Jonathan Chait’s takedown, and a possible new career for Naomi Klein

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Jonathan Chait has written an epic and perfectly Chaitian takedown of Naomi Klein for The New Republic (nothing else he writes will ever be as perfectly Chaitian as his takedown of Delaware, Rogue State; but this comes close).

I’d advise reading the whole thing just for the sheer pleasure of watching a master polemicist at work, but here Chait is on the chief villain of Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Milton Friedman:

In her telling, he is the intellectual guru of the shock doctrine, whose minions have carried out his corporatist agenda from Santiago to Baghdad. Klein calls the neocon movement “Friedmanite to the core,” and identifies the Iraq war as a “careful and faithful application of unrestrained Chicago School ideology” over which Friedman presided. What she does not mention–not once, not anywhere, in her book–is that Friedman argued against the Iraq war from the beginning, calling it an act of “aggression.”

Chait’s only words of praise for Klein have to do with her strength as an on-the-ground reporter documenting the horrors of globalization; his main frustration is that “when it comes to the right-wingers who constitute her book’s main subject, Klein’s reportorial spirit is nowhere to be found.”

I haven’t read The Shock Doctrine, so I can’t say whether Chait is entirely right–although I would agree that anyone who depicts Milton Friedman as a neoconservative, as Klein apparently does, has little understanding of the man or the conservative movement. I have, however, read a large chunk of No Logo, the book that made Klein famous. And I recall being struck by how compelling and seemingly well-informed her depiction of the business of brands in the first few chapters of the book was. “We ought to get her to write for Fortune,” I told a colleague at the time. That didn’t go anywhere.

As the book wore on and Klein began to make the case that the age of brands was over, I found her progressively less credible and compelling. I stopped reading somewhere around the halfway point (I do that with a lot of nonfiction books, I’m afraid; including, um, Chait’s The Big Con).

A couple weeks ago, though, I got the galleys in the mail of an upcoming book called The Brand Bubble: The Looming Crisis in Brand Value and How to Avoid It, by a couple of guys at Young & Rubicam. Naomi was right! So I’m thinking that if she ever tires of this capitalism-bashing thing, she might have a very promising future in the advertising business.