ideas politics

A good meltdown is hard to find

Incom­ing White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel recent­ly dis­cussed the next administration's approach to the finan­cial cri­sis, telling the Wall Street Jour­nal, "You nev­er want a seri­ous cri­sis to go to waste." Link­ing pol­i­tics, cri­sis and oppor­tu­ni­ty, Emanuel's sen­ti­ments evoked either Mil­ton Friedman's Cap­i­tal­ism and Free­dom or Nao­mi Klein's The Shock Doc­trine, depend­ing on your lev­el of paranoia/distrust of the fed­er­al government.I'll admit that I've only skimmed Fried­man, but Klein's book is a provoca­tive inter­pre­ta­tion of social cri­sis and the ways in which cor­po­ra­tions ben­e­fit (and peo­ple are exploit­ed) in the wake of a dis­as­ter. She holds Fried­man account­able for the rise of "dis­as­ter cap­i­tal­ism," and she iden­ti­fies his philoso­phies as the ori­gin of numer­ous crises pre­cip­i­tat­ed by gov­ern­ments around the world in the past fifty years:

This is how the shock doc­trine works: the orig­i­nal dis­as­ter — the coup, the ter­ror­ist attack, the mar­ket melt­down, the war, the tsuna­mi, the hur­ri­cane — puts the entire pop­u­la­tion into a state of col­lec­tive shock … Like the ter­ror­ized pris­on­er who gives up the names of his com­rades and renounces his faith, shocked soci­eties often gives up things that they would oth­er­wise fierce­ly pro­tect.

Any­way, what's espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing about Emanuel's invo­ca­tion is that (I sus­pect) at least some of the new administration's poli­cies will reverse the dereg­u­la­tion that Fried­man rec­om­mend­ed and that his acolytes imple­ment­ed. Also, like Fried­man, Emanuel is from Chica­go. Iron­ic? Deeply.