Kleins Behaving Badly

6 October 2007 at 10:23 am 12 comments

| Peter Klein |

Cousin Naomi is in the news again. Her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, is attracting a lot of attention in the econo-blogosphere, virtually all negative. The Economist offers this guide to the commentary. The only sensible person who likes the book appears to be Joe Stiglitz, taken to task here by Pete Boettke. Klein’s shocking treatment of Milton Friedman has raised hackles everywhere (see this and this). Ultimately, her thesis is unsupported by any historical evidence. When one is a “cultural critic,” however, facts and reason are not too important.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Business/Economic History, Classical Liberalism.

World Freedom Atlas Terence Hutchison (1912-2007)

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Crawford Kilian  |  6 October 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for compiling some interesting links. Having followed the shock-doctrine fuss since the book came out here in Canada, I’m struck by her critics’ reliance on condescension rather than refutation. If her documentation is really so poor, it ought to be easy to refute her on the facts, rather than patronizing her as a “cultural critic.” So far, no one has–least of all Cato @ Liberty.

  • 2. Meh  |  7 October 2007 at 10:33 am

    Lack of historical evidence never stopped anyone recommending the “Washington Consensus” as the way forward for developing countries. As Crawford notes, a little less condescension and a little more historical accuracy from economists would take them a lot further.

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  7 October 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Crawford and Meh: There are many serious critics of the “Washington Consensus,” and of the market system more generally, whose views deserve to be treated with respect. Unfortunately Naomi Klein is not one of them. She is a propagandist, not a scholar. If you want an informed critique of mainstream economic development policy read Dani Rodrik or even Joe Stiglitz.

    Look, there are only so many hours in the day. One cannot read everything. I haven’t read _Disaster Capitalism_ but based on what I’ve read from Naomi Klein before, the public statements she’s made promoting the book, and the reaction of people like Tyler Cowen who have managed to read it all the way through, I can’t imagine it’s worth my time. Someone who thinks Chilean death squads are the product of Chicago economics is not a person who needs to be taken too seriously.

  • 4. bee  |  7 October 2007 at 4:00 pm

    This attack on Friedman is sad. Naomi Klein’s slandering of Friedman is the all to common act done to push ideology and personal fame.

    Many questions remain unanswered in how markets and hierarchies drive economic activity. What can be said is that those who have committed their professional lives to understanding these questions are owed some respect. Naomi Klein does not offer us anything but an emotional cry of one who is scared by her ignorance and a world that does not bow to her will.

    Stiglitz does owe other academics his respect. His failure to accurately refelct Friedman’s role is not really acceptable. If he will bow down to polictal correctness, then he is a coward. I do not question his right to have opinions that differ from others. I do question his unwillingness to stand up for the truth. Friedman’s speaking for a particular monetary policy in no way can be construed as support of crimical activity. If this is so does Stiglitz accept personal responsibility for crimes committed by those who followed his economic thoughts.

  • 5. Virginia Postrel  |  8 October 2007 at 4:38 pm

    I wouldn’t conclude from his review that Stiglitz likes the book. In fact, he seems to think that Klein is a loony conspiracy theorist but is too polite, and too interested in attacking their mutual enemies, to say so directly.

  • 6. twofish  |  8 October 2007 at 11:42 pm


    I thought that Naomi Klein made some good points, but the big problem is that she lumped everyone she dislikes together as “them”. One can be pro-Chicago school and anti-Washington Consensus, or pro-Washington Consensus and not think much of the Bush administration. The trouble with these distinctions is that from the point of view of someone on the outside, it all looks like “them.”

    It’s very, very important for people “on the inside” to take things like Klein’s books seriously, because they are good mirror for how some people “on the outside” see things. It’s also a bad idea to appear to be overly condescending because that just reinforces the idea that there really is an evil conspiracy.

    Rather I think what the approach should be is to get people to read Naomi Klein. Once they’ve read Klein and seen how she thinks that Milton Friedman and the Chicago School are the anti-christ and the spawn of the devil, you then point them to what Friedman actually wrote or some papers by the Chicago School.

    I have Dinesh D’Souza to thank for introducing me to the world of French post-structuralism, and a lot leftists to thank for introducing me to Leo Strauss. (I shudder to think what Klein would make of the fact that Strauss and Friedman both came from the University of Chicago, but that may be her next book……)

  • 7. Henrik Berglund  |  4 December 2007 at 2:09 am

    Those who can not find the time to read “The Shock Doctrine” (or “The Age of Turbulence”), may want to watch this online debate between Naomi Klein and Alan Greenspan.


  • […] kollat Norbergs CV innan han skrev artikeln? Men det är väl som Peter Klein (tydligen en kusin) skrev om Shock Doctrine: “When one is a ‘cultural critic,‘ however, facts and reason are not […]

  • 9. Kim Kratky  |  11 August 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Was it Lenin who said, “Politics is all about who gets to do what to whom”? Let’s just paraphrase that observation: “Economics is all about who gets to do what to whom.” If that makes sense to you, and it does to me, then Naomi Klein’s book is well worth an examination.

  • 10. Walter Christman  |  13 September 2008 at 1:02 pm

    It is quite appalling that Peter Klein poor mouth’s Naomi’s book while admitting he hasn’t read it. The book employs a metaphor to illustrate a process, and in doing so sheds much light on the conditions in which the United States and the rest of the world have evolved over the last thirty years. It is an amazing contribution and a milestone successfully challenging the single most entrenched validity claims in the world today.

    The book has a couple of weaknesses, the primary one being organizational. The chapter on Iraq should have come first and laid out the framework for a comtemporary understanding of the issues and then taken us back in time to the origins in torture, Chile and free-market fanaticism. If she started this way and helped to frame the understanding in a more robust and contemporary way and then followed the yellow-brick road from there the book would have been more intellectually accessible to the busy reader trying answer the question, “so what.”. The chapters on Iraq prove the entire thesis and frankly with the rest of the book in tow amount to a bullet-proof demonstration that Klein understands the world as well as anyone alive today. It is as powerful and as insightful as anything written. As an isolated chapter, the Iraq chapter reveals that what might be passed off as incomptence in postwar planning that can now be understood as the direct outcome of an explicit ideology with considerable limitations. It is a critical snap-shot of the state of the world, and not just Iraq, but as the rest of the book shows, a litmus of everything. The rest of the book would have then nicely traced the linkage of what contributed to this condidtion and what can be expected to follow from it. The book is a fair warning and indeed and alarming call to action. It just takes far too long to make the case.

    All models have limitations and counter-factuals. Naomi Klein’s seamless chicago school – shock metaphor has some weaknesses, but they don’t really distract from her argument, which the reorganization of chapters suggested above and some slight muting of the occasionally all-too-sweeping generalization would have easily fixed. Throughout history, public crises have been exploited to the advantage of the intellectually prepared. One can start in the Bible in the book of Genesis with Joseph who as advisor to the Pharaoh of Egypt in response to a foreseen famine reduced the entire nation to servitude. In modern times, the Bolsheviks in the midst of a collapsing state in war, and, for example, the Sandinistas in the aftermath of an earthquake ,were able to put prior preparation and coherent ideology in service of seizing power. In short, shock doctrine has been going on a long-time and isn’t an exclusive tool of the right wing.

    As well, Naomi’s argument for the anti-democratic imposition of free-market reform and its purported negative effects on the majority doesn’t seem to stand up in the case of India. She doesn’t give enough credit and credence to the limitations of her argument, which is more in framing than in exposition.

    Even so, the shock doctrine approach of attempts to wipe the slate clean and impose undemocratic reform in the name of freedome and democracy is undeniably true and Klein marshalls so much evidence to prove the point that any critic is left only ignore it favor of a pet theory. Her argument and evidence are simply overwhelming. While there is a polemetical construct to her argument that slight reorganization of chapters and very mirror editing might have fixed, the right response is not to quibble with her organizing framework with counter-polemic. Rather it is to challenge her facts, data, and the implications of those facts head on. My bet is that in fair contest, Naomi Kline will win hands down. She stands as one of the world’s foremost public intellectuals and her book is deserving of the widest reading audience possible.

  • […] Norberg responds in kind. The Economist offers a “Naomi Klein smackdown roundup” (HT: Peter Klein). Jonathan Chait’s review in The New Republic pulled no punches. Chait’s review also […]

  • […] Norberg responds in kind. The Economist offers a “Naomi Klein smackdown roundup” (HT: Peter Klein). Jonathan Chait’s review in The New Republic pulled no punches. Chait’s review also […]

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