February 9, 2009 / 5:02 PM / 10 years ago

Free market under fire in topical new documentary

BERLIN (Reuters) - New film “The Shock Doctrine,” based on Naomi Klein’s bestseller of the same name, argues that governments the world over exploit natural disasters, economic crises and wars to push through radical free market policies.

The result, the film concludes, is often catastrophic for ordinary people and hugely beneficial to big corporations, and leaders have turned to brutality and repression in order to sustain agendas of privatization, deregulation and tax cuts.

Although economists have debated Klein’s findings since the book was published in 2007, Shock Doctrine has struck a chord at the Berlin film festival at a time when economies are in crisis and governments and big businesses are taking much of the blame.

The documentary updates the book to include an analysis of how the financial world got into the trouble it is in. Throughout it challenges the assumption that free market principles are right and go hand in hand with democracy.

“For the last 30 years the dominant idea is that free markets can’t be challenged at all, so at least people are talking about it,” said British director Michael Winterbottom.

“When you see bankers being given hundreds of billions of dollars (in bailouts) who have been taking billions of dollars themselves for all these years it makes people very angry,” he told reporters in Berlin after a press screening on Monday.

“I think that is the only positive thing — that people around the world are so angry about what’s been going on. Perhaps that will change what happens in the future.”

Winterbottom and co-director Mat Whitecross use archive footage of coups, strikes, war and civil unrest to trace the rise of free market economics to American Milton Friedman and his acolytes at the University of Chicago.


Friedman and the so-called “Chicago boys,” along with the Nixon administration in Washington, are blamed for much of the instability in Latin America in the early 1970s, which helped Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet rise to power.

Interspersed with footage of the 1973 military coup and of prisoners rounded up and held without trial, the film says Pinochet, and the Argentinian junta, resorted to torture and killing in part to crush resistance to the free market.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher went to war in 1982 over the Falkland Islands, and soon after her victory in battle and at the ballot box she pushed through an aggressive program of privatizations and took on the trade unions.

The Shock Doctrine examines what happened after the collapse of Communism and in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001.

It accuses George W. Bush’s government and big companies of cashing in on devastation wrought by war and ensuing violence.

Banking deregulation and free market policies, which encouraged rampant growth in the value of assets driven partly by speculation, are blamed for the financial chaos engulfing the world today and the widening gap between rich and poor.

In footage of Klein giving a lecture, the Canadian journalist says people need to remember who they are and where they came from in order to be able to see beyond the shocks she says are being manipulated by governments.

The film repeats disturbing black-and-white footage of 1950s U.S. electric shock treatments being administered to patients. Klein says they were used in order to erase a person’s memory, allowing doctors to start from scratch.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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