Klein's theory takes insight from C.I.A. interrogation practices and weaves its way through South American military coups and the Chicago School of Economics until it arrives in the present-day environment dominated by wide-spread laissez-faire, free-market economic policies. All of these have shocks and crises in common, situations that make people more impressionable and vulnerable. The C.I.A. interrogators and proponents of privatization both exploit shocks in order to manipulate people when they are most susceptible to such manipulation, at times when they have less capacity to resist and stand up for themselves.
Investigating C.I.A. interrogation techniques, Klein was struck by how torture, in particular electroshocks, was used to incapacitate prisoners and make them sympathetic to ideas suggested by their interrogators. These techniques involved attempting to empty the prisoner's (or, in the case of electroshock therapy, the patient's) mind of preconceptions, something Klein calls "mind-blanking." She was struck by how this paralleled instances of the application of free-market policies that operated against the interests of the majority of people they applied to.
Milton Friedman, one of the leading academics of the Chicago School of Economics, even had the audacity to articulate what was happening. "Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around." His aspiration was to make sure that the ideas lying around after such crises occurred were free-market and laissez-faire ideas, ideas like privatization. In her book, Klein reviews many instances of this happening in real places. Klein discusses examples that range from General Augusto Pinochet's coup d'etat of President Salvador Allende's democratically-elected government in 1973 to the American military response, to the 9-11 terror attacks, to - illustratively for the people of B.C. - the privatization of New Orleans' school system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In each example, some sort of crisis, natural or human-created, leaves people in a vulnerable state of shock, and right-wing, neo-liberal economic policies are rammed into place while people are reeling from the shock and lacking capacity to resist.
The citizens of B.C., especially students, parents, and teachers, are currently suffering from a crisis. Although it has escalated recently and continues to worsen with each passing day, it is a crisis over a decade in the making. B.C. schools have been suffering the effects of reduced funding and reduced services for children since the government of B.C. - led by the B.C. Liberal Party - passed legislation that stripped collective agreements between the school districts and the B.C. Teachers' Federation of crucial class-size and composition language. Teachers immediately challenged this move on the part of government, and they have won cases against the government of B.C. in international court, and now twice in the British Columbia Supreme Court (in 2011 and 2014). The most recent court win found that the government has purposely failed to bargain with teachers in good faith in order to create a crisis that they could manipulate to enact legislation without having to fear public backlash. Since that case, negotiations have continued to stall, leading the BCTF to escalate strike action in order to try to stimulate movement at the bargaining table. The government's bargaining agent responded by locking out teachers from aspects of their jobs and using this action to justify a 10% rollback of teachers' wages. This led to further polarization, rather than movement at the bargaining table. Since then, movement at the bargaining table has been glacial, if present at all. Despite several significant moves on the part of the BCTF, the government and its bargaining agent have steadfastly refused to compromise. They have repeatedly misrepresented the state of bargaining and the nature of proposals in bargaining. The government refuses to negotiate a proposal that would effectively wipe out the hard-fought victories in court on the part of teachers, despite the fact that the results of such wins provide a foundation for improving service levels to students. The government's rhetoric, both in terms of its policies implemented over a decade ago (e.g., choice and flexibility) and its current position (e.g., zone of affordability), all refer to notions cherished by free-market champions.
The BCTF's latest proposal - to submit to binding arbitration all contract provisions other than those currently before the B.C. Court of Appeal, has been met with continued intransigence on the part of the government and its bargaining agent. The main justification for its refusal to agree to arbitration (something that many had been advocating for just a week ago) is that it will not agree to anything that might result in increased taxes (government spokespeople speak as if the government has no power to make budget allocations, despite their insistence on talking about flexibility in practically religious terms most of the time).
In the meantime, teachers who want nothing more than to be back in their classrooms are picketing in the streets, with bank accounts becoming more and more empty with each passing day, and many reaching - or having already exceeded - the limits of their access to credit. Students have been out of classrooms for about three months. Parents are at their wits' end, trying to figure out how to arrange care for children while parents work and how to educate children with no access to public schools. In this context of educational crisis - resulting from over a decade of underfunding and now months of job action - the government refuses to accept any possible solution presented by the BCTF, including the radically-risky suggestion of binding arbitration. This makes me wonder what - to use the words of neo-liberal evangelist Milton Friedman - ideas will be lying around in the coming weeks as this crisis continues to escalate.