Naomi Kline review reviewed

September 29, 2007 § Leave a comment


An annotated review of the review

Doug Carmichael. My comments in Italics


September 29, 2007

Books of the Times

It’s All a Grand Capitalist Conspiracy



The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

By Naomi Klein

558 pages. Metropolitan Books. $28.


When Milton Friedman died last year, the acclaim for his work was nearly universal. Even his ideological opponents, like Paul Krugman and Lawrence Summers, treated this Nobel Prize-winning economist — who taught for decades at the University of Chicago — with respect.


Dc: incomplete. Friedman wrote in the NYRB Feb15.


While Friedman’s theoretical work is universally admired by professional economists, there’s much more ambivalence about his policy pronouncements and especially his popularizing. And it must be said that there were some serious questions about his intellectual honesty when he was speaking to the mass public.”


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Naomi Klein will have none of it.


Dc: so he is setting her up as being opposed to  the heavies. Unfair if not correct. If Krugman is *also* critical of Friedman, then she is in good company rather than in opposition to standard (progressive) opinion. To Add Summers only compounds the error because she has a critique of Summers’-  like economics. Summers article in the NYT was a eulogy to a just dead colleague. Would you expect a critique?


Summers, in that article, says ” While much of his academic work was directed at monetary policy, Mr. Friedman’s great popular contribution lay elsewhere: in convincing people of the importance of allowing free markets to operate.


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Note the direct contradiction to Friedman’s approach. But Redburn stars by putting Naomi against the two as if they were of a common attitude: respect for Friedman..


In her new book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” she essentially accuses Friedman of being the godfather of a Mafia-like gang, the Chicago Boys, who have exploited the public disorientation associated with catastrophes and political crises to impose an unwanted free-market ideology on much of the world.


Dc: free market ideology is a cover for corporate control. Free markets are just that – free. But corporations seek control . See for example the article on Ethanol in today’s NYT (the same issue carrying Redburn’s review). “essentially” is a slippery word. What she does is draw conclusions about the impact of the influence of Friedman’s ideas in justifying a certain kind of politics and business climate. He doesn’t deal with her logic. The “Chicago boys” and those who did the exploitation are not the same people.



Ms. Klein’s touchstone is Latin America, where authoritarian governments long ruled in the interests of wealthy landowners and the elites in charge of economic cartels, but she doesn’t stop there.


Dc: by passing over this so quickly he again does not engage her analysis.


Everything from the collapse of the Soviet bloc to the invasion of Iraq, from the flooding of New Orleans to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in her view, have been opportunities for a particularly ruthless form of capitalism to succeed where it otherwise would never take hold.


Dc: again quick summary without engagement.


And when free-market advocacy alone hasn’t worked, military force and brutal repression are always at hand to cow the public, all in the interest of promoting the privatization of public resources, the shredding of the social safety net and opening up new markets for foreign investors.

There’s a measure of truth about the dark side of globalization in all this, but that’s a lot to lay on poor Milton.


Dc: He dismisses the argument (the “measure of truth” is made to sound hollow) by saying she has like a bad prosecutor accusing the wrong person, attributes the whole to Friedman, rather than just seeing Friedman as the source of ideas that others exploited.


Ms. Klein pins the blame for much of the misery in the world squarely on what she views as Friedman’s misguided philosophy and the many people in its thrall.


Dc: the reader of the review can be counted on, Redburn seems to hope, in assuming philosophy can’t have any impact, impotent to the core as philosophy, in the common mind, he assumes,  is.


Dc: “thrall” is a loaded word, implying hypnotic slavery. But how could such people as she then names possibly be such slavish sycophants? Not likely.


And here she includes not only a litany of expected conservatives like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and George W. Bush, but what others might think of as conventional liberals, people like Bill Clinton and Jeffrey D. Sachs, the Columbia University economist who advocated economic “shock therapy” in post-socialist countries like Bolivia and Poland and now is one of the leading proponents in the effort to increase sharply aid to the world’s poor.


Dc: Not likely, I say, because these people had their own class based reasons to want to act consist to Friedman’s philosophy. Redburn’s  list is to make you think Klien must be an idiot to be opposed to all these good people. But her critique is that those like Clinton and Sachs were part of the establishment that made the rich richer and the poor poorer by enacting legislation and policy that helped those who already had the wealth.


“Since the fall of Communism, free markets and free people have been packaged as a single ideology that claims to be humanity’s best and only defense against repeating a history filled with mass graves, killing fields and torture chambers,” Ms. Klein writes. “Yet in the Southern Cone, the first place where the contemporary religion of unfettered free markets escaped from the basement workshops of the University of Chicago and was applied in the real world, it did not bring democracy; it was predicated on the overthrow of democracy in country after country. And it did not bring peace but required the systematic murder of tens of thousands and the torture of between 100,000 and 150,000 people.”



Friedman’s association with Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, was indeed the worst stain on his career. His defense that his economic advice to Pinochet was no different from what a doctor might give a government on how to deal with an outbreak of AIDS is not very persuasive.


Dc: so was she right, that Friedman himself took his own ideas to support a dictator who imposed pain on Chile? Redburn seems to say so, without yielding her any credit.

Tis kind of writing is what is usually called “snide”. (“

derogatory in a nasty, insinuating manner:


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Moreover, it is no secret that capitalism does not require a democratic political system to thrive: China is proof of that. Ms. Klein is not alone, either, in pointing out that many governments serve to protect the interests of the rich, and that as inequality grows, the threat rises that the establishment will turn to undemocratic means to thwart the will of the majority.


DC: this is pretty serious stuff, but  Redburn seems to treat the fact of it rather lightly, and hence treating Kline as also a lightweight. Moreover she is just a copycat (not alone).


Ms. Klein exposes the hypocrisy behind those who promote free enterprise but accept autocratic regimes to carry it out, which makes her book a useful corrective to some of the uncritical celebrations of the spread of globalization since the collapse of the Soviet empire.


Dc: that is, it is a footnote to other people’s thinking, especially those who “uncritically celebrate” globalization. What about those who seriously and thoughtfully promote globalization? Which is where her argument actually comes alive..



But her argument constantly overreaches, because her goal is not really to tame capitalism so much as to taunt it.


Dc: those are the alternatives? Tame capitalism? Does he mean take the rough edges off so exploitation can proceed beneath the radar? Taunt capitalism? Like a bull fighter, or a kid at the zoo making faces at the tigers? She is asking for deep reform. Which he gets to in the next paragraph after disposing of her thiking as “nods”.

While Ms. Klein occasionally nods to Scandinavian-style social democracy as an alternative to the “neo-liberal” American-style model she condemns, it turns out that nothing short of a socialist utopia — an economy of worker collectives running environmentally benign enterprises with nationalized banks to direct investment — will actually do.


Dc: hm, interesting idea, given the seriousness of the critique, which Redburn acknowledges as fact but dismisses as inconsequential – because one suspects of where she is going, and sinnce that is suspect to Redburn, he can set her up all along the way therem and then immediately dismissed with “blind”. Worse, “most blind” meaning the other palces she is blind don’t even have to be dealt with.



What she is most blind to is the necessary role of entrepreneurial capitalism in overcoming the inherent tendency of any established social system to lapse into stagnation, as all too many socialist countries — and some nonsocialist ones, too — have shown.


Dc; this is ideology. The question is, what kind of entreprenurial capitalism? Corporate monopoly tending aided by state collusion (as in the Ethanol case). Sure, society needs enterprise and development to provide for its people, but the current form of entrepreneurial capitalism (as though it is a one brand monopoly) is not doing it well. Hence the seriousness of her critique.


Like it or not, without strong economic growth and its inevitable disruptions , there is little hope for creating the healthy middle classes necessary to sustain democracies,


Dc: what we have are not democracies but media mediating oligarchies. Strong middle classes were a product of industrial needs for managers, made irrelevant by computing and telecommunications. Moreover those middle classes are not replicable because of the environmental costs. Redburn avoids all these issues and treats capitalism and growth as a one kind fits all Friedmanesque (the other friedman) dystopia whose nly alternative is starvation.  Redburn’s arument is just like Friedman’s in The Lotus and the Olive Tree. “gett on the train or get out of the way.”



much less an improvement in the lot of the poor and dispossessed Ms. Klein seeks to represent.


Dc: part of her critique is that the current model is in fact not helping the poor. A fact now widely acknowledged, as for example at the just finished Clinton Initiative, where it was the common assumption that this is a real problem.


And yes, that means some people will become rich and powerful.


Dc; he sees this as an event without implications for the res. But the rich and powerful then control the political process and dive up prices.



In the end, I suspect that Ms. Klein’s goal in writing “The Shock Doctrine” is not so much to persuade others to join her anti-globalization, anti-corporatist cause as it is to reinforce the dreams of those already convinced of its righteousness.


Dc; one doesn’t work that ahrd and that couraeously just to sing to the choir.


“We did not lose the battles of ideas,” she said in a recent speech to the American Sociological Association. “We were not outsmarted and we were not out-argued. We lost because we were crushed. Sometimes we were crushed by army tanks, and sometimes we were crushed by think tanks. And by think tanks I mean the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks.”


Dc: she has a point.


That must be a comforting thought. If only it were that simple.


Dc: oh, then if not that simple, give us a clue as to what how it is complex. Actually his whole review is aimed at trivializing her critique and reducing its complexity through sarcasm.


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