Naomi Klein and the 9th Commandment

Naomi Klein is a darling of the left. So of course it’s no surprise that evangelicals love her. Her Shock Doctrine is a bestseller and evangelicals are using it as a foil for critiquing “empire.” I remember being at Wycliffe College around the time of the book’s publication and of course, Brian Walsh was leading a seminar on it. Another seminar leader, in a title that only a precocious grad student could come up with, gave a talk entitled, “Plots, Pressures and Penetration: Neo-Conservative Economics and the Injustice of Rape.” Wow. Walsh’s solution? We need to have a liberated imagination (I knew Walter would show up somewhere) that is shock-resilient.

The problem with this is that it’s all a lie. Klein claims that capitalism is ruthless for it goes with disaster and brutality. Profit hungry capitalists use “shocks” to consolidate their power and push through pro market reforms that would have never gone through had it not been for people being in a daze due to the shocks. Klein even goes so far as to suggest that disaster capitalist don’t just use shocks, they manufacture them.

The man behind all this? The dastardly Milton Friedman.

Klein believes this to be the case due to an out of context quote from one of Friedman’s “most influential essays”:

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depends on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

Sounds damning, doesn’t it? That is, until you read it in context. Johan Norberg of the Cato Institute writes the following:

But the quote is not from one of Friedman’s most influential essays. It’s from the very brief introduction to the 1982 edition of Capitalism and Freedom (which was originally published in 1962). And it’s not welcoming disasters, it’s about pointing out the relatively uncontroversial fact that people change their ways when it seems like the old ways fail – something Klein does not contradict. In fact, from the example that Friedman provided (that interest in free markets grew as communism failed in China and the Soviet Union, and the US and UK suffered from stagflation), it is obvious that Friedman was not advocating shocks and crises to force anyone to abandon the old ways they cling to, but merely observing people themselves demanded change when old systems failed. But in the rest of the book, Klein pretends she has proved that Friedman was in favor of deliberately provoking crises.

Elsewhere in the Shock Doctrine Klein again takes Friedman out of context. She claims that when Friedman writes of the “tyranny of the status quo” he’s referring to the tyranny of voters. Because of this, a crisis is needed for politicians to bypass the democratic process. Again, Klein is wrong. Norberg writes:

For Friedman, the tyranny of the status quo was something entirely different – an iron triangle of politicians, bureaucrats, and special interest groups (businesses, for example) who advance their own welfare at the voters’ expense.

I’ve only just begun with this. One could point her fallacious rendering of the Chilean coup being neoliberal or egregious empirical claims regarding the success of free market capitalism (especially in Chile) but I’ve already written a boring enough post.

It’s cute that evangelicals are interested in world affairs and want to see the oppressed of the world liberated but violating the 9th commandment in service of the poor is no service at all. And it’s fine to be pissed off about what’s happening in Haiti, just don’t blame it on Milton.