Naomi Klein made waves two years ago with her book The Shock Doctrine, in which she claimed that conservative governments use crises to ram through free‐market policies. As she put it in an interview: “The Shock Doctrine is a political strategy that the Republican right has been perfecting over the past 35 years to use for various different kinds of shocks. They could be wars, natural disasters, economic crises, anything that sends a society into a state of shock to push through what economists call ‘economic shock therapy’ – rapid‐fire, pro‐corporate policies that they couldn’t get through if people weren’t in a state of fear and panic.”
And that’s just what we’re seeing today – only in reverse.
Last year the US economy was hit with one shock after another: the Bear Stearns bail‐out, the Indymac collapse, the implosion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the AIG nationalisation, the biggest stock market drop ever, the $700bn Wall Street bail‐out and more – all accompanied by a steady drumbeat of apocalyptic language from political leaders.
And what happened? Did the Republican administration summon up the spirit of Milton Friedman and cut government spending? Did it deregulate and privatise?
It did what governments actually do in a crisis – it seized new powers over the economy. It dramatically expanded the regulatory powers of the Federal Reserve and injected a trillion dollars of inflationary credit into the banking system. It partially nationalised the biggest banks. It appropriated $700bn with which to intervene in the economy. It made General Motors and Chrysler wards of the federal government. It wrote a bail‐out bill giving the secretary of the treasury extraordinary powers that could not be reviewed by courts or other government agencies.
Now the Obama administration is continuing this drive toward centralisation and government domination of the economy. And its key players are explicitly referring to heir own version of the shock doctrine. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the economic crisis facing the country is “an opportunity for us”. After all, he said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And this crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before” such as taking control of the financial, energy, information and healthcare industries.