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The Truthdig Interview With Naomi Klein
Posted on Jun 26, 2008
And what’s striking to me is, when I read the letter, is that, you know, at the height of the Pinochet controversy in the ‘70s, when Orlando Letelier accused Milton Friedman of being complicit in the human rights abuses and Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize, there was like a sort of flurry of protests, but only three professors at the time signed their names to this protest letter. So, even at the height of these huge debates about torture, only three people sign their names, but now in 2008, more than 100 faculty members at the University of Chicago are willing to sign their names.
Anderson: Do you think it was out of fear before—or maybe losing their position, at the lower end of the crisis scale?
Klein: Well, I don’t know, I think it still would be risky, right?
Anderson: Yeah, sure.
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Klein: Usually they’re named after corporations or donors. So, I mean, it says something about Milton Friedman in a sense that ... I think that it’s because he has been such a gift to corporate America that corporate America is willing to give back.
Anderson: In the form of a building.
Anderson: Now, speaking of more recent events - on your Shock Doctrine Web site I’ve been following updates and stories about more recent crises and catastrophes, and I thought of you yesterday because I read a headline about President Bush visiting flood-damaged Iowa and saying, “You’ll come back better!” from the damage and the floodwaters. So can you talk a little bit about other events that have happened since the release of your book and contextualize them according to your ideas?
Klein: Well, first of all, always be afraid when George Bush says he’s going to build back better, because we’ve heard that line before. What happens after disasters is that—it’s not mysterious—what we need to do is look at what the pre-existing agenda was, right?
Klein: And what was it that the business lobby in any given area wanted to do but couldn’t because of people—because of people being there to defend their interests. And it’s a pretty good bet that those ideas will immediately resurface after the crisis hits and when people are least able to organize an effective opposition. The most dramatic example of this is right now in Burma. There was recently a piece in The Washington Post about how the Burmese regime immediately started parceling out the highly fertile land of the Irrawaddy Delta, which was the hardest-hit region by the cyclone, to their cronies, and just essentially treating the disaster ... in the same way the tsunami was treated—as if it cleared the land and was now free to be parceled out. ...
Anderson: To fancy resorts.
Klein: Yeah, or more profitable agribusiness companies and industrial fishing because that area—which is Burma’s rice bowl, the most fertile agricultural land—was like the coasts of Sri Lanka, was inhabited by small-scale farmers and fishing people. They were in the way. And it was an immediate shock doctrine move.
The other thing, of course, that generals did was use the disorientation and chaos to push through this constitutional referendum, which would have been, according to Burmese activists—it would’ve been a focal point for a new wave of protests after the protests had been so brutally repressed last September. But of course, there was no chance of that happening in the midst of the disaster. So that’s a pretty classic example of what I write about in the book—a really tragic one.
You know, China is a really interesting example, because, I think. ... One of the things I write about in the book is that the crises are volatile, and they can go either way, and the right has developed this shock doctrine strategy to have their ideas ready and move immediately when a crisis hits precisely because the fear is that the left will move—that it will unleash forces that are quite damaging.
Milton Friedman developed his crisis philosophy in response to watching how progressives responded to the Great Depression. As far as Milton Friedman was concerned, everything went wrong with the response to the Great Depression, because that was what created the New Deal; it was what created all the social programs that his ideological movement has been bent on dismantling for the past half-century.
So, he was well aware that these sort of market shocks can go in progressive directions, and there’s many cases of this. One example is Mexico in 1985 where there was an earthquake—terrible earthquake hit Mexico City. But what happened was that the buildings that immediately fell apart, immediately collapsed, were overwhelmingly public housing, housing for poor people. And buildings right next to those public housing buildings—privately owned or government buildings—sustained minimal damage.
So what the earthquake showed was what people suspected already, which was that the government had been cutting corners in building homes for poor people, that they hadn’t respected safety codes, that they had probably taken all kinds of bribes along the way. And it launched a democracy movement in Mexico that ultimately unseated the PRI—the 60-year rule of the PRI. And there’s a whole analysis in Mexico about how everything started with that earthquake, and there’s a book I read while I was researching “The Shock Doctrine” called “Cracking Open Mexico” that talks about the role of the earthquake.
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