Opinion: Naomi Klein: an intellectual disaster

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The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait pens a mega-smack down of anti-capitalist Naomi Klein’s book, ‘The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,’ and all I can say is: Thank you, Jon Chait.

Why the gratitude? Buzz over her book has pushed Klein to the verge intellectual canonization, so much that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan saw her as a worthy enough adversary to debate on a live radio program. Her conspiracy theorist-like contention in ‘The Shock Doctrine’ is that profit-hungry free marketeers relish major disasters, (from everything to Hurricane Katrina to, yes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) which allow them to push their unpopular reforms on the the rest of us who are ‘shocked’ by calamity. Her supporting arguments and examples are so absurd that, as Christopher Hitchens said in a debate on the existence of God, ‘There are no statements worth arguing here; all you can do is underline them.”


Where I merely underlined Klein’s absurdities while reading her book, Chait ripped them to shreds. An excerpt from his piece:

Klein’s model leaves little room for the non-economic varieties of conflict, such as ethnic or sectarian strife. ‘Some of the most infamous human rights violations of this era,’ she observes, ‘which have tended to be viewed as sadistic acts carried out by antidemocratic regimes, were in fact either committed with the deliberate intent of terrorizing the public or actively harnessed to prepare the ground for the introduction of radical freemarket ‘reforms.’’ One example Klein cites in her list is the U.S. intervention in Kosovo. But the human rights violation that she deplores was not the ethnic cleansing of Albanians, it was the American response. And what motivated the American attempt to stop the mass atrocity? Capitalism, of course: ‘The NATO attack on Belgrade in 1999 created the conditions for rapid privatizations in the former Yugoslavia--a goal that predated the war.’ (Klein assures her readers that economics was not the ‘sole motivator’ for the war, but her analysis makes no room for any such complication.)

What I find most repugnant in Klein’s work is her unrepentant character assassination of Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist she indicts as a sort of evil genius behind disaster capitalism. Klein’s smoking gun? A three-sentence statement plucked completely out of context from an introduction Friedman wrote to one of his books. Friedman died before ‘The Shock Doctrine’ was published, allowing Klein to peddle her ridiculous accusations without so much as a reply from the accused. (I pointed out Klein’s misuse of Friedman’s quote here.)