Defaming Milton Friedman: Naomi Klein's Disastrous Yet Popular Polemic against the Great Free Market Economist

By Norberg, Johan | Reason, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Defaming Milton Friedman: Naomi Klein's Disastrous Yet Popular Polemic against the Great Free Market Economist


Norberg, Johan, Reason


The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein, New York: Metropolitan Books, 576 pages, $28

IN THE FUTURE, if you tell a student or a journalist that you favor free markets and limited government, there is a risk that they will ask you why you support dictatorships, torture, and corporate welfare. The reason for the confusion will be Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

In a very short time, the book has become a 21st-century bible for anti-capitalists. It has also drawn praise from mainstream reviewers: "There are very few books that really help us understand the present," gushed The Guardian. "The Shock Doctrine is one of those books" Writing in The New York Times, the Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz called it "a rich description of the political machinations required to force unsavory economic policies on resisting countries."

Klein's basic argument is that economic liberalization is so unpopular that it can only win through deception or coercion. In particular, it relies on crises. During a natural disaster, a war, or a military coup, people are disoriented, confused, and preoccupied with their own immediate survival, allowing regimes to liberalize trade, to privatize, and to reduce public spending with little opposition. According to Klein, "neoliberal" economists have welcomed Hurricane Katrina, the Southeast Asian tsunami, the Iraq war, and the South American military coups of the 1970s as opportunities to introduce radical free market policies. The chief villain in her story is Milton Friedman, the economist who did more than anyone in the 20th century to popularize free market ideas.

To make her case, Klein exaggerates the market reforms in question, often ignoring central events and rewriting chronologies. She confuses libertarianism with the quite different concepts of corporatism and neoconservatism. And she subjects Milton Friedman to one of the most malevolent distortions of a thinker's ideas in recent history.

Exhibit A against Friedman is a quote from what Klein calls "one of his most influential essays": "Only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend 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 politically inevitable." This, says Klein, is "the shock doctrine" In a not-very-subtle short film based on the book, the quote appears over images of prisoners being tortured.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The quote is not, in fact, from one of Friedman's most influential essays; it's from a very brief introduction to a reprint of his book Capitalism and Freedom. And it is not a rationale for welcoming disasters; it's about the uncontroversial fact that people change their minds when the old ways seem to fail. Friedman provides a telling example, which Klein neglects to quote: Young Americans joined him in opposing the military draft after the Vietnam War forced them to risk their lives on another continent.

She also distorts other Friedman quotes to support her case. She pretends that Friedman's concept of "the tyranny of the status quo" refers the tyranny of voters, and that he believed crises were needed to bypass the democratic process. But for Friedman, the tyranny was something entirely different: an iron triangle of politicians, bureaucrats, and special-interest groups (businesses, for example) that deceive voters.

Discussing Friedman's proposal to reduce inflation through sweeping market reforms, Klein writes, "Friedman predicted that the speed, suddenness and scope of the economic shifts would provoke psychological reactions in the public that 'facilitate the adjustment.'" This gives the impression that Friedman wanted to disorient people through pain in order to push through his reforms. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Defaming Milton Friedman: Naomi Klein's Disastrous Yet Popular Polemic against the Great Free Market Economist
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.