Book Review,  International

Naomi Klein’s perfect nonsense

Read Jonathan Chait’s brilliant takedown of Naomi Klein’s one-size-fits-all “shock doctrine,” the subject of her latest best-seller, in The New Republic.

The Shock Doctrine has a single, uncomplicated explanation for everything that ails us. It identifies the fundamental driving force of the last three decades to be the worldwide spread of free-market absolutism as it was formulated by Milton Friedman and the department of economics at the University of Chicago. The free marketers, Klein argues, understand full well that the public does not support their policies, which she summarizes as “the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending.” And so they have decided that the free-market program can be implemented only when the public has been disoriented by wars, coups, natural disasters, and the like. The “shock doctrine” is the conservative plan to implement pro-corporate policies through the imposition and exploitation of mass trauma.

Klein’s book tries to fit a series of disparate events– the Pinochet coup in Chile, the Tienanmen Square Massacre, the NATO air war against Serbia, the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the invasion of Iraq– into this formula.

Among the many inconvenient facts noted by Chait is that Friedman himself opposed the Iraq war, calling it an act of “aggression.”

Best of all, Chait challenges Klein’s views from a distinctly leftwing perspective:

What makes Klein’s thesis so odd, and so awful, is that in fact there is an unlimited supply of raw material, an abundant basis in reality, for the sorts of arguments that she wants to make. The last two decades certainly have seen the global spread of absolutist free-market ideology. Many of the newest adherents of this creed are dictators who have learned that they can harness the riches of capitalism without permitting the freedoms once thought to flow automatically from it. In the United States, the power of labor unions has withered, and prosperity has increasingly come to be defined as gross domestic product or the rise of the stock market, with the actual living standards of the great mass of the population an afterthought. Corporations, which can relocate nearly anywhere around the world, have used their flexibility as a cudgel against workers, who do not enjoy the privileges of mobility. Domestic policy has aggressively sharpened income inequalities, and corporations have enjoyed unfettered influence to a degree not seen in a hundred years. And the president did start a war without paying the slightest bit of attention to the country that he would be left occupying or how its people would react.

All these things are true. And all these things are enormous outrages and significant problems. It’s just that they are not the same outrage or the same problem. And Naomi Klein’s relentless lumping together of all her ideological adversaries in the service of a monocausal theory of the world ultimately renders her analysis perfect nonsense.

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