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Doctrinal Heresy: Who’s Afraid of Milton Friedman

The Shock Doctrine:  The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein http://www.naomiklein.org/main The stakes are high.  Page 22 This summer I was invited to be a guest on a local cable show.  I arrived early and met the guest scheduled to go before me.  (His presentation was about pressure points in the body I think.)  He asked me what I was going to talk about.  I showed him my book Cocktail Party Economics and he said that he hoped I wasn’t going to talk about the economics of Milton Friedman because he thought he was a terrible man who condoned the torture of disidents in Chile.  I was shocked.  That was news to me.  Where on earth did this information come from? Then it dawned on me.  This man’s view of free market economics was completely formed by the book The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein.   He is not alone I am afraid. Ms Klein’s book is a perfect example of the phenomenon that happens when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  She writes beautifully about how the Right conspires  to  shock  poor helpless people/countries out of their Left-Wing Socialist utopia.   Unfortunately, she filters every story she tells through this particular sinister ideological lens . Since Ms Klein is so fond of analogy let me give you one of my own.  Let’s say a  chain smoker is diagnosed with lung cancer.  The doctor then tells the patient to stop smoking and begins a series of horrific treatments based on the faint hope that the patient can be cured.  The patient then experiences terrible side effects and her husband  locks her in a room, refusing give her cigarettes.  All the while he screams at her through the door and occasionally goes in and knocks her about in order to get her to stop her protests.  Ironically, he was the one who got her addicted to the cigarettes in the first place. Fortunately,  she manages to live but the doctor is then blamed by the patient and her friends for the horrible side effects of the treatment, for the agony of the addiction in the first place, and for the very abusive and hypocritical behaviour of the husband. In my story the patient is a left-wing socialist country and the doctor is a right leaning economist.  Furthermore, the patient is  in deep economic trouble – dying a slow and agonizing death through hyper-inflation and public debt caused by inept governments (elected or unelected) and irresponsible central bankers.   In comes the economist who, admittedly has a  very right-wing economic ideological bent and prescribes harsh economic treatment. The side effects are distressing—high unemployment and a recession, coincident with a political leader unconcerned about human rights violations.   While the inflation is cured quickly,  it takes a while to recover from both the economic treatment and the political leader.  (By the way, Milton Friedman would never recommend torture and political censorship.  His book is called Free to Choose  for pity’s sake.) As I read the endorsements on the back of the book, I found it odd that  not one person was an economist since this book is supposedly about Economics.  Surely the publisher could have solicited at least one economist to endorse the book.  (The comments were mostly from writers and actors.)  After the book hit the shelves,  it was hard to to find a reputable economist writing  anything nice about it. The Economist slammed the book and the kindest review was from  economist Joseph Stigliz (Nobel Prize winner), a critic of Milton Friedman’s  economic perscriptions and sympathetic with many of  Ms Klein’s concerns. Yet he too, damns her with faint praise.  Stigliz found her book over-the -top but said  that he didn’t blame her because she wasn’t an academic.  It is too bad she didn’t send the manuscript to him before it was published.  I am sure his feedback would have produced a much better yet less sensational book. Lucky for her, sensationalism–particularly in the form of comspiracy theories–is  one of those things that helps sell books in our free market system.  

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Comments (2)

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    Estrella Matya

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    Would you mind if I posted this post on my web page? I would certainly give you credit and a link back to your website. Many thanks, and please let me know here, or email me!

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      Evie Adomait

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      Go ahead and repost.

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