The Shock Doctrine: Should We Be Worried?

The basic approach of the shock doctrine is that the capitalist markets take advantage of moments of tragedy or disaster to propose or impose policies that benefit them. People's inability to react at these times favor this strategy.
The Shock Doctrine: Should We Be Worried?
Sergio De Dios González

Written and verified by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Last update: 19 March, 2022

The shock doctrine is a concept proposed by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and is outlined in her book, The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, published in 2007. Its central proposition is that the capitalist system has systematically taken advantage of great disasters to implement and strengthen a series of principles favorable to its own interests.

Klein points out that the main objective of the shock doctrine is to dismantle what remains of the so-called welfare state and promote, at the same time, the principles of neoliberalism. This doctrine is inspired by the work of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School, considered to be the ‘fathers of neoliberalism’.

One of the central ideas of neoliberalism is that the State should be reduced to its minimum expression and that the market should be the main regulator of social dynamics.

As proposed by Klein’s shock doctrine, it’s been discovered that disasters are an opportunity to take this idea to its maximum expression. This has been applied on several occasions. The method they use to take advantage of these situations is analogous to electroconvulsive therapy (electroshock therapy) in psychiatry.

The parties with the most gain never show up on the battlefield .”

-Naomi Klein-

manipulated puppet

The shock doctrine

Naomi Klein’s study isn’t exactly an academic document, but rather a compilation of information that, when examined in depth, reveals certain facts.

Her thoughts coincide with Milton Friedman’s idea that a shocked society demands measures from the State and that an opportunity opens up for them: to impose solutions that end up favoring capitalism.

According to Klein, this was evidenced for the first time during the coup that Augusto Pinochet carried out in Chile in 1973. Friedman herself was an adviser to the dictator. At that time, a series of institutions and social-supported measures for the most disadvantaged sectors were dismantled.

Then, a regime of savage capitalism was implanted. Society was so shocked and paralyzed that it accepted these measures, many of which are maintained to this day. In fact, the recent protests in Chile, in 2019, sought to dismantle this regime, almost half a century after it was implemented.

Later, there was also a collective shock in Iraq, caused by the invasion of the country. Klein claims that the tactic of ‘shock and awe’ was used. The goal of this particular tactic is “to control the adversary’s will, perceptions, and understanding, and literally make an adversary impotent to act or react”.

Business, at the cost of pain

Another event analyzed within the framework of the shock doctrine was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which devastated large areas of New Orleans. This disaster hadn’t yet happened when Milton Friedman wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system”.

The facts showed that the tragedy of some became an opportunity for others. In the case of New Orleans, a large number of public schools were placed in the hands of private companies. This was because it was apparently impossible for the State to continue managing them.

In all of these cases, the same scheme is evident. There exists a situation of chaos, followed by political measures in favor of the capitalist system. The situation is such that society doesn’t have the capacity to react to the particular circumstances that have to be faced.

people demonstrating

Coronavirus and the shock doctrine

Naomi Klein has made several pronouncements regarding the coronavirus pandemic. She basically insists that the shock doctrine will be applied in this instance. In fact, she claims that many will try and take advantage of the crisis to promote policies that increase inequality, enrich the elites, and weaken everyone else.

She points out that many decisions are being made in order to protect the free market, before life. Indeed, she states that several governments are trying to transfer the cost of the crisis to the most vulnerable. It’s these people who are the most affected by the pandemic.

However, Klein assures that this is also a good time to raise awareness that everyone’s fate depends on everyone else. For example, you might be able to pay for the best health insurance and have your care guaranteed. However, if the person who sells you food can’t do so, you remain at risk.

This is the first time that the world has faced a threat of this magnitude. What happens will depend on people’s ability to find forms of help and responsibility. Otherwise, there will, once again, be few winners and a huge number of losers.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Klein, N., & García, I. F. (2007). La doctrina del shock: el auge del capitalismo del desastre. Barcelona: Paidós.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.