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The Shock Doctrine in the Time of the Coronavirus Lockdown – A Look Around the World

Updated: May 29, 2020

Image: Proposed route of HS2 in the UK. Once built, London to Birmingham travel times will be cut from one hour, 21 minutes to 52 minutes, according to the Department for Transport

The Shock Doctrine presented by Naomi Klein argues that neoliberal free market policies (as advocated by the economist Milton Friedman) have risen to prominence in some developed countries because of a deliberate strategy of "shock therapy". This centers on the exploitation of national crises (disasters or upheavals) to establish controversial and questionable policies, while citizens are excessively distracted (emotionally and physically) to engage and develop an adequate response, and resist effectively.

The Coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic shock we are going through in 2020 is an example of a shock where, if Naomi’s doctrine is true, we would be able to see governments implementing unpopular policies.

Here is the author explaining these unpopular policies at the national level.

For this research project, we will look at environmental protection and controversial projects around the world, and try to find out if it is true that governments exploit the population’s distraction to push through unpopular projects and policies.

Here are a few to get you started:


  • Limits on gatherings make it a 'great time to be building a pipeline,' says Alberta energy minister


  • Gas Exploration Green Light During Coronavirus

  • Coal mining allowed under Sydney water reservoir for first time in 20 years

  • Victoria allows logging after bushfires

Find more examples here

Extinction Rebellion Australia @xrebellionaus

United Kingdom:

  • High Speed Rail Project HS2:

HS2 construction gets green light despite lockdown

  • London Heathrow Expansion


Karnataka Rail Line

United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26):

The conference was scheduled to be held at the SEC Centre in Central Glasgow. On 1 April, 2020 it was announced that the conference had been postponed to an undetermined date in 2021, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Naomi also argues that times of crisis don't always go the Shock Doctrine way. Sometimes, they create an opening for great progress and gives as example the 1930’s when the Great Depression led to the New Deal.

Can you imagine a course of events in which our present situation leads to great progress?

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