The “Shock Doctrine” is a term coined by Naomi Klein in the book of the same name. It’s basically the idea of using (or even fabricating) crisis situations to push through privatization and other neo-con reforms that wouldn’t be possible in situations when people are less scared, less panicked, and more in control of their political process. The book mostly focuses on the big instances, generally when governments are overthrown (Chile’s military coup, the fall of communism, the end of Apartheid, and more recently, the abduction of the Haitian president by the US and France and installation of an Interim Government that was meant to (but failed) push through a lot of privatization before a new democratic government could be elected).
However, the Shock Doctrine can be used on a smaller scale, and without a government collapse, as well.
The largest current example would be the Debt Ceiling clusterfuck, in which the Tea Party basically squeezed a ridiculous amount of concessions out of the Democrats, because previously they had managed to scare a country in a recession into believing that increasing the debt ceiling without making significant cuts (or, in some instances, raising the debt ceiling at all) would make the recession worse. the attacks on Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are also more of the same: a nation traumatized by a massive recession being pushed into fucking themselves over even more. same with the stripping of union-rights in many states in the name of budget-cuts. More localized uses of the Shock Doctrine can also be found at the city level: first in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and now increasingly in other cities as well, assorted real and manufactured crises are used as opportunities for selling off public schools; after NO, the other city suffering the worst of this is Detroit, where an “emergency manager” (a state appointed local dictator with the power to override city government decision in the name of protecting the budget) has been on a cutting-spree destroying what’s left of Detroit’s public education (this included a highly successful school for teen mothers, which had been originally scheduled for closure and will now be operated as a charter school).
And now, with two disasters hitting the East Coast one after another, they’re doing it again: Eric Cantor holding earthquake relief hostage, Boehner and Cantor holding hurricane relief hostage, and Ron Paul saying there should be no federal aid for places devastated by the hurricane at all. And while Paul’s comments are really just the equivalent of Bachmann’s statements about not ever voting for raising the debt ceiling (meaning, they won’t affect policy this time, but they do tug at the Overton Window), Cantor and Boehner may well get the cuts from a Democratic party and president very used to caving to Republican demands.
And here’s the thing: the near future holds a lot more such “opportunities”. Not only are all these cuts going to continue giving the US economy shock after shock, there’s a long list of natural disasters (made worse and more frequent by AGW) waiting to happen and be exploited. already on the horizon are, for example, spikes in food prices as this year’s crop has been killed off by floods and drought. And the 2011 hurricane season, predicted to be even worse than 2010, is only half done, as well. It will be followed by blizzard season, flood season, tornado season, fire season, and again another hurricane season.
And each one of those is another opportunity to cut and privatize public services.