Naomi Klein on Disaster Capitalism and Political Change

Why does the news seem overwhelming? How can we get past the “shock” and change the world for the better?

In this post, we present the ideas of Naomi Klein, a renowned author and activist whose work has made a significant impact on discussions surrounding social change. Klein’s thoughts and theories help us understand the dynamics of crises, disaster capitalism, and the role of social movements in fostering political change. 

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About Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein was born in 1970 and is a Canadian author, social activist, filmmaker, and Associate Professor of Climate Justice at the University of British Columbia. Klein is known for her critiques of corporate globalization, fascism, ecofascism, and capitalism. 

Klein authored several influential books. “No Logo” (1999) was a manifesto of the anti-globalization movement that criticizes brand-oriented consumer culture and the operations of large corporations, accusing them of unethically exploiting workers in the world’s poorest countries for greater profits. In “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” (2007), Klein argued that free market policies promoted by the Chicago School of Economics have risen to prominence in countries such as Chile and Russia by exploiting the aftermath of major disasters. Societies experiencing major shocks are more vulnerable to the implementation of unpopular free market policies. Klein’s book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” (2014) claims that neoliberal market fundamentalism blocks serious reforms to halt climate change and protect the environment. In “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need” (2017), Klein argued for radical change and bold, ambitious policies to provide a credible alternative to the world vision of the Trump White House and avert the worst effects of climate change.

Shock and Disaster Capitalism

In her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism from 2007, Naomi Klein discussed how the idea of “shock” has been used as a political tool. She became interested in this concept while covering the Iraq war, where three types of shock were present: the invasion, economic shock therapy, and torture. Klein traced the metaphor of shock therapy back to its use in psychiatric contexts and its application in CIA interrogation manuals. She argues that shock has been consciously used by free market radicals like Milton Friedman, who recognized that their vision of a privatized world couldn’t be imposed without crisis.

Klein cites economic crises in Asia and Mexico as examples of moments when shock softened the ground for radical free-market policies. As people became more resistant to these strategies, however, larger shocks were needed to create greater disorientation, leading to what Klein calls “disaster capitalism.” The Bush administration’s response to 9/11 is one such example, where the War on Terror was used to launch a new economy centered on a privatized security state.

Klein emphasized the importance of being intellectually prepared for a crisis. The University of Chicago economics department’s production of free-market ideas that could be implemented in the event of a crisis is a major example. While Klein doesn’t argue that all crises are deliberately planned and exploited, she does note that some shocks are created deliberately, such as the coup in Chile and the Iraq war.

In the face of these crises, Klein argues that the left has not actually lost the battle of ideas but has instead succumbed to various forms of shock and violence. She believes it’s empowering to recognize that the left’s ideas have not been discredited, and that this realization can strengthen their convictions in key moments. Overall, Klein’s speech highlights the exploitation of shock and crisis to advance free-market ideologies and the need for progressives to remain resilient in the face of these tactics.

Midjourney prompt: “Disaster capitalism”

How can crises lead to positive social change?

From her TED talk March 2018

According to Klein, large-scale crises can sometimes jolt us awake and inspire us to change, while others may only briefly disturb us before we turn to our old ways. These shocks can act as a collective alarm bell, mobilizing us to address threats and discover strengths we didn’t know we had. However, our collective alarm seems to be malfunctioning as we often fall apart and regress in the face of crises. This regression allows anti-democratic forces to push societies backward, making them more unequal and unstable.

An example of a crisis catalyzing an evolutionary leap is the Great Crash of 1929. The shock of the market collapse and subsequent economic turmoil led many to believe the system was broken, and governments began implementing social safety nets, public investments, and aggressive regulation to mitigate future crises. This period in history demonstrated that complex societies could rapidly transform themselves in response to a collective threat.

However, today’s continuous shocks have not spurred us into action. 

Social Movements and Political Change

A more complete recipe for deep transformation must include imagination and organization. In the past, social movements knew what they were against and what they were for, with different models of political organization. The big policy wins of the New Deal were offered as compromises; revolution was the alternative.

Today, political change is often compartmentalized, with various groups and NGOs competing for resources and recognition. This “siloing” can prevent us from seeing connections between issues and solutions, limiting our ability to form a coherent vision of the world we’re fighting for. To overcome these divisions, we must engage in conversations and experiments to create a more holistic and universalist vision.

Klein advocates for The Leap

One such initiative is “The Leap,” a manifesto created by a diverse group of people in Canada who worked to agree on a short statement describing the world after a successful transition to a clean economy and fairer society. This process involved identifying the threads connecting their work and realizing that the endless pursuit of profit is at the heart of both social and ecological crises. They recognized the need for a culture of care-taking, in which the inherent value of all people and ecosystems is foundational.

The Leap calls for a 100% renewable economy, new trade deals, a debate on guaranteed annual income, full rights for immigrant workers, removal of corporate money from politics, free universal daycare, electoral reform, and more. The challenge lies in acting less like brands and more like movements, granting ourselves permission to dream and work together toward a more equitable and sustainable world.


In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein explores how “shock” has been used as a political tool, leading to what she calls “disaster capitalism.” Klein cites economic crises in Asia and Mexico as examples where shock paved the way for radical free-market policies. However, she believes the left’s ideas have not been discredited, and recognizing this can strengthen their convictions during key moments.

Klein’s TED talk in 2018 discussed how large-scale crises can inspire positive change, citing the Great Crash of 1929 as an example that led to social safety nets and aggressive regulation. However, today’s continuous shocks often lead to regression and increased inequality.

Klein emphasizes the importance of imagination and organization in social movements to catalyze political change. She notes that the “siloing” of various groups and NGOs hinders our ability to form a coherent vision of the world we’re fighting for. Klein advocates for initiatives like “The Leap,” a manifesto that connects the threads of social and ecological crises and calls for a more equitable and sustainable world. The challenge lies in collaboration to create a holistic, universalist vision of society.