Capitalism as Catastrophe

Capitalism as Catastrophe

The Shock Doctrine:
The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

by Naomi Klein
Metropolitan Books, 2007, 576 pp $28

A strange contradiction afflicts nonhierarchical social movements. Those activists who are most hesitant to create formal mechanisms for naming leaders give the media the most power to choose their leaders for them. Certainly this has been the case in the globalization movement, where an anarchist ethos has prevailed. Faced with a vast network of affinity groups, spokescouncils, and local organizations, the news media have been desperate to find a few recognizable figures to present as figureheads. They have thrust a handful of writers and intellectuals into the spotlight—one of the most notable being thirty-seven-year-old Canadian journalist Naomi Klein.

Early on, Klein benefited from an exceptional instance of good timing. Just as her first book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, was going to press, historic protests erupted at the November 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial meetings in Seattle. The anticorporate movement her book chronicled went from being regarded as a loose, underground collection of international campaigns to a bona fide global phenomenon. The book sold over a million copies worldwide.

It was a fortuitous turn, but Klein’s success was not based on luck. She had read the political mood well. In the early 1990s, when she was a student in Canada, Klein writes, “campus politics was all about issues of discrimination and identity.” Doing research at some universities five years later, she noticed a shift. The students’ analysis was “broadening out to include corporate power, labor rights, and a fairly developed analysis of the workings of the global economy.” While other books were starting to argue, in Klein’s words, that “corporations have grown so big they have superceded governments,” she set out to profile the forces of resistance to these corporations. She ended up with one of the most astutely observed accounts available of the motivations, outlook, and demands of the emerging global justice movement.

A wonderfully acute piece of cultural criticism, No Logo is often referred to by journalists as a movement “bible.” This is a lazy analogy: I have never seen a globalization activist hold it up as holy writ, and the tone of the work is more guidebook than manifesto. Antisectarian to its core, the book speaks to both believers and skeptics at the same time, with its colorful examples of life in the new corporate age. Klein tells of how Diesel Jeans salesmen contended that their product was less a piece of clothing than “the way to live . . . the way to wear . . . the way to do something.” The work of multinational corporations in this era, she explains, centered on managing their brands rather than manufacturing actual products, which were all too likely made in subcontracte...