Blank Is Beautiful,
Research and Development
excerpted from the book
The Shock Doctrine
The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein
Picador, 2007, paperback
Richard Baker, a Republican congressman from New Orleans, told
a group of lobbyists,
We finally cleaned up public housing in
New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did.
Joseph Canizaro, a New Orleans' developer, after Hurricane Katrina
I think we have a clean sheet to start
again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.
a New Orleans mother after Hurricane Katrina, about Louisiana
They're not blind, they're evil. They
see just fine.
For Milton Friedman ... the entire concept of a state-run school
system reeked of socialism. In his view, the state's sole functions
were "to protect our freedom both from the enemies outside
our gates and from our fellow-citizens: to preserve law and order,
to enforce private contracts, to foster competitive market."
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were
repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the
auctioning off of New Orleans' school system took place with military
speed and precision. Within nineteen months, with most of the
city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school
system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter
schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123
public schools; now it ran just 4.
I call ... orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake
of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters
as exciting market opportunities, "disaster capitalism."
In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary
capitalism's core tactical nostrum what I have come to understand
as the shock doctrine. He observed that "only a crisis-actual
or perceived-produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the
actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.
That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives
to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the
politically impossible becomes politically inevitable."
For economic shock therapy to be applied without restraint - as
it was in Chile in the seventies, China in the late eighties,
Russia in the nineties and the U.S. after September 11, 2001
- some sort of additional major collective trauma has always been
required, one that either temporarily suspended democratic practices
or blocked them entirely. This ideological crusade was born in
the authoritarian regimes of South America ...
David Frum, neoconservative, 1995
Here's how I think we should do it. Instead
of cutting incrementally - a little here, a little there - I would
say that on a single day this summer we eliminate three hundred
programs, each one costing a billion dollars or less. Maybe these
cuts won't make a big deal of difference, but, boy, they make
a point. And you can do them right away.
When the September 11  attacks hit, the White House was
packed with [Milton] Friedman's disciples, including his close
friend Donald Rumsfeld. The Bush team seized the moment of collective
vertigo with chilling speed ... because the key figures of the
administration, veterans of earlier disaster capitalism experiments
in Latin America and Eastern Europe, were part of a movement that
prays for crisis the way drought-struck farmers pray for rain,
and the way Christian-Zionist end-timers pray for the Rapture.
When the long-awaited disaster strikes, they know instantly that
their moment has come at last.
The ultimate goal for the corporations at the center of the complex
[disaster capitalism] is to bring the model of for-profit government,
which advances so rapidly in extraordinary circumstances, into
the ordinary and day-to-day functioning of the state - in effect,
to privatize the government.
In 2003, the U.S. government handed out 3,512 contracts to companies
to perform security functions; in the twenty-two-month period
ending in August 2006, the Department of Homeland Security had
issued more than 115,000 such contracts. The global "homeland
security industry" - economically insignificant before 2001
- is now a $200 billion sector. In 2006, U.S. government spending
on homeland security averaged $545 per household .
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in December 1996
"No two countries that both have
a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other.
The primary economic role of wars [pre-9-11] was as a means to
open new markets that had been sealed off and to generate postwar
peacetime booms. Now wars and disaster responses are so fully
privatized that they are themselves the new market; there is no
need to wait until after the war for the boom.
Amid the weapons trade, the private soldiers, for-profit reconstruction
and the homeland security industry, what has emerged as a result
of the Bush administration's particular brand of post-September
11 shock therapy is a fully articulated new economy. It was built
in the Bush era, but it now exists quite apart from any one administration
and will remain entrenched until the corporate supremacist ideology
that underpins it is identified, isolated and challenged.
the neoconservative policy trinity - the elimination of the public
sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social
In every country where Chicago School policies have been applied
over the past three decades, what has emerged is a powerful ruling
alliance between a few very large corporations and a class of
mostly wealthy politicians.
A more accurate term for a system that erases the boundaries between
Big Government and Big Business is not liberal, conservative or
capitalist but corporatist. Its main characteristics are huge
transfers of public wealth to private hands, often accompanied
by exploding debt, an ever-widening chasm between the dazzling
rich and the disposable poor and an aggressive nationalism that
justifies bottomless spending on security... other features of
the corporatist state tend to include aggressive surveillance
... mass incarceration, shrinking civil liberties and often, though
not always, torture.
In 1988, The New York Times ran a groundbreaking investigation
into U.S. involvement in torture and assassinations in Honduras.
Florencio Caballero, an interrogator with Honduras's notoriously
brutal Battalion 3-16, told the Times that he and twenty-four
of his colleagues were taken to Texas and trained by the CIA.
"They taught us psychological methods-to study the fears
and weaknesses of a prisoner. Make him stand up, don't let him
sleep, keep him naked and isolated, put rats and cockroaches in
his cell, give him bad food, serve him dead animals, throw cold
water on him, change the temperature." There was one technique
he failed to mention: electroshock. Ines Murillo, a twenty-four-year-old
prisoner who was "interrogated" by Caballero and his
colleagues, told the Times that she was electrocuted so many times
that she "screamed and fell down from the shock. The screams
just escape you," she said. "I smelled smoke and realized
I was burning from the singes of the shocks. They said they would
torture me until I went mad. I didn't believe them. But then they
spread my legs and stuck the wires on my genitals.
The CIA produced a handbook called Kubark Counterintelligence
Interrogation. The title was in code: "Kubark" is, according
to The New York Times, "a cryptonym, KU a random diptych
and BARK the agency's code word for itself at that time."
More recent reports have speculated that the "ku" referred
to "a country or a specific clandestine or covert activity."
The handbook is a l28-page secret manual on the "interrogation
of resistant sources" that is heavily based on the research
commissioned by MKUltra - and Ewen Cameron's and Donald Hebb's
experiments have left their marks all over it. Methods range from
sensory deprivation to stress positions, from hooding to pair!.
(The manual acknowledges early on that many of these tactics are
illegal and instructs interrogators to seek "prior Headquarters
approval ... under any of the following circumstances: 1. If bodily
harm is to be inflicted. 2. If medical, chemical, or electrical
methods or materials are to be used to induce acquiescence ."
The manual is dated 1963, the final year
of the MKUltra program and two years after Cameron's CIA-funded
experiments came to a close. The handbook claims that if the techniques
are used properly, they will take a resistant source and "destroy
his capacity. for resistance." This, it turns out, was the
true purpose of MKUltra: not to research brainwashing (that was
a mere side project), but to design a scientifically based system
for extracting information from "resistant sources In other
What most captured the imagination of Kubark's authors, more than
any individual technique, was Cameron's focus on regression -
the idea that by depriving people of their sense of who they are
and where they are in time and space, adults can be converted
into dependent children whose minds are a blank slate of suggestibility.
Alfred W. McCoy, a historian at the University of Wisconsin who
documented the evolution of torture techniques since the Inquisition
in his book A Question of Torture - CIA Interrogation from the
Cold War to the War on Terror, describes the Kubark manual's shock-
inducing formula of sensory deprivation followed by sensory overload
as "the first real revolution in the cruel science of pain
in more than three centuries."
From the seventies on, the role favored by American agents was
that of mentor or trainer-not direct interrogator. Testimony from
Central American torture survivors in the seventies and eighties
is littered with references to mysterious English-speaking men
walking in and out of cells, proposing questions or offering tips.
Dianna Ortiz, an American nun who was abducted and jailed in Guatemala
in 1989, has testified that the men who raped and burned her with
cigarettes deferred to a man who spoke Spanish with a heavy American
accent, whom they referred to as their "boss." Jennifer
Harbury, whose husband was tortured and killed by a Guatemalan
officer on the CIA payroll, has documented many of these cases
in her important book, Truth, Torture and the American Way.
Though sanctioned by successive administrations
in Washington, the U.S. role in these dirty wars had to be covert,
for obvious reasons. Torture, whether physical or psychological,
clearly violates the Geneva Conventions' blanket ban on "any
form of torture or cruelty," as well as the U.S. Army's own
Uniform Code of Military Justice barring "cruelty" and
"oppression" of prisoners. The Kubark manual warns readers
on page 2 that its techniques carry "the grave risk of later
lawsuits," and the 1983 version is even more blunt: "Use
of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant
and inhumane treatment of any kind as an aid to interrogation
is prohibited by law, both international and domestic." Simply
put, what they were teaching was illegal, covert by its very nature.
If anyone asked, U.S. agents were tutoring their developing-world
students in modern, professional policing methods-they couldn't
be responsible for "excesses" that happened outside
General Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of the U.S. Army's First
Cavalry Division in Iraq
We're really good at going out and breaking
things. But the day I get to spend more time here working on construction
rather than combat, that will be a very good day,
By the 1950s, the developmentalists, like the Keynesians and social
t democrats in rich countries, were able to boast a series of
impressive success stories. The most advanced laboratory of developmentalism
was the southern tip of Latin America, known as the Southern Cone:
Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and parts of Brazil. The epicenter was
the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America, based
in Santiago, Chile, and headed by the economist RA Prebisch from
1950 to 1963. Prebisch trained teams of economists in developmentalist
theory and dispatched them to act as policy advisers for governments
across the continent. Nationalist politicians like Argentina's
Juan Perón put their ideas into practice with a vengeance,
pouring public money into infrastructure projects such as highways
and steel plants, giving local businesses generous subsidies to
build their new factories, churning out cars and washing machines,
and keeping out foreign imports with forbiddingly high tariffs.
During this dizzying period of expansion,
the Southern Cone began to look more like Europe and North America
than the rest of Latin America or other parts of the Third World.
The workers in the new factories formed powerful unions that negotiated
middle-class salaries, and their children were sent off to study
at newly built public universities. The yawning gap between the
region's polo-club elite and its peasant masses began to narrow.
By the 1950s, Argentina had the largest middle class on the continent,
and next-door Uruguay had a literacy rate of 95 percent and offered
free health care for all citizens. Developmentalism was so staggeringly
successful for a time that the Southern Cone of Latin America
became a potent symbol for poor countries around the world: here
was proof that with smart, practical policies, aggressively implemented,
the class divide between the First and Third World could actually
For the heads of U.S. multinational corporations, contending with
a distinctly less hospitable developing world and with stronger,
more demanding unions at home, the postwar boom years were unsettling
times. The economy was growing fast, enormous wealth was being
created, but owners and shareholders were forced to redistribute
a great deal of that wealth through corporate taxes and workers'
salaries. Everyone was doing well, but with a return to the pre-New
Deal rules, a few people could have been doing a lot better.
The Keynesian revolution against laissez-faire
was costing the corporate sector dearly. Clearly what was needed
to regain lost ground was a counterrevolution against Keynesianism,
a return to a form of capitalism even less regulated than before
... The enormous benefit of having corporate
views funneled through academic, or quasi-academic, institutions
not only kept the Chicago School flush with donations but, in
short order, spawned the global network of right-wing think tanks
that would churn out the counterrevolution's foot soldiers worldwide.
... Friedman, in his first popular book,
Capitalism and Freedom, laid out what would become the global
free-market rulebook and, in the U.S., would form the economic
agenda of the neoconservative movement.
First, governments must remove all rules
and regulations standing in the way of the accumulation of profits.
Second, they should sell off any assets they own that corporations
could be running at a profit. And third, they should dramatically
cut back funding of social programs. Within the three-part formula
of deregulation, privatization and cutbacks, Friedman had plenty
of specifics. Taxes, when they must exist, should be low, and
rich and poor should be taxed at the same flat rate. Corporations
should be free to sell their products anywhere in the world, and
governments should make no effort to protect local industries
or local ownership. All prices, including the price of labor,
should be determined by the market. There should be no minimum
wage. For privatization, Friedman offered up health care, the
post office, education, retirement pensions, even national parks.
In short, and quite unabashedly, he was calling for the breaking
of the New Deal-that uneasy truce between the state, corporations
and labor that had prevented popular revolt after the Great Depression.
Whatever protections workers had managed to win, whatever services
the state now provided to soften the edges of the market, the
Chicago School counterrevolution wanted them back.
And it wanted more than that-it wanted
to expropriate what workers and governments had built during those
decades of frenetic public works. The assets that Friedman urged
government to sell were the end products of the years of investment
of public money and know-how that had built them and made them
valuable. As far as Friedman was concerned, all this shared wealth
should be transferred into private hands, on principle.
Though always cloaked in the language
of math and science, Friedman's vision coincided precisely with
the interests of large multinationals, which by nature hunger
for vast new unregulated markets. In the first stage of capitalist
expansion, that kind of ravenous growth was provided by colonialism-by
"discovering" new territories and grabbing land without
paying for it, then extracting riches from the earth without compensating
local populations. Friedman's war on the "welfare state"
and "big government" held out the promise of a new font
of rapid riches-only this time, rather than conquering
new territory, the state itself would be the new frontier, its
public vices and assets auctioned off for far less than they were
In March 1972 ... Jack Anderson, a syndicated newspaper columnist,
published an explosive series of articles based on documents that
showed that the telephone company had secretly plotted with the
CIA and the State Department to block Allende from being inaugurated
two years earlier. In the face of these allegations, and with
Allende still in power, the U.S. Senate, controlled by Democrats,
launched an investigation and uncovered a far-reaching conspiracy
in which ITT' had offered $1 million in bribes to Chilean opposition
forces and "sought to engage the CIA in a plan covertly to
manipulate the outcome of the Chilean presidential election.
The Senate report, released in June 1973,
also found that when the plan failed and Allende took power, ITT
moved to a new strategy designed to ensure that he would not "make
it through the next six months." Most alarming to the Senate
was the relationship between ITT executives and the U.S. government.
In testimony and documents, it became clear that ITT was directly
involved in shaping U.S. policy toward Chile at the highest level.
At one point, a senior ITT executive wrote to National Security
Adviser Henry Kissinger and suggested that "without informing
President Allende, all U.S. aid funds already committed to Chile
should be placed in the 'under review' status." The company
also took the liberty of preparing an eighteen-point strategy
for the Nixon administration that contained a clear call for a
military coup: "Get to reliable sources within the Chilean
military," it stated". . . build up their planned discontent
against Allende, thus, bring about necessity of his removal.
Indonesia's 1965 coup followed a very
different trajectory. Since the Second World War, [Indonesia]
had been led by President Sukarno, the Hugo Chavez of his day
(though minus Chavez's appetite for elections). Sukarno enraged
the rich countries by protecting Indonesia's economy, redistributing
wealth and throwing out the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank, which he accused of being facades for the interests
of Western multinationals. While Sukarno was a nationalist, not
a Communist, he worked closely with the Communist Party, which
had 3 million active members. The U.S. and British governments
were determined to end Sukarno's rule, and declassified documents
show that the CIA had received high-level directions to "liquidate
President Sukarno, depending upon the situation and available
After several false starts, the opportunity
came in October 1965, when General Suharto, backed by the CIA,
began the process of seizing power and eradicating the left. The
CIA had been quietly compiling a list of the country's leading
leftists, a document that fell into Suharto's hands, while the
Pentagon helped out by supplying extra weapons and field radios
so Indonesian forces could communicate in the remotest parts of
the archipelago. Suharto then sent out his soldiers to hunt down
the four to five thousand leftists on his "shooting lists,"
as the CIA referred to them; the U.S. embassy received regular
reports on their progress. As the information came in, the CIA
crossed names off their lists until they were satisfied that the
Indonesian left had been annihilated. One of the people involved
in the operation was Robert J. Martens, who worked for the U.S.
embassy in Jakarta. "It really was a big help to the army,"
he told the journalist Kathy Kadane twenty-five years later. "They
probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of
blood on my hands, but that's not all bad. There's a time when
you have to strike hard at a decisive moment. "
Shortly after [Salvador] Allende was elected, his opponents inside
Chile began to imitate the Indonesia approach with eerie precision.
The Catholic University, home of the Chicago Boys, became ground
zero for the creation of what the CIA called "a coup climate."
Many students joined the fascist Patria y Libertad and goose-stepped
through the streets in open imitation of Hitler Youth. In September
1971, a year into Allende's mandate, the top business leaders
in Chile held an emergency meeting in the seaside city of Vina
del Mar to develop a coherent regime-change strategy. According
to Orlando Sáenz, president of the National Association
of Manufacturers (generously funded by the CIA and many of the
same foreign multinationals doing their own plotting in Washington),
the gathering decided that "Allende's government was incompatible
with freedom in Chile and with the existence of private enterprise,
and that the only way to avoid the end was to overthrow the government."
Although the overthrow of Allende was universally described as
a military coup, Orlando Letelier, Allende's Washington ambassador,
saw it as an equal partnership between the army and the economists.
"The 'Chicago boys,' as they are known in Chile," Letelier
wrote, "convinced the generals that they were prepared to
supplement the brutality, which the military possessed, with the
intellectual assets it lacked. "
Chile's coup, when it finally came, would
feature three distinct forms of shock, a recipe that would be
duplicated in neighboring countries and would reemerge, three
decades later, in Iraq. The shock of the coup itself was immediately
followed by two additional forms of shock. One was Milton Friedman's
capitalist "shock treatment," a technique in which hundreds
of Latin American economists had by now been trained at the University
of Chicago and its various franchise institutions. The other was
Ewen Cameron's shock, drug and sensory deprivation research, now
codified as torture techniques in the Kubark manual and disseminated
through extensive CIA training programs for Latin American police
These three forms of shock converged on
the bodies of Latin Americans and the body politic of the region,
creating an unstoppable hurricane of mutually reinforcing destruction
and reconstruction, erasure and creation. The shock of the coup
prepared the ground for economic shock therapy; the shock of the
torture chamber terrorized anyone thinking of standing in the
way of the economic shocks. Out of this live laboratory emerged
the first Chicago School state, and the first victory in its global
The Shock Doctrine