The Shock Doctrine (2009)


An investigation of “disaster capitalism”, based on Naomi Klein’s proposition that neo-liberal capitalism feeds on natural disasters, war and terror to establish its dominance.


The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is a 2007 book by the Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein. In the book, Klein argues that neoliberal free market policies (as advocated by the economist Milton Friedman) have risen to prominence in some developed countries because of a deliberate strategy of “shock therapy.” This centres on the exploitation of national crises (disasters or upheavals) to establish controversial and questionable policies, while citizens are too distracted (emotionally and physically) to engage and develop an adequate response, and resist effectively. The book suggests that some man-made events, such as the Iraq War, were undertaken with the intention of pushing through such unpopular policies in their wake.

Some reviewers criticised the book for making what they viewed as simplifications of political phenomena, while others lauded it as a compelling and important work. The book served as the main source of a 2009 documentary feature film with the same title directed by Michael Winterbottom.


The book is divided into seven parts with a total of 21 chapters:

  • Part 1 begins with a chapter on psychiatric shock therapy and the covert experiments conducted by the psychiatrist Ewen Cameron in collusion with the Central Intelligence Agency.
    • The second chapter introduces Milton Friedman and his Chicago school of economics, whom Klein describes as leading a laissez-faire capitalist movement committed to creating free markets that are even less regulated than those that existed before the Great Depression.
  • Part 2 discusses the use of “shock doctrine” to transform South American economies in the 1970s, focusing on the 1973 coup in Chile led by General Augusto Pinochet and influenced by a prominent group of Chilean economists who had been trained at the University of Chicago in the Economics department, funded by the CIA, and advised by Milton Friedman.
    • Klein connects torture with economic shock therapy.
  • Part 3 covers attempts to apply the shock doctrine without the need for extreme violence against sections of the population.
    • Klein says that Margaret Thatcher applied mild shock “therapy” facilitated by the Falklands War, while free market reform in Bolivia was possible due to a combination of pre-existing economic crises and the charisma of Jeffrey Sachs.
  • Part 4 reports on how Klein thinks the shock doctrine was applied in Poland, Russia, South Africa and to the tiger economies during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
  • Part 5 introduces the “Disaster Capitalism Complex,” where the author claims that companies have learnt to profit from disasters.
  • Part 6 discusses the use of “Shock and awe” in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent occupation of Iraq, which Klein describes as the most comprehensive and full-scale implementation of the shock doctrine ever attempted.
  • Part 7 is about winners and losers of economic shock therapy – how small groups will often do very well by moving into luxurious gated communities while large sections of the population are left with decaying public infrastructure, declining incomes and increased unemployment.

The Conclusion details the backlash against the “shock doctrine” and economic institutions which, in Klein’s view, encourage it – like the World Bank and IMF. South America and Lebanon post-2006 are shown in a positive light, where politicians are already rolling back free-market policies, with some mention of the increased campaigning by community-minded activists in South Africa and China.


  • Winner of the Warwick Prize for Writing (2008/2009).

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross.
  • Producer(s): Alex Cooke, Andrew Eaton, Alan Hayling, Phillip Koch, Avi Lewis, Sally Marshall, and Melissa Parmenter.
  • Writer(s): Naomi Klein (book).
  • Editor(s): Paul Monaghan, Mat Whitecross, and Michael Winterbottom.
  • Production: Renegade Pictures and Revolution Films.
  • Distributor(s): Haut et Court (2010) (France) (theatrical), Paradiso Entertainment (2010) (Netherlands) (theatrical), Channel 4 Television Corporation (2009) (UK) (TV), Dogwoof Pictures (2009) (UK) (all media), Front Row Filmed Entertainment (2010) (United Arab Emirates) (all media) (Middle East), Paradiso Home Entertainment (2010) (Netherlands) (DVD), Sundance Selects (2010) (USA) (TV) (video-on-demand), and Yleisradio (YLE) (2010) (Finland) (TV).
  • Release Date: 09 February 2009 (Berlin International Film Festival).
  • Running Time: 79 minutes.
  • Rating: Not rated.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link


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