Friday, September 12, 2008

Naomi Klein responds to critics

/ a mob of straw men /

A while ago I ran across a criticism of Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" by Jonathan Chait, editor at the New Republic, and not an impressive prognosticator, titled Dead Left. Had one not read the book, it could possibly sway somebody into believing that it was some sort of debunking of Klein's positions regarding disaster capitalism and neoliberalism (an excerpt of the book can be found here). Reading the criticism however after having actually read the book, you're left to fume about the hordes of wild straw men that Chait has let loose, the implicit ad hominems and the disingenuousness displayed. Simply put Chait either skimmed through the book, or he was consciously distorting Klein's positions.

I was fairly sure that Klein would respond to this and as mentioned in the Opinion Mill that this would produce "a debate in which she defends The Shock Doctrine against Chait’s schlock snarking... [making] mincemeat out of him." Well she responded and she did make mincemeat out of him - and the Cato Institute which published a briefing paper with what seems as an equally unconvincing attack against Klein.

In Naomi Klein's response, she tears down among other claims, the single argument against the book that I though had merit: the assertion that she doesn't mention Milton Friedman's opposition to the Iraq war, despite attributing to him the political ancestry of the ideas that leas to the Shock treatment of Iraq. Yes, it wasn't an essential part of the argument, surely, but it should have been mentioned. Well I was wrong. Although Friedman was against the war in 2006 (taking his word for it: "As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression"), Klein points to an interview with the Nobel Laureate in the German magazine Focus in April, 2003 (original German, English translation), where Friedman sounds pretty much the cheerleader for Bush's invasion, and mixes cynicism with quite astonishingly poor predictions about the near future (and not only about Iraq) - a magnificent display of assertive non-wisdom, really.

Anyway, I yearn for the day when anyone meaningfully left of center will be attacked for things he or she said and wrote, rather than for the reviewer's misunderstanding of it (there must be some valid criticism of Chomsky somewhere, by people who have actually read him and are to his right - right? So far I haven't found any). It has been pointed out that among the serious, you can't even agree pretty much with Naomi Klein, without first denouncing her in some way.


Frank Partisan said...

Attacking Chomsky is a right of passage task, if one is going to jump to the right. He is not beyond criticism, but often they border on pure libel.

Klein has a smart analysis. In terms of domestic politics, she has illusions about the Democratic Party.

Obama's economic advisors are from the University of Chicago.

Anonymous said...

I'll give that last link again, was a bit messed due to length:
Klein - Democracy Now

Anonymous said...

Could Libertarian learn some Logic. None of the quotations he cites(mis-cites) say at any time that Milton Friedmann was a neo-conservative.
These people are slippery-their roots in Right-Trotskyism no doubt help to account for this. The doctrine of refusing to accept characterization -however accurate is to be found there.
The Cato institute is to argument what Dr Goebbels was to Germany.

kstamos said...

Have you even read the Cato briefing paper? Klein tacitly admits that she has no answer to the bulk of the paper (from page 6 onwards), where the author starts with the phrase: "Even though Klein is wrong about Friedman, she could be right about her broader thesis that it is easier to liberalize in times of crisis, and that there is a close connection between economic liberalization and violence and dictatorships." and then devotes 15 pages to demolish any semblance of argumentation that Klein pretends to have.

Look at Klein's response:
"There are many more straw men propped up in The Cato Institute paper. Most involve vastly inflating the role I attribute to Milton Friedman."

Her only mention of the meat of Cato's argument:

"The Cato paper does, at times, acknowledge that there are facts in my book, but faults me for failing to provide sources for my statistics. This is a bold charge to make against a book with 74 pages of endnotes."

talos said...

The thing is if you read the Cato paper having read the book, you see a vast field of straw men littering the briefing paper.
WHat she says: "Most of the attacks on The Shock Doctrine involve manufacturing claims, falsely attributing them to me, then handily tearing them down", is pretty much accurate.
But since that task of debunking the debunkers would be colossal, I refer the interested reader to the actual book which is the only sure way to evaluate the "criticism" offered... I also should refer to Stiglitz's review of the book, generally positive and vastly better at reading comprehension...

kstamos said...

Well you have then to admit that she does not even come close to responding to the Cato paper. She simply dismisses it. That is why I believe your post ("Naomi Klein responds to critics") is wholly inaccurate.
Furthermore, I really fail to see the straw men that the Cato paper supposedly creates. Is her main thesis that, as Cato says: "it is easier to liberalize in times of crisis, and that there is a close connection between economic liberalization and violence and dictatorships." or not? This is a thesis that the Cato paper thoroughly demolishes, whether it is actually Klein's position or a straw man.