Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why I'd Rather Buy Two Cups of Coffee and Muffins

Following a Facebook discussion here, Ujang and I are amazed on how our friends on the left take Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine seriously. I can not say anything on Klein's argument since I haven't read the book. And here is why.

Imagine you have 10 bucks in your pocket. Then somehow you read Tyler Cowen's review that says
Rarely are the simplest facts, many of which complicate Ms. Klein's presentation, given their proper due. First, the reach of government has been growing in virtually every developed nation in the world, including in America, and it hardly seems that a far-reaching free market conspiracy controls much of anything in the wealthy nations. Second, Friedman and most other free market economists have consistently called for limits on state power, including the power to torture. Third, the reach of government has been shrinking in India and China, to the indisputable benefit of billions. Fourth, it is the New Deal — the greatest restriction on capitalism in 20th century America and presumably beloved by Ms. Klein — that was imposed in a time of crisis. Fifth, many of the crises of the 20th century resulted from anti-capitalistic policies, rather than from capitalism: China was falling apart because of the murderous and tyrannical policies of Chairman Mao, which then led to bottom-up demands for capitalistic reforms; New Zealand and Chile abandoned socialistic policies for freer markets because the former weren't working well and induced economic crises.
You may then say, but hey, Tyler is a conservative free-market economist. Fine, what about Dani Rodrik -- a respectable Harvard's KSG economist who is sympathetic to industrial policy and once write a book asking whether globalization has gone too far?

You may expect at least a kinder view. Instead he said that Shock Doctrine is a bad book needs to be trashed and it is very hard to understand how Klein felt good about Argentina in 2002 that just collapsed into a severe economic crisis, with a more than doubling of the share of population in extreme poverty and a 10 percent decline in GDP.

Need more evidence from the left? What about Will Hutton from The Observer, UK?
In her delusional, Manichaean world view, privatisation, free markets, private property, consumer freedom, the profit motive and economic freedom are just other terms for corporate self-enrichment, denial of voice, limitation of citizenship, inequality and, sometimes, even torture. The discredited electro-shock psychological treatment of the Fifties, we learn, informed the thought system of the free marketeers; it is guilt by association and assertion rather than proof, a weaknesses of too much of the book.
The only positive review I came across is from Stiglitz (I can see your baristas here yawn). But even he said:
Klein is not an academic and cannot be judged as one. There are many places in her book where she oversimplifies.
Enough said, it is a small wonder that I'd rather spend my 10 bucks for two cups of good coffee and muffins than Klein's book.

But then the Facebook discussion and the overwhelming praise from my comrades on the left gets me thinking that probably I should give Klein a fair chance. Maybe I can borrow the book from local public library, if they have a copy. Yet one thing for sure, it would have a very hard time to compete with other books I considered worth reading -- and I have a long list of them already.

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