Bolivia is a good setting for reading Naomi Klein’s latest book "Shock doctrine." Not just because Bolivia features in it as one of the model countries where the Chicago school of economists were able to wreak their policies of deliberate inequality and unprecedented corporate welfare, ultimately causing a backlash that grew from 2000 onwards. But also because in the last few years I have been able to observe the faltering attempts to try and create a different post-neoliberal path by the new Evo Morales-led government. In fact , living in Bolivia is like observing the postscript to Naomi Klein’s book.
For those who haven’t read it, Naomi Klein examines how Milton Friedman and his Chicago school of economists used crises (and at times created crises) to impose their fundamentalist neoliberal model on the world. In fact she argues with well documented research from across the world from New Orleans to Poland to Iraq that it is impossible to impose these policies, which are based on increasing inequality and undermining public social systems, without crisis.
Where I think the book has weaknesses is its failure to both critically examine Keynesianism that preceded the neoliberal agenda or to warn of the dangers of the still limited and confused policies of the Left when it takes power. It was illuminating to finish the book at the same time as reading in Bolivian newspapers about fights in central government and hearing from friends in government about the frustrations two years on of pushing forward innovative ideas within resistant bureaucracies. It portrayed more starkly than ever that the Left lacks its own "Chicago school" to invest in the policies and practices needed to create effective and workable alternatives to neoliberalism.
Such a school clearly would not emulate the use of crisis or military force to impose their agenda, but would be prepared for building on growing popular rejection of neoliberalism to develop well worked-out public policies that provide an alternative. It would learn from the fundamental flaw of the Chicago school that abstract ideas are not enough but need policies that are developed in practice and that examine critically how to deliver these policies within a deeply entrenched neoliberal and corrupt state bureaucracies. It would, like the inspiring model of Public-Public partnerships on water, look to draw in experience and expertise from across the world to deliver on the hopes that many people have, not just in Bolivia, for policies based on environmental and social justice.