I read this book over the last week and I advise anyone to have a read. Over the past few decades, many of the ideas of the far left have found new homes on the right. Lenin believed that it was in conditions of catastrophic upheaval that humanity advances most rapidly and the idea that economic progress can be achieved through the devastation of entire societies has been a key part of the neo-liberal cult of the free market.
Soviet-style economies left an inheritance of human and ecological devastation, while neo-liberal policies have had results that are not radically dissimilar in many countries. Yet, while the Marxist faith in central planning is now confined to a few dingy sects, a quasi-religious belief in free markets continues to shape the policies of governments.
Many writers have pointed to the havoc and ruin that have accompanied the imposition of free markets across the world. Whether in Africa, Asia, Latin America or post-communist Europe, policies of wholesale privatisation and structural adjustment have led to declining economic activity and social dislocation on a massive scale. Anyone who has watched a country lurch from one crisis to another as the bureaucrats of the IMF impose cut after cut in pursuit of the holy grail of stabilisation will recognise the process Naomi Klein describes in her latest and most important book to date.
In Argentina not long before the economic collapse of 2002, the government was struggling to implement an IMF diktat to roll back public spending at a time when the economy was already rapidly contracting. The result was predictable and the country was plunged into a depression, with calamitous consequences in terms of poverty and social breakdown.
Klein believes that neo-liberalism belongs among "the closed, fundamentalist doctrines that cannot co-exist with other belief-systems . . . The world as it is must be erased to make way for their purist invention. Rooted in biblical fantasies of great floods and great fires, it is a logic that leads ineluctably towards violence."
As Klein sees it, the social breakdowns that have accompanied neo-liberal economic policies are not the result of incompetence or mismanagement. They are integral to the free-market project, which can only advance against a background of disasters. At times, writing in a populist vein that echoes her first book No Logo, published seven years ago, Klein seems to suggest that these disasters are manufactured as part of a deliberate policy framed by corporations with hidden influence in government.