People vs Naomi Klein

Nekoliko stranih recenzija knjige Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine.

From IPE

Let me qualify that–I have bad dreams about Naomi Klein. She is, of course, the author of the popular book that attacked the evils of corporate globalization, No Logo. A favorite of the anti-globalization movement, she has recently released another, more ambitious book entitled The Shock Doctrine. The book makes an analogy between electroshock therapy applied to psychiatric patients and the “shock therapy” doctrine of wholesale economic makeover. (Although Jeffrey Sachs is associated with the term, he claims not to like it.) Just as electroshock therapy is designed to break down patients and make them susceptible to reprogramming, economic shock therapy supposedly does the same to entire nations. What else, this kind of shock therapy is often accompanied by coercion. To Klein, it’s a cocktail of shocks: “Countries are shocked by wars, terror attacks, coups d’état and natural disasters”; afterwards, “they are shocked again — by corporations and politicians who exploit the fear and disorientation of this first shock to push through economic shock therapy.” Lastly, those who “dare to resist” are shocked for a third time, “by police, soldiers and prison interrogators.”

This exceedingly specious analogy is extended to a number of “case studies”: Pinochet’s Chile in 1973; the Falklands War in 1982; the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989; the rise of Russian oligarchs in 1993; September 11; the invasion of Iraq in 2003; and Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. How deliberately conducted electroshock therapy relates to the catastrophic “shocks” of 9/11 (unless you buy the conspiracy theory that a US missile hit the Pentagon) and the 2004 tsunami is not given much explanation. Nor is it explained how the Falklands War, which, if I recall, resulted from the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands, led to liberalization, privatization, and deregulation in England. In effect, Klein tries to conveniently fit events on a Procrustean bed of an analogy by forcing the description of these events to fit an electroshock therapy/shock therapy analogy and its associated corporate-led violence. Muddling up actors, motives, and outcomes doesn’t really matter. Aside from those neoliberal Argentineans who foisted liberalization, privatization, and deregulation on the hapless English, we have the Tiananmen massacre being the turning point in China’s conversion to “getting rich is glorious,” which Deng Xiaoping first uttered in 1979 if I recall correctly.

Needless to say, I would not hesitate to give any paper based on the idea that the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands was done in order to spur neoliberal reforms in Britain or one that suggested Tiananmen spurred China’s turn to the market a failing mark. That such faulty logic could be extended to 500+ pages beggars belief. It’s not ideological bias on my part. This is one of the very few blogs covering economics topics that has Marxist sources among its links. Nor would it be fair for me as an IPE instructor to deliberately give lower marks to papers that adopted a Marxist-leaning perspective. (Actually, it’s often easier for students to write a good essay with such a perspective, but that’s another story.) Rather, the faults with Klein’s work are not ideological but logical. Even the renowned left-leaning author, the late great Andre Gunder Frank would have said that markets are not newfangled Western corporate contraptions designed to impoverish the world but have existed throughout the Orient since time immemorial.

And from The Guardian

Naomi Klein is confused. She has written a tough attack on capitalism’s capacity to insist that public policy be run wholly in its own interests and its conspiratorial capacity to capitalise on all forms of disaster and social distress to get its way. Fine. ‘Disaster capitalism’ is an insightful way of looking at how the free marketeers have spread the gospel. Sometimes you cheer her on, but nowhere does she concede that markets can have good results as well as bad. Nowhere does she explore what those circumstances may be and why economic freedom is so appealing to so many. And nowhere does she set out an alternative manifesto for running economies and societies.

In her delusional, Manichaean world view, privatisation, free markets, private property, consumer freedom, the profit motive and economic freedom are just other terms for corporate self-enrichment, denial of voice, limitation of citizenship, inequality and, sometimes, even torture. The discredited electro-shock psychological treatment of the Fifties, we learn, informed the thought system of the free marketeers; it is guilt by association and assertion rather than proof, a weaknesses of too much of the book.

Nothing good can ever come from globalisation, which is just more capitalism. Democracy, however, is a halcyon world of political and economic co-operation, citizen voice and engagement, with a freely arrived- at assertion of the common interest in which most think along the same lines as, say, Naomi Klein. She and free-market economist Milton Friedman, whom she has in her sights, are mirror images of each other in the absolutist categories in which they think.

So she is unlikely to convince anybody new, which is a pity, because she does hit some bull’s eyes. Her description of the way corporate America has exploited the disasters of hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Iraq war and even the 2005 tsunami is devastating. The natural disaster that destroyed tens of thousands of lives in New Orleans was seen as an ‘opportunity’ to put the city’s schooling and public housing in private hands. 9/11 became the excuse for the creation of a vast, private-security industry.

And the Iraq war was organised around the idea that following the shock and awe military strategy, the country could be organised as a pure, free-market paradise, partly because country and people alike were so traumatised that they would offer no opposition and partly because of the ideological belief that only unalloyed markets could deliver results. It was in Iraq that disaster capitalism had its purest, most self-destructive impact.

Her account of the ideological zealotry, stupidity and greed that informed how Iraqi reconstruction was handled is among the most original and revealing in the book. The ambition to have low taxes, minimal regulation, no state, free markets, low tariffs and maximum corporate involvement because they conformed to the free-market blueprint distorted economic priorities and generated huge opportunities for waste and racketeering.

Worse, they involved a scorched-earth policy towards Iraqi institutions that created the vacuum occupied by the sectarian, murderous militias. It was the true denouement of disaster capitalism.

There are many lessons from Iraq, but they elude Klein. The fact that the neocons were wedded to an economistic and wrong view of democracy does not mean that the left should be automatically against all forms of market and conceive of democracy as a surrogate for socialism.

Rather, democracy is shorthand for a network of painfully constructed institutions: a free press, free unions, an independent legal and judicial system, the rule of law, the capacity to whistleblow, audit trails, transparency of decision taking, political parties, constitutional checks and balances to hold executive government to account, local power and free elections. When capitalism works well, these institutions are well-functioning.

But they are more important than even that. Paradoxically, successful capitalism depends on the integrity it brings to the operation of markets and the organisation of corporations. What was wrong about so much shock therapy and the brutal introduction of markets that Klein describes was not that societies should have cleaved to a quasi-socialist alternative under the rubric of democracy. It was that they should have paid infinitely more attention to the building of the ‘soft’ institutions of democracy, including universal education and health care, as the vital precondition for successful markets.

She does not recognise it, but the debate has moved on since the bad old days of the ‘Washington consensus’. Some of the economists she eviscerates, such as Harvard’s Dani Rodrik, have become leaders in building a new consensus that acknowledges the importance of such institutions and are no less tough on how the reconstruction of Iraq neglected them. It does not suit her case, hence no mention.

Klein is so anxious to prove that all capitalism is bad, even, on occasion, relying on torture to get its way, that she never allows for the possibility that markets can deliver beneficial results. Or that the demand for markets comes from the bottom up, as it did in China between 1980 and 1983. Nor, in her account of the shock treatment of the former communist Eastern Europe, does she explain why some countries – the Baltic republics and the Czech Republic – have done so much better than others.

So The Shock Doctrine is a lost opportunity. It is hardly new that disasters and shocks are often triggers of change; her insight is to apply the thesis to turbo-capitalism and its ideologues. If Klein had been fairer, she would have had a smarter thesis that could genuinely have changed the intellectual climate. As it is, she will be dismissed by her critics as a confused ranter. We need critics of free-market fundamentalism to do better than that.

Još nekoliko kritika

Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” (Metropolitan Books, 446 pages, $28), the latest anti-capitalist best seller, tries in vain to discredit the economic system that brought about modern America, the Industrial Revolution, and high standards of living around the world.

The energy of the book is real and there is no doubt it will mobilize most of its readers to higher levels of outrage and action. It’s probably the most effective brand of emotional nonfiction to be published this year. But when it comes to the underlying message, and the standards of evidence used to support it, “The Shock Doctrine” is a true economics disaster.

Ms. Klein’s core thesis is not without merit. She argues that the policy recommendations of free market economists, such as Milton Friedman, are simply not very popular. Of course Friedman would have been the first to admit as much himself. Ms. Klein goes further and argues that a right-wing conspiracy deliberately courts or looks for disaster, so it can impose unpopular free market ideas on an unwilling populace. For instance, Hurricane Katrina (supposedly) led to the privatization of New Orleans and was (supposedly) welcomed for this reason. Yet there’s not much evidence for active conspiracies, apart from a vague 1962 statement by Friedman: “Only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”

Most of the book is a button-pressing, emotionally laden, whirlwind tour of global events over the last 30 years: Katrina, the invasion of Iraq, torture in Chile, the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The book offers not so much an argument but rather a Dadaesque juxtaposition of themes and supposedly parallel developments in the global market. Above the excited recitation stands Milton Friedman as the überdemon of the march toward global tyranny and squalor.

Ms. Klein’s rhetoric is ridiculous. For instance, she attaches import to the fact that the word “tank” appears in the label “think tank.” In her book, free market advocates are tarred with the brush of torture, because free market advocates often support unpopular policies, and torture also often supports unpopular policies. Clearly, by her tactic of freewheeling association, free market advocates must support torture. Often Ms. Klein’s proffered connections are so impressionistic and so reliant on a smarmy wink to the knowing that it is impossible to present them, much less critique them, in the short space of a book review.

Rarely are the simplest facts, many of which complicate Ms. Klein’s presentation, given their proper due. First, the reach of government has been growing in virtually every developed nation in the world, including in America, and it hardly seems that a far-reaching free market conspiracy controls much of anything in the wealthy nations. Second, Friedman and most other free market economists have consistently called for limits on state power, including the power to torture. Third, the reach of government has been shrinking in India and China, to the indisputable benefit of billions. Fourth, it is the New Deal — the greatest restriction on capitalism in 20th century America and presumably beloved by Ms. Klein — that was imposed in a time of crisis. Fifth, many of the crises of the 20th century resulted from anti-capitalistic policies, rather than from capitalism: China was falling apart because of the murderous and tyrannical policies of Chairman Mao, which then led to bottom-up demands for capitalistic reforms; New Zealand and Chile abandoned socialistic policies for freer markets because the former weren’t working well and induced economic crises.

But the reader will search in vain for an intelligent discussion of any of these points. What the reader will find is a series of fabricated claims, such as the suggestion that Margaret Thatcher created the Falkland Islands crisis to crush the unions and foist unfettered capitalism upon an unwilling British public.

The simplest response to Ms. Klein’s polemic is to invoke old school conservatism. This approach, most prominently represented by classical liberal Friedrich Hayek, rejected the idea of throwing out or revising all social institutions at once. Indeed the long history of conservative thought stands behind moderation in most matters of social and economic policy. That tradition does advise a scaling down of free market ambitions, no matter how good they may sound in theory, and is probably our best hedge against disasters of our own making. Such a simple — indeed sensible — point would not have produced a best-selling screed, however. And so we return to charging Friedman as an enabler of torture. The clash between democratic preferences and policy prescriptions is, if anything, a problem for Ms. Klein herself. Ms. Klein’s previous book, “No Logo” (2000), called for rebellion against advertising and multinational corporations, two institutions which have proved remarkably popular with ordinary democratic citizens. Starbucks is ubiquitous because of pressure from the bottom, not because of a top-down decision to force capitalism upon the suffering workers in a time of crisis.

If nothing else, Ms. Klein’s book provides an interesting litmus test as to who is willing to condemn its shoddy reasoning. In the New York Times, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz defended the book: “Klein is not an academic and cannot be judged as one.” So nonacademics get a pass on sloppy thinking, false “facts,” and emotional appeals? In making economic claims, Ms. Klein demands to be judged by economists’ standards — or at the very least, standards of simple truth or falsehood. Mr. Stiglitz continued: “There are many places in her book where she oversimplifies. But Friedman and the other shock therapists were also guilty of oversimplification.” Have we come to citing the failures of one point of view to excuse the mistakes of another?

With “The Shock Doctrine,” Ms. Klein has become the kind of brand she lamented in “No Logo.” Brands offer a simplification of image and presentation, rather than stressing the complexity, the details, and the inevitable trade-offs of a particular product. Recently, Ms. Klein told the Financial Times, “I stopped talking about [the campaign against brands] about two weeks after ‘No Logo’ was published.” She admitted that brands were never her real target, rather they were a convenient means of attacking the capitalist system more generally. In the same interview, Ms. Klein also tellingly remarked, “I believe people believe their own bulls—. Ideology can be a great enabler for greed.”

When it comes to the best-selling “Shock Doctrine,” that is perhaps the bottom line on what Klein herself has been up to.



Filed under Way off Broadway


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