What if Naomi Klein is onto something?

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That’s Naomi Klein signing books, and me waiting expectantly for someone to bring me a book to sign, at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday (supereditor Ben Loehnen took the photo, with my camera). A few people did ask me to sign their books, and the guy running the Book Court tent asked me to sign the rest of their stock (about four copies), because my book was “selling like hotcakes.” Apparently hotcake sales are in the single digits in Brooklyn these days.

I bought Klein’s The Shock Doctrine a couple weeks ago because I thought I ought to read a few chapters before appearing on a panel with her (C-SPAN BookTV taped the panel discussion; I’ll post something when it airs). My knowledge of the book was previously limited to Jonathan Chait’s takedown of it. After reading the first third of it I would agree with Chait that she paints with an awfully broad brush. And I don’t really buy her depiction of torture and free-market economics as inextricably linked.

But I’m nonetheless pretty impressed with what I have read. Klein does a great job of marshaling recent history into a compelling, at times outrage-inducing narrative. And her account of how Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek gave their backing (tacit in Friedman’s case; entirely explicit in Hayek’s) to Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile has caused this particular Friedman and Hayek admirer to have some serious second thoughts. I knew the basics of Friedman’s involvement before, but Klein does a good job of exposing the excuses for it as pretty dodgy. Both Hayek (with The Road to Serfdom) and Friedman (with Capitalism and Freedom) had made the case that economic freedom was essential to liberty. But in the case of Chile they both decided that liberty was less important than free-market reforms. Which ought to seriously call into question their credibility as freedom fighters.

I should add here that Klein was quite charming in person and that I’m very impressionable. Just ask Ernie Sponzilli, who convinced me in kindergarten that he had a pet baby blue whale. But still, I’m thinking that maybe those of us in econowonkdom ought to stop dismissing Klein out of hand for her oversimplifications and polemics and start at least taking on the substance of her economic arguments.