Naomi Klein (BSS #140)

Naomi Klein is most recently the author of The Shock Doctrine.

PROGRAM NOTES: (1) Our Young, Roving Correspondent claimed that Milton Friedman supported the New Deal. Naomi Klein claimed that he did not. As it turns out, both Our Young, Roving Correspondent and Klein were wrong. In an October 2000 interview, Friedman professed his support for the parts of the New Deal that involved providing jobs and relief for the unemployed. This was the “very exceptional circumstance” that Our Young, Roving Correspondent referred to. Apologies on our end for failing to clarify. (2) For more information on United States suicide rates, here is a solid overview. If suicide is, as Klein suggests, linked explicitly to an economic downturn, what explains the slow rise in suicide during the Roaring Twenties — a then unprecedented period of prosperity? While it is certainly true that the suicide rate rose during the Great Depression, the point worth considering is that suicide is not completely linked to economics. (3) While Klein did not provide a supportive endnote in her book for the post-Solidarity Polish journalistic label “shock therapy,” here is a helpful reference point for those looking for more information: No less an authority than Jeffrey Sachs, who Klein identifies as one of the chief instigators of the “shock doctrine,” observed how “shock therapy” came to be in a 1994 lecture delivered at the University of Utah. Sachs believed that the journalistic label “shock therapy” played into the Eastern European belief that a drastic alteration of the economic system would produce results. While Klein is right to point out that this was a term in use, it remains our belief that it would have been more helpful to outline the specific points of causation.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Abdicating to journalists.

Author: Naomi Klein

Subjects Discussed: Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago school of shock economics, polarization of the superwealthy, consumer boycotts and “market democracy,” the New Deal, Augusto Pinochet, the good things about Friedman, Edwin Black’s IBM and the Holocaust, the damage from economic ideology vs. innate business corruption, writing an “alternative history,” relying too much on the “shock” label, Samantha Power’s A Problem from Hell, post-Solidarity Poland and “shock therapy,” quibbling with Klein’s footnotes, whether suicide rates can be exclusively linked to economic factors, Israel’s defense export economy, Margaret Thatcher’s England, and whether reduced inflation or the Falklands War boosted Thatcher’s approval rating.


Klein: I’m not sort of just projecting Chicago school ideals onto a country. I’m talking about specific places where key graduates of the program…

Correspondent: Well, I’m not disputing that.

Klein: …came to positions of power.

Correspondent: I am not disputing that there…

Klein: I’m just not quite sure where IBM fits in.

Correspondent: Well, what I’m saying is is that it’s not exclusively this Friedmanesque ideology that is causing these particular factors. I mean, what I’m wondering is — is I present the IBM scenario as, well, here’s a case of, in my view anyway, clear unethical business practice and yet it has nothing to do with Friedman economics. Just as, I mean, yeah, there are plenty of examples you give. The various leaders who are listening to lectures on tape and, of course, all the Chicago Boys, and all that stuff. I’ve definitely read the book. I’m just asking, where does Friedman depart from some of the unfortunate shock treatment that you describe to various…?

Klein: Well, I think the key thing to understand is that I am not arguing that this group of people, that they are the first people to employ these tactics to advance their political goals. And I, you know, I piss off people on the left by quoting Mao and Pol Pot and all these, you know, Communist figures of the past who shared a similar desire to use shock and crisis to push through their agenda, dreamed of societies being a blank slate on which they could build their ideals. I also draw…I also talk about fascism and Nazism and you know, I think that, the reason why I’m focusing on this group of people of the past thirty-five years, as opposed to the book just being a history of everybody who’s ever used shock is that I’m trying to present an alternative history of how we got to where we are. I’m trying to present an alternative history of the ideology that is the dominant ideology of our time, so dominant that we don’t see it. It’s the air we breathe. And I think that we have been living with a fairy tale version of history.


  1. Richard Grayson

    I read a lot of stuff about the 1998 Asian economic crisis (my story “Silicon Valley Diet” begins, “The won was sinking in the East…”) and there were loads of articles around that time detailing the suicides of Korean businessmen whose fortunes had gotten worse very suddenly. For example, here’s Michael Lewis in The New York Times Magazine:

    “The suicide rate is up more than 30 percent since the crash, with a noticeable shift in its composition, from teen-agers to middle-aged businessmen. Yesterday a man named Lee Myung-Chul, an executive of the Hansol paper company, was dragged in by the Korean police for questioning about his balance sheets. During the session, according to news reports, he tried to kill himself by banging his head against the table. When that failed he stabbed a pair of scissors into his neck. A financial collapse is a tsunami of the soul.”

    From The Economist, 12/18/1999:

    “In South Korea last year, 20 out of every 100,000 South Koreans aged 60 or over committed suicide. Many blame rapid westernization and reforms introduced as a result of Asia’s downturn.

    At noon each day, hundreds of elderly men form a long queue outside Pagoda Park in Seoul. Decades ago this was where freedom fighters opposed to Japanese colonial rule read out a charter of independence. But it is not in reverence of those heroes that the men queue. They go to the park to get a free meal, supplied by charities. Many of the mendicants have no family, no home and no money. Some are so destitute and lonely that they end up killing themselves. The suicide rate among the elderly is rising dramatically.

    Last year 20 out of every 100,000 South Koreans aged 60 or over committed suicide, nearly three times the rate of ten years ago. Many blame rapid “westernisation” and reforms introduced as a result of Asia’s financial downturn. In a country of Confucian tradition, Koreans have long regarded filial piety as the source of all virtue. Children, especially the eldest, were expected to support their parents. No longer. Parents, especially those with no money, have become a burden. Some children move out and leave no forwarding address. others have been known to take their parents on visits to remote islands and abandon them there.

    The elderly have few places to turn to. The government provides shelters for the homeless who have no relations to fall back on, and gives them some $33 a month. But only 285,000 of the 3.2M people aged over 65 in South Korea are qualified for the programme. if they are ill, their plight is even worse. Nursing-homes are scarce and privately run ones are usually too expensive, even for the middle-class.

    As South Korea lost more than 1m jobs last year in its struggle to restructure, the social fabric has suffered more than at any time since the Korean war in the 1950s. Though the economy is now recovering, the strain on Koreans will continue. So will the queues at Pagoda Park.”

    Scholarly articles have also noted the incredibly large rise in suicide rates:

    “In Korea, the crisis hurt the common people the most: one out of five households had someone unemployed, suicide rates rose by 50%, and homeless people slept outside the subway stations (Park, 1999). Statistics showed that the number of poor people living below the poverty line rose to 7.8% in 1998. Men who were the primary breadwinners for their families left home in shame and embarrassment after they were laid off. They did not get much assistance from the state. As expected, services for homeless people were underdeveloped in Korea. Social tensions rose to a dangerous level. Social security benefits for unemployed people were inadequate. This was attributable to the strong family network in the past three decades (Yoo, 1998). As a consequence, urgent relief for suffering people was much needed. ”

    — Tang, Kwong-leung. “Asian crisis, social welfare, and policy responses: Hong Kong and Korea compared”.
    The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. 20:5/6 (2000)

  2. Richard Grayson

    Here is the saddest story I read, from a page one article by Valerie Reitman in the 01/14/99 Los Angeles Times:

    The economic upheaval now racking South Korea is driving an increasing number of parents, many of them newly single fathers, to resort to drastic measures: They are deserting their children. Or worse….

    Lee Kye Soo, an unemployed worker facing large debts, showed up at the House of Children last February with his infant daughter, Lee Hye Jung. “If you don’t take her,” he told Chung, who runs the home, “we’ll both have to die.”

    The distraught father desperately needed someone to care for Hye Jung until he could return for her–after serving a four-month prison term.

    He faced jail because of unpaid debts that he and his girlfriend, the baby’s mother, had racked up while operating a coffee shop that went bankrupt, Lee told Chung. His misery had mounted when, soon after the couple’s baby was born, the mother left and went into hiding from creditors.

    Hye Jung was a month old when Lee dropped her off at the small two-bedroom apartment where Chung cares for abandoned children referred by priests and nuns. Every few weeks, Lee called and asked that the phone be held up to Hye Jung so he could hear her gurgle.

    Three months after he left the baby, an agitated Lee returned. He desperately missed the child, he explained. He hadn’t gone to prison, he told Chung, and had found a job that he hoped would allow him to pay off the debts and start a new life with the baby. But he was never paid for the work. Now he was planning to take Hye Jung to live with her maternal grandmother while he searched for his girlfriend.

    Just before noon that day, Chung bundled the baby up and gave Lee a bottle of warm milk to take along.

    As Chung later took out pictures of the baby with dark wisps of hair and a round face, tears welled up in her eyes. “I was very attached to her,” said Chung, who cares for six other children in the orphanage. “I fed her, cuddled her, slept with her.”

    The 44-year-old former Roman Catholic nun has been running the unlicensed home for 12 years in a low-income section of the capital. The priests and nuns who refer children also contribute to their upkeep. Since the recession, referrals to such private, unlicensed homes have surged as a spillover from other facilities. The Seoul city government has accepted only about one of every nine applications for its homes; in rejecting most, it usually cites family assets that exceed limits or the availability of other child care options.

    Making ends meet has been getting harder for Chung as the recession takes its toll. The local bakery no longer brings day-old cookies or bread, and contributions have shrunk. Among the few furnishings in the threadbare apartment is an old upright piano covered with statues of the Virgin Mary; a broken leg of its stool is propped up by an attached tennis ball.

    A rat could be heard rustling in the kitchen as Chung told what happened to Lee and his baby. The call from police came just hours after Lee had retrieved his daughter. They had been found dead in a small hotel nearby. Could Chung come identify them? Crying, she raced to the station. The baby bottle she had prepared, still half full, was there. But she refused to believe what had happened until she saw the infant’s body in the morgue.

    According to police records, the father had checked into the Hanyanjang Inn soon after he picked up the baby, explaining to the clerk that he needed the room for the day and maybe the night; he would decide later, when the baby’s mother arrived, he told the clerk.

    About 11 p.m., the clerk knocked on the door of Room 211 and got no answer. Inside, he found the two bodies sprawled across a futon on the floor. Lee was face down, blood running from his nose and a puddle of vomit on the floor beside him. The baby was face up, white foam oozing from her mouth. Police later determined that they had drunk hydrochloric acid.

    Photos of their bodies and dozens of others fill the pages in the precinct’s blotter these days. Since South Korea’s miracle economy collapsed, suicides have skyrocketed. In the low-income ward where the House of Children is located, which is home to 400,000 people, the casualties have been particularly high. Lee was one of 67 suicides in the first nine months of 1998, a toll that was 40% higher than that in the same period the year before.

    The detective who worked the Lees’ case, Kim Seung Kie, sympathizes with the father’s plight. “Though it’s not the right thing to do,” he said, “I can certainly understand not wanting to leave someone behind not knowing what problems she faced and the difficulty she’d have in society.”

    Lee left five suicide notes, to each of his parents, a brother, his ex-girlfriend and a friend. One explains his state of mind–the heartbreak of a broken love affair and the unconditional love he felt for his daughter–as he wrestled with his decision.

    “I’m too tired, I want to rest,” he wrote. “Every day is a difficult day, it’s too much of a burden. . . .

    “My head is bursting, I miss Hye Jung so much. . . . I’m coming to take her; I don’t have the right to take her and this will be a sin and crime, but I’m ready to commit a sin and take the punishment.”

    In a long and meandering epistle to his girlfriend, he wrote: “Many a night I stayed up all night crying: our baby, who had to be abandoned as soon as she was born. The hardships and difficulty she would have to bear growing up. . . .

    “Even if I am a foolish man, since she’s been alone all the time,” he wrote, “I want to be with her, even in death, so that she feels less lonely.”

  3. Roddy

    Humm, I hate to say this, but Naomi was kind of a biatch, filibustering the young correspondent from ever getting a word in…. Read your own headlines much, Mrs. Klein?

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