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America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Naomi Klein: Free-Market Ally?

I haven't read Naomi Klein's book The Shock Treatment: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (or her other books). But based on what I've read about it, she's probably going to be misunderstood by some libertarians and free-market economists. Although apparently an attack on corporatism (fascism), the book is bound to be seen as a criticism of the free market. I assumed that Klein would promote such understanding by an imprecise use of terms -- and to some extent she apparently does so. But perhaps I've underestimated her. I caught her appearance on Bill Maher's program the other night, and during her interview she explicitly said that practitioners of crony capitalism have hijacked the rhetoric of the free market to advance their self-serving cause. She drew a sharp distinction between the two systems. "[I]t's certainly not the free market. ...Ironically, it's the free-market ideology that gets used to propel this [corporatist] vision forward. It's not free for anybody but the contractors." (The interview is here.)

Her thesis is that crony capitalists use crises to foist their "reforms" on otherwise unwilling people. Sounds like it should be read in conjunction with Robert Higgs's Crisis and Leviathan.

Although Klein is not an advocate of a true free market, she seems to be an ally in struggle against corporatism. We should cultivate that alliance in public statements about her book and reinforce her inchoate view that being for the market is far from the same thing as being for capitalism.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.


Joe said...

Hi Sheldon,

I hadn't heard much of Naomi Klein either, so when I saw her mentioned again by Karen Kwiatowski in her article today at LRC, I looked her up in Wikipedia and followed the link to her home page and watched The Shock Doctrine Short Film. I think you ought to watch it before considering her a useful ally.

Sheldon Richman said...

I'm sure there's much to object to in her work. I'll watch the video with interest.

Brad Spangler said...

Well, there's one way to find out.

My assumption is that while she may make a distinction between corporate capitalism and a true free market position, she likely has never encountered a completely thoroughgoing critique of statist corporatism (or "capitalism") from a hardcore market anarchist perspective, and if she had she probably would have the usual reservations about market anarchism that the general public has, due to unfamiliarity with the doctrine(s).

Jeremy said...

Naomi Klein is most definitely a fellow traveler in our cause whom I have admired for some time. If you've never seen "The Take", which she was involved with, drop everything you're doing and go rent that. It's all about worker's repoing abandonded plants after capital flew from Argentina and making them profitable again through worker owned coops. It's a powerful example of labor's natural advantages once the playing field is leveled even slightly.

She's also incredibly cute, so another +1 for her.

Anonymous said...

Sheldon and Brad,

I think Naomi Klein falls into the same trap that confounds many of the more intelligent socialists who realize the extensive corporatism of "actually existing capitalism." That is, easily sliding back and forth between indictments of corporatism and condemnation of free-market economics in general, even when they're aware of the contradictions. It's essentially reverse vulgar libertarianism. Noam Chomsky is another prominent example of this tendency.

Part of it is just prejudice deriving from ingrained distrust in market economics.

More significantly, everybody's heard so much "free-market" rhetoric used for evil purposes by this point that even genuine libertarianism sets off alarms. That's understandable. It's especially unconvincing if argument for made to the tune of "That's fake free-trade. Let's try real free-trade." and ends with an endorsement of Ron Paul. To the average person, that sounds about as convincing as Leninists criticizing Stalinism and proposing a do-over of the October Revolution.

This rambles, so I'll cut to the chase. At a time when our ideas have been so grossly distorted, I would be very relieved to see the same criticisms of state-capitalism being made by people who aggressively advocate real free-markets as a solution, in a way that can reach such a large a large audience like Klein's work does. It seems like the only thing that can clear our name and end the confusion at this point.

Mark Sunwall said...

I havn't read her book. Does she talk about the privatization of nursing? For that matter, does anyone talk about the possiblities of nursing and free enterprise? As a profession it seems solidly in the pocket of the so called social democrats...and I wonder if there are underlying structural reasons why that can never change.

Anonymous said...

We need more free-market advocates who look this good! We also have Liv, the Ron Paul girl.