s- brutal, murderous regimes that accepted no opposition, especially from the left. The documentary is compelling viewing, using the style and format of Hollywood movies, with the sights and sounds of graphic explosions in war zones, and devastating images of the poverty that resulted from the “neoliberal” revolution.
And here lies the dilemma with an otherwise excellent documentary: it presents an important argument and evidence in a way that might likely get the attention of many beyond those already opposed to “neoliberal” capitalism. However, it does tend to treat the “shock doctrine” as a carefully planned, well0orchestrated campaign, following a neatly unfolding narrative.
It is important to learn from the way shocks are opportunistically manipulated within the broader global setting. Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine needs to be read in conjunction with David Harvey’s Brief History of Neoliberalism. Harvey shows how there are massive inconsistencies with the way “neoliberal” policies are put into practice. When necessary, the elites will use anti-democratic means, and practice market protectionist strategies that are anything but “free”. The main thing that is consistent within “neoliberal” regimes, is that the wealth is shifted from the majority (including those with least power and wealth), to the few (most of whom are already pretty well off).
Throughout the Shock Doctrine documentary we see excerpts of speeches and comments from Naomi Klein, explaining how the doctrine works. Klein’s most important statements come towards the end of the documentary, after it has traced the trail of shocks from Chile through Bush Jnr’s “war on terror”, to the shock of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Of the GFC Klein says (in the segment that begins around 1 hour 11 minutes), in spite of the rhetoric of taming the big banks:
We are witnessing a transfer of wealth of unfathomable size. It is a transfer of wealth from the public hands, from the hands of government collected from regular people in the form of taxes, into the hands of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the world. Needless to say the very individuals and corporations that created this crisis.
The documentary ends on a positive note. Klein says that the shock doctrine depends on people not being aware of what is happening. It works only because the people are immobilised, confused and disoriented by the chaos and impact of the shocks. If people are aware of what is happening, they can resist. Along with this suggestion, I’d also look to David Harvey’s book which shows the imperfections, failures and inconsistencies of the “neoliberal” revolution. “Neoliberalism” succeeds because the elites are single-mindedly focused on their aims, even if they don’t all agree on the means.
A week or so ago, I also felt somewhat immobilsed by the Key government’s latest blitzkrieg. They seemed to be launching one attack after another on our democratic processes. It was hard to know where to focus opposition. Now they and their MSM cheer team are focusing on the (alleged) positives of the direction the country is taking us. For instance, Tracy Watkins, while putting the boot into David Shearer’s leadership, claims:
The poll shows a sudden surge in people who think the country is on the right track – a combination of the wealth effect of a rise in house prices, particularly in Auckland, a drop in the number of jobless, better growth figures and a feeling that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the economy.
There are plenty of niggles with the Government but they are just that – niggles.
None has taken on the tsunami-like proportions of the nanny state backlash that swept Labour out of office.
And with optimism on the rebound, National’s message at the election in 2014 looks like an increasingly potent one – we’ve taken our medicine, done the hard yards, and we’re starting to reap the gains. Why put that all at risk?
However, such triumphalism ignores what has happened as a result of the NAct government’s relentless anti-democratic shocks. Michael Field, also on Stuff this morning, reports on the rising inequalities in NZ:
New Zealanders might believe they live in an egalitarian nation but a worldwide “better life index” shows the quality of life here is being significantly harmed by the gap between the richest and poorest. ..
New Zealand’s average household net-adjusted disposable income is US$21,892 a year (NZ$27,077.34), less than the OECD average of US$23,047.
“But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20 per cent of the population earn five times as much as the bottom 20 per cent,” the report says.
People in New Zealand work slightly less than the OECD average while 13 per cent of employees “work very long hours”, more than the OECD average of 9 per cent.
Focusing on the broad employment statistics can be misleading. What good is higher employment and less unemployment, if more jobs pay less than a living wage? In its attacks on workers’ and beneficiaries’ rights, this government has been doing a good job of helping to shift the wealth upwards, and strengthening the power of the corporates, while weakening the power and finances of those on low incomes.