5 Questions Raised by The Shock Doctrine

Does the modern world force governments to become for-profit corporate entities?

Disregarding arguments surrounding a transition to open corpocracy, how far can we make the argument that Western governments brand themselves as ‘traditional’ national administrative bodies, but are increasingly compelled to act in the fashion of a for-profit organisation?

This question is fairly expansive and requires a lot of research to really answer with any great degree of accuracy. I wanted to use this particular post more to outline some general thoughts and responses to the kinds of questions that reading through Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine raised for me. Answering any one of these subquestions seems like the kind of thing that would warrant a reasonable amount of research and a few thousand words to sufficiently unpack, which might be worth doing in the future, but for the moment treat this as a rough outline of my initial speculative hypotheses around the subject, rather than as a source of well-informed research and critique. I may very well be entirely wrong in my estimation on any of the specifics.

Furthermore, none of this is rooted to any singular country. As a series of generalised thoughts, I’ve tried to pull away from any specific instance, going on broader trends in media coverage, reading, etc. I will naturally be biased towards the UK, Europe, and the USA; but the hard information and figures on this could vary wildly from country to country, responding in substantially different fashions to events, circumstances, and impacts respective to any given country.

What are the basic characteristics associated with political administrative organisations?

One broad interpretation of the traditional role of government is to place authority in the role of a leader or leading body, for the organisation and benefit of a nation’s population. To this end, the direction of society and culture may be developed with the aim of facilitating growth and prosperity as a result of good administration. Other interpretations of good governance or leadership exist, but the concept as understood by the majority of individuals composing national populations is broadly in this vein.

What are the characteristics associated with for-profit organisations?

The characteristic defining a for-profit organisation, as might be ascertained from the term, is the wholesale pursuit of minimising cost and maximising profit by all reasonable means available to that for-profit entity. The means by which profit is made may be largely incidental, with the value of the means being proportional and dictated by the ability to turn an investment into a profitable product or service. Beyond this end, meaning, relevance, and value is determined by an investor’s personal criteria.

How have fiscal demands on government changed over time?

Given the multiplication of concerns and interest areas created by the accelerating complexity and nuance of societal progress facilitated by technological advancement and research-fuelled disciplinary fractalization, the rate at which government must account for new developments across innumerable disciplines creates new demands, highlights previously unknown problems, and subdivides existing trajectories and goals. Each new advancement is more technically and fiscally demanding than the previous ones, at least in the short term, as divergent specialisations emerge, even as the requirement for multidisciplinary collaboration increases.

A car is no longer a mechanical assemblage of combustion-based locomotion. Aesthetics, marketing, engineering, ergonomics, data, UX, UI, and more are now a minimum in the production and development of a simple mode of travel.

Have the traditional means of acquiring revenue for the purposes of administrative government remained sufficient?

Given these increasing pressures, increasing numbers of investment areas, increasing requisite investment scale, it would be reasonable to conclude, or make a prediction, that the fiscal necessities have increased disproportionate to the relative income, even accounting for inflation, tax increases, etc., that may have a positive impact on revenue. The specific data on these points would probably tell you a great deal over time, especially in the context of specific nations, years, events, and policies. However, for the current purely speculative purposes, a relatively informed prediction will have to suffice.

If those methods have not remained sufficient, then how far short of requisite financial intake does government fall?

Given that we predict that government revenue will fall short of total demand, given the scale and presumed increase in demand, it is reasonable to expect that shortfall to be significant.

There are also a plethora of other financial pressures facing a national government. War debt and costs are significant sink (for context, it took the UK almost a full century to cover the cost of World War I, alone); subsidies to private interests (the War on Terror, as Naomi Klein illustrates in The Shock Doctrine, and which has become increasingly prevalent post-2008, being waged increasingly through private military contractors as opposed to national militaries, perhaps best exemplifies this); natural disasters; and unforeseen disruptive events (the pandemic being the obvious) are all going to contribute to national debts and financial pressures. Even hefty private donations are going to struggle to match the scale of that cumulative demand.   

An enforcement of privatisation

If traditional methods of revenue generation don’t match spending, and are continually unlikely to do so, then it stands to reason that other methods of revenue generation must be found. This in turn means that government organisations seem to be almost forced into behaving in increasingly commercially-minded for-profit approaches to revenue, simply to maintain themselves.  

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