The Other Naomi
October 29, 2007
One of the problems Naomi Wolf is having in getting attention for her book The End of America may be that it’s come out at roughly the same time as an equally important book by Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which demonstrates the dark implications of terms like “creative destruction” and “economic shock therapy” that are so popular with free-market fundamentalists. Imagine: two smart political books by two smart political writers named Naomi. Reels the mind.
Actually, the real problem is that lazy, ax-grinding reviewers like this one are happy to toss out half-smart putdowns like “conspiracy theorist” instead of engaging with Klein’s ideas. Klein herself finds it rather amusing that her book is getting slagged by business writers for the very same business publications that she used as her sources of information:
No one took it quite as hard as Terence Corcoran, the business editor of Canada’s National Post. Disaster capitalism is apparently my “fevered creation”. And how could I have said those things about Friedman, a man Corcoran has described as “the last great lion of free market economics”?
In the Financial Times, the unbiased dissection was carried out by John Willman, the paper’s UK business editor (who, on the side, advocates shifting healthcare costs to families in Britain and tuition increases in Scotland). Willman declared the book “a polemic” and warned “impressionable readers” not to be fooled by my 60 pages of endnotes. While Cole claims I rely on “partisan contributions from the cuttings library”, Willman accuses me of a far greater crime: relying on cuttings from the FT. “She quotes the Financial Times when it suits her, for example, but not when it would be inconvenient.”
It’s true. I do, in fact, quote the FT when it suits me. In The Shock Doctrine, I cite the paper 26 times. And this is what hurts most about the attacks from the world’s business editors: even as they find new ways to dismiss me, I remain a devoted reader of their pages. Sure, financial editors have to do PR for capitalism. Their reporters, however, have a crucial market role. Investors require reliable information, and it’s their job to supply it. Without this honest reporting, I would never have understood how economic shock therapy programmes relied on external disasters – the very disaster capitalism I now learn, from these same pages, does not exist.
The big problem, as you see, is that Klein severely criticizes Milton Friedman, the libertarian economist whose free markets uber alles doctrine has become holy writ among business writers. I haven’t read all the reviews of The Shock Doctrine, but this Tom Redburn piece from the New York Times is noteworthy both for its dishonesty and the clumsiness with which Redburn tries to avoid contact with Klein’s thesis. He opens by announcing that when the Divine Milton died last year “even his ideological opponents,” like Paul Krugman, treated him with respect.
That’s true, but only as far as it goes — which is not nearly as far as Redburn wants to stretch it. You can read Krugman’s New York Review of Books piece here, and I think you’ll agree that while Krugman acknowledges Friedman as a towering figure in economics, he has huge reservations not only with Friedman’s free-market orthodoxy, but also the pernicious uses to which it has been put by Friedman’s acolytes.
But Redburn, leaving readers with the impression that even lefties like Krugman bowed to the Divine Milton’s wisdom, starts clowning: “Naomi Klein will have none of it. 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.” Now, “the Chicago Boys” was the universally recognized nickname for Friedman and his monetarist cronies, so for Redburn to pretend Klein has invented the moniker is the crassest kind of dissembling. It is necessary, however, for Redburn to do this as preparation for his larger aim, which is to paint Klein as a lefty whacko who uses free-market doctrines to create a grand unified theory of evil:
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.
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.
It quickly becomes apparent that the task of reviewing this book certainly was a lot to lay on poor Tom Redburn, who ends up conceding the bulk of Klein’s argument while claiming (without presenting any evidence) that “her argument constantly overreaches, because her goal is not really to tame capitalism so much as to taunt it.” He then closes with the standard lazy-winger depiction of the Scandinavian social democracies as stagnant and unchanging, lacking in the dynamism of America’s free-market ways.
Redburn’s slovenly review demonstrates as conclusively as anything in The Shock Doctrine that free-market orthodoxy is the default setting for business writers and theorists. So by all means, please go out and get a copy of The Shock Doctrine today. Even if you don’t buy Klein’s arguments, buying her book will help overcome the intellectual version of what Redburn describes as “the inherent tendency of any established social system to lapse into stagnation.” The kind of stagnation that Redburn’s article — and the wider response to Naomi Klein’s work — embodies.