Every claim is wrong

I wondered whether that can be said of Naomi Klein’s new The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.  Still, at some fundamental level I liked this book.  Perhaps I still had the Greenspan memoir too fresh in my mind, but at least this text is alive.  Yes she refuses to admit that Chilean reforms, however horrible the accompanying atrocities, did represent a success for market economics.  Yes she misstates the role of Milton Friedman in just about everything.  Yes she suggests that black children in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, enjoyed equality of educational opportunity.  Yes she is naive enough to think that we need only put the good people in power.  Yes she repeats many timeworn fallacies about Halliburton.  Yes there is a senseless conflation of torture, Iraq, and the Coase Theorem.  And so on.

Still, at the heart of this book she pinpoints the discomfort that free market advocates have with democracy.  You can go the non-democratic route, you can claim that markets should stand above democracy, or you can reinterpret libertarian ideas as a general framework for social analysis and a program for gradualist democratic reform.  Either way, for all her mistakes, Klein has yet to lose this debate.

Comments

Tyler, What exactly is question of "this debate"?

At the heart I think it is still the argument between positive and negative rights. Klein believes people have the right to impose demands on others (i.e. choose economic outcomes) whereas her opponents argue that individuals have a right to choose their own outcomes, but not others.

Yes she suggests that black children in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, enjoyed equality of educational opportunity.

It's one thing to suggest a journalist isn't a good economist, which isn't too surprising, but if she thought the pre-Katrina schools in New Orleans presented equal educational opportunity across the city, then that suggests she isn't a very good journalist.

If the reader can't trust that the author at least gets the obvious and easy to find facts right, why should we trust her on the more abstract, distant, and interpretive matters?

I warned the readers that Tyrone is apt to show up unexpectedly.

If it's anything like No Logo, Klein is just preaching (very effectively) to a choir. By brushing over lots of things with little depth or analysis, she repeatedly hits on emotional keywords that hide the nonsense. How do you win a debate against that? She doesn't even engage her detractors in a discussion. For me though, the value of No Logo was (a) that it was an entertaining read and (b) it gave me all the insight I ever needed into the anti-capitalist critique. Seriously, as shallow as Klein's treatment is, it is all covering, and I've yet to see your run-of-the-mill market hater approach let along exceed her depth. The ironic genius of her writing is that nobody on the pro-market side seems able to compete at that level. Tyler, I loved Inner Economist, but I can't give it to someone who is not thoughtful, just reactive about the evil of markets. Such people are suspicious of analytical depth, no matter how patient the explainer. It's certainly not your fault.

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I don't want to sound all anarchist, but isn't any form of state naturally in opposition to individual rights? With democracy, I just have to blame the people around me for my oppression rather than some autocrat. Isn't "free market" just equal to "economic anarchy"? God forbid we ever see a democratic economy -- where we'd all have more NFL jerseys than clean underwear.

...should you be interested in reading a not-so-nutso leftist discussion, check out 'nation of rebels' or 'rebel sell' (title changes as you cross borders). It's quite amusing to see the authors critique Klein (which they do often). As I said on the Cafe, I'm going to have to go back and re-read 'rebel sell', now that I understand a bit more of the issues...but it was an incredibly interesting book first time through.

I'd have to concur with recommendation of 'Rebel Sell'
It's a really well-written and entertaining book even though their economic analysis is debatable and they view Canada through glasses that are a touch too rosy.

IMHO it should be a required reading if you have to deal with any sort of left-wing counter-culture.

Aaron, the difference between my comment and Naomi Klein's screeds are measured in billions of words. But you're right, the depth of analysis is comparable.

This podcast has a devestating critique of Klein, as an elitist dressing as a populist. If you ever wanted to see the "no label" crowd -- with all their identity and uniqueness -- go down in flames, listen up!

isn't any form of state naturally in opposition to individual rights?

No. Unless you define "individual rights" to include the right to rob, rape, or murder anyone you please.

Arent both the market and democracy means to an ends? Many would argue that some form of democracy, usually heavily regulated by a strong constitution creates the best framework for markets to operate. So I guess they both go hand in hand however, my ideal world would have much much more market and much less democracy. The more democracy we have usually does not bode well for market efficacy.

Many would argue that some form of democracy, usually heavily regulated by a strong constitution creates the best framework for markets to operate. . . . my ideal world would have much much more market and much less democracy. The more democracy we have usually does not bode well for market efficacy.

...except, since democracies generally had the best economies per-capita, where they were extant, probably going back to Athens, there'd seem to be no entry point into your ideal world, (presumably you aren't suggesting autocracy?).

Democracies do have their points. I hope you aren't going to argue that the overpriced rail costs that predated antitrust actions were efficient.

"isn't any form of state naturally in opposition to individual rights?"
- Jigga Wha?

No. Individual rights are dependent on the state. So is a free market economy. For example, owning a house. Without the government, there is no such thing as "my house". There is only, "where I live". As soon as someone comes along who is able to force you out, you no longer live there. Governments create rules which everyone obeys. Everyone obeys those rules because they expect to be punished if they break them. They expect to be punished because the government collects taxes to pay for a police force and army which has more power to force someone to do what it wants than the local bully.

That's why you want democracy. You don't want the biggest bully to have the right to do whatever they want. You want them to be held accountable to a set of rules (the constitution). But sometimes you decide the rules aren't really the rules you want, and sometimes circumstances change, and in general, the rules just don't cover everything. So you allow anyone who wants to, to take part in the process of redefining the rules. That's democracy. And its the best way to provide individual freedoms and an effective market economy.

The next person who comes dragging with those "democracy is tyranny of the majority" BS is going to get lynched!

Just kidding. But I'm really tired of this kind of shallow democracy-criticism. Constitutions are upheld by majorities, and although there may be good reason why precisely your minority interests should be protected, there is no 100% reliable way to find out which minority rights are legitimate and which are illegitimate. Democracy (whose defining characteristic is not elections, or "majority rule", but political equality) is the best we have.

I wholeheartedly agree with Lars. The founders weren't comfortable with democracy. That's why they created a constitution republic that put many things "above democracy," including markets. Unfortunately, we have forgotten the heritage left us by the founders.

This is my first comment on this blog. I have read the previous comments and saw no one who dealt with what to me was the most important point in the post.

Still, at the heart of this book she pinpoints the discomfort that free market advocates have with democracy. You can go the non-democratic route, you can claim that markets should stand above democracy, or you can reinterpret libertarian ideas as a general framework for social analysis and a program for gradualist democratic reform. Either way, for all her mistakes, Klein has yet to lose this debate.

Instead most immediately take sides and instead of looking closer discount her completely even though you don't. What would interest me is a better understanding of how you are formulating the questions. I agree with the basic free enterprise better than central government control but you allude to insights to could benefit many of us.

Whoops! I meant, of course, that copyrights have stopped going public domain to protect the Mouse, of course. There's a rule, I think, that any comment that includes a nitpick will itself include a mistake.

Thank you David Zetland for posting the link to that podcast. I thought it was excellent and fits very well with views that I've developed myself. But it's depressing too: They argue pretty persuasively that there is no market alternative to pernicious consumerism. Nor is there a "moral" alternative. They seem to argue for a regulatory alternative (taxes on advertising, etc.) - but how realistic is that? It makes me ask wonder what drivers regulatory decisions in our democracies. It seems silly to propose regulatory alternatives in legislative system that's stacked against good social consequences. But if we reject these alternatives, what's left (besides simple pessimism)?

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