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|Posted September 30, 2007|
|It's All a Grand Capitalist Conspiracy|
|The Shock Doctrine|
|The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.|
|By Naomi Klein|
|558 pages. Metropolitan Books. $28.|
OF THE TIMES
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.
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.
Ms. Kleins 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 doesnt stop there.
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 hasnt 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.
Theres a measure of truth about the dark side of globalization in all this, but thats a lot to lay on poor Milton.
Ms. Klein pins the blame for much of the misery in the world squarely on what she views as Friedmans misguided philosophy and the many people in its thrall. 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 worlds poor.
Since the fall of Communism, free markets and free people have been packaged as a single ideology that claims to be humanitys 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.
Friedmans 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.
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.
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.
But her argument constantly overreaches, because her goal is not really to tame capitalism so much as to taunt it.
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.
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. 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, much less an improvement in the lot of the poor and dispossessed Ms. Klein seeks to represent. And yes, that means some people will become rich and powerful.
In the end, I suspect that Ms. Kleins 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.
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.
That must be a comforting thought. If only it were that simple.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, TheArts, of Saturday, September 29, 2007.
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