Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the New York Times and #1 international bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In 2008 it won the Canadian Booksellers Association’s Libris Award for Non-Fiction Book of the Year and is longlisted for the inaugural 2009 Warwick Prize for Writing (UK). The six minute companion film, created by Alfonso Cuaron, director of Children of Men, was an Official Selection of the 2007 Venice Biennale and Toronto International Film Festivals and was a viral phenomenon, downloaded over a million times.
Her first book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies was also an international bestseller, translated into over 28 languages with more than a million copies in print. A collection of her work, Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate was published in 2002.
Naomi Klein writes a regular column for The Nation and The Guardian that is syndicated internationally by The New York Times Syndicate. In 2004, her reporting from Iraq for Harper’s Magazine won the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Also in 2004, she co-produced The Take with director Avi Lewis, a feature documentary about Argentina’s occupied factories. The film was an Official Selection of the Venice Biennale and won the Best Documentary Jury Prize at the American Film Institute’s Film Festival in Los Angeles. She is a former Miliband Fellow at the London School of Economics and holds an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of King’s College, Nova Scotia.
Question: Why did you write Shock Doctrine?
Naomi Klein:It came out of reporting that I was doing in Iraq after the invasion the first year of occupation. But I guess it dates back earlier than that. I happen to have been in Argentina making a documentary film when the war in Iraq began. And it was a really amazing time to be in Latin America. This was 2002, 2003. And this was, I guess, the beginning of what we now think of as this pink tide that has swept Latin America. But it was a moment in Latin American history – certainly a moment in Argentinean history – where the economic model that Latin Americans call neo-Liberalism, Americans call the free market. But these policies of privatization; free trade . . . the so-called free trade deregulation in the interest of corporations; deep cuts to social spending; healthcare and education cuts; things like that, in Argentina they actually just call this “el modelo” – the model. Everybody knows what the model is. It’s the so-called Washington Consensus. It’s the policies that have been imposed on Latin America first through military dictatorships, then as conditions attached to loans that were needed during economic crises . . . the so-called “debt crisis” of the 1980s. When I was in Argentina the model was collapsing, and Argentineans overthrew five presidents in three weeks. So it was this moment of incredible tumult and political excitement because people were trying to figure out what would come next. But it went beyond Argentina. In Bolivia they hadn’t yet elected Evo Morales, but they had these huge protests against water privatization. And Bechtel had just been thrown out of Bolivia. And in Brazil they had just elected Lula. And of course Chavez was already in power in Venezuela, but he had successfully overcome a coup attempt. He had been brought back to power. So there were all of these things going on in Latin America that were all connected in this rejection of this economic model. So to be in Latin America when the invasion of Iraq began was a really unique vantage point from which to watch the war. I’m very grateful to have had that experience to have been able to watch that through the eyes of my Latin American friends who saw the war so differently from . . . from the way it was seen, I think, by so many of us in North America. They saw a real connection between their rejection of these economic policies and the fact that the same economic program was being imposed in Iraq through tremendous violence. And you really saw and felt those connections in Latin America. You know Bechtel just thrown out of Bolivia suddenly shows up in Baghdad with the exclusive contract to rebuild their water system. And what it felt like was that . . . was that there was a change going on; that this model that had been imposed coercively though peacefully through the International Monetary Fund, through the World Bank, through the World Trade Organization – that that wasn’t working anymore. People were rejecting it that the legacy of these policies . . . the legacy of inequality was so dramatic that the sales pitch of “Just wait for the trickledown” wasn’t working anymore. And so now there was this new phase. And it wasn’t even asking, and it wasn’t negotiating. It was just imposing through raw violence. And that’s where I came up with the thesis for the book, which is we have entered this new phase that I’m calling “disaster capitalism”; or the Shock Doctrine using a shock – in this case the shock and awe invasion of Iraq – to impose what economists call “economic shock therapy”. So I think it was . . . It was definitely that experience of seeing it from Latin America – a continent in revolt against these policies – that made it easier to identify this as a new phase. And once I identified that I started to see these patterns recurring. After the Asian tsunami there was a very similar push to use the shock of that natural disaster to push through, once again, these same policies. Water privatization, electricity privatization, labor market ..., displacing poor people on the coasts with hotel developers. So a sort of social re-engineering of societies in the interest of corporations, which I think is what we’ve been doing under the banner of free trade. But now it’s under the banner of post-disaster reconstruction.