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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Klein has yet to lose this debate

Marginal Revolution Small steps toward a much better world.
Every claim is wrong Tyler Cowen
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. Posted by Tyler Cowen on September 19, 2007 at 01:33 PM in Books Permalink
Comments
Tyler, What exactly is question of "this debate"?
Posted by: Will Wilkinson at Sep 19, 2007 1:54:47 PM
Isn't the question of "markets vs. democracy" a bit strange? Certainly something has to stand above democracy or it will just be dictatorship by the majority. Isn't the Constitution above democracy? And isn't basic human rights above democracy? Or should be at least.
With the same line of thought I could see an argument for markets above democracy if we by markets mean mutual voluntary exchange. Of course the Naomi Kleins are leading this debate, but in some ways it seems to me that the question is not rightly put. Of course those in power can do anything they want, but it seems to me that this question should be put in the same terms as the habeas corpus/war on terror debate.
Posted by: Lars Hvidberg at Sep 19, 2007 2:01:41 PM
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.
Posted by: 8 at Sep 19, 2007 2:06:45 PM
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.
Aside from THAT Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? ;)
Posted by: Steve Horwitz at Sep 19, 2007 2:18:11 PM
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?
Posted by: Mike Giberson at Sep 19, 2007 2:18:19 PM
I think I might phrase the debate the following way:
Given the choice between the choices below A) Free market private property economy with little safety netB) Centrally planned government property economyC) Mixed economy with some safety net and some degree of planning/efficiency-impairing interventions
People will vote with their ballots for C, with some fringe elements voting for A and B. Given a choice to vote with their feet, people will migrate to economy A or C, but not to economy B.
Posted by: Mike D at Sep 19, 2007 2:19:18 PM
I warned the readers that Tyrone is apt to show up unexpectedly.
Posted by: Alex Tabarrok at Sep 19, 2007 3:03:04 PM
I'm glad you let us know the valuable idea at the heart of this book. I would have deeply regretted having to stagger through the tripe to get to it myself.
For that valuable service, I shall click through on one of your sponsors.
Posted by: dzot at Sep 19, 2007 3:10:17 PM
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.
Posted by: Brad Hutchings at Sep 19, 2007 3:26:51 PM
Brad says "By brushing over lots of things with little depth or analysis, she repeatedly hits on emotional keywords that hide the nonsense."
And then he says "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."
I love the comments section of this site!
Posted by: aaron_m at Sep 19, 2007 3:41:57 PM
http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070914/belinda_Stronach_070914/20070914?hub=Health
Posted by: Juan at Sep 19, 2007 3:54:57 PM
Wow, I just watched the 'shock doctrine' short video on YouTube. Yup, it's official, not only is Naomi Klein a complete quack, but she's actually a blood-thirsty Stalinist!
Posted by: JAS at Sep 19, 2007 4:06:46 PM
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.
Posted by: Jigga Wha? at Sep 19, 2007 4:32:08 PM
I agree with Will - what's the debate? Tension exists between democracy and any policy agenda. For example, there is a tension between believing that gay couples hav a right to get married if they chose and the democratic rejection of gay marriage, but nobody talks about how the proponents of gay marriage experience "discomfort with democracy."
Citing Bryan on it also seems odd, since his take on why democracies make bad economic decisions could just as easily apply if he were a hardcore socialist and the ignorance of the voters was of the finer points of socialist economics.
Bonus anti-Klein commment:
The argument that Chicago Schoolers have managed to hijack American foreign policy towards some nefarious hidden agenda despite having a modest at best impact on domestic policy is risable.
Posted by: MattXIV at Sep 19, 2007 4:51:06 PM
...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.
Posted by: shawn at Sep 19, 2007 5:06:25 PM
When you think about what democracy is, the right of 50% of the population to overrule the individual's decision, I doubt very many people really think democracy should stand above everything else. When you think about it that way, you realize what an arbitrary number 50% is; this is recognized in the constitution via the need for super majorities, and more to overrule certain acts. People just disagree over what arbitrary percentages of the population should be required in what situation.
Posted by: josh at Sep 19, 2007 5:09:08 PM
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.
Posted by: oleg at Sep 19, 2007 6:07:37 PM
Yes she refuses to admit that Chilean reforms, however horrible the accompanying atrocities, did represent a success for market economics.
As libertarians like to remind us, you can't make an omelet without tossing some people out of helicopters.
Posted by: Kieran at Sep 19, 2007 6:08:33 PM
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.
Posted by: Brad Hutchings at Sep 19, 2007 7:15:26 PM
Tyler's open-minded approach to Klein's book makes me think of a similar open-minded approach put forth by Homer Simpson:
Please, please, kids, stop fighting. Maybe Lisa's right about America being the land of opportunity, and maybe Adil's got a point about the machinery of capitalism being oiled with the blood of the workers.
Homer - "The Crepes of Wrath"
Posted by: Bill Kaminsky at Sep 19, 2007 7:50:50 PM
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!
Posted by: David Zetland at Sep 19, 2007 8:48:10 PM
zetland...heath and potter are the authors of 'rebel sell' :) thanks for the pointer to the podcast, that'll be fun to hear.
Posted by: shawn at Sep 19, 2007 8:51:07 PM
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.
Posted by: Bernard Yomtov at Sep 19, 2007 9:18:26 PM
We should not forget to distinguish explicitly between "Social Democracy" which is intentionally tyranny of the (somehow holy yet unwashed) masses and "Constitutional Democracy" defined by a codification of the old "one's rights end where another's rights begin" social contract. We should also note that free markets only exist in the petri dish of legal rights arising from a necessarily prior constitutional system. To suggest that markets are above (aka. prior to) democracy is simply childlike confusion. Democracy is not Klein's kind of holy.
In reality, we do live in anarchy, and efficient markets always fully express the collective wisdom (and folly) of humanity. By anarchy I mean the failure of persistent institutions to live up to the principles by which they were chartered, and those institutions which are not chartered by principle or persistent. The cited idea (supposedly belonging to the naive Naomi Klein) that a burgeoning market economy sometimes follows brutal classist tyranny is so boring I am surprised at the vitality of this comment chain. I don't think our dear author could have supplied the energy here. It's a little like BYOBeef in here.If we can't maintain topic discipline, how should we expect rigor in the books written for us? Nobody will believe we could appreciate the extra effort.
Posted by: Jeremy McMillan at Sep 19, 2007 9:54:52 PM
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.
Posted by: John Pertz at Sep 19, 2007 10:01:18 PM
Canada's National Post last week ran a series of excerpts of the Klein book, with an accompanying debunking column. It was wonderful.
Posted by: Eric Crampton at Sep 19, 2007 11:04:22 PM

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