"It's the economy stupid" was the phrase that supposedly kept Bill Clinton's campaign team focused on what they needed to do in order to win the 1992 election campaign. Pound away mercilessly on the woeful state of the economic union in post-Regan America, and lay the blame for it at his former Vice President, and incumbent President, George H. W. Bush.
What that consisted of was simply pointing out to Americans what they already knew. A great many of them were unemployed, real wages sucked, the government was billions if not trillions of dollars in debt, and the policy of cutting taxes and increasing military spending was ruinous beyond belief. Clinton's election over a sitting President was a major rebuttal to the supposedly free market, small government, and cutting of social programs measures practiced by the neo-conservatives who surrounded Ronald Regan.
Compared to the majority of industrialized nations in the world the United States has, depending on your point of view, lagged far behind in terms of the social safety net or led the way in cutting back on government interference in the economy. While the United States has never fully committed to either completely free markets or a real social safety net, it is the country where the two major contrasting schools of economic thought have battled it out on a regular basis.
John Maynard Keynes proposed government intervention in the economy in order to protect the populace from the vagrancies of economic fluctuations like recessions, depressions, and inflation. He advocated government run insurance programs to offer protection to people in times of vulnerability; unemployment, old age, and illness. His ideas formed the basis of what is known as the welfare state — which was never meant to be a derogatory term, by the way.
At the complete opposite end of the economic spectrum was Milton Friedman who advocated that the economy must be allowed to proceed without any government interference at all. Only then would it be able to operate at maximum efficiency and provide plenty for everybody. It's Mr. Friedman's philosophies, and the manner in which they have been and are being implemented, that come under intense scrutiny in Naomi Klein's latest book published by Random House Canada through its Knoff Canada imprint, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism
The title refers to Mr. Friedman's contention that for his theory to work, the economy has to be shocked back to a state of zero where there is no government ownership or involvement in the economy. It is Ms. Klein's contention that not only is Friedman's philosophy being implemented whenever opportunities present themselves, but that American policy over the last eight years has been geared to ensuring it's implementation when and where ever possible.