Monday, September 24, 2007

Cockburn on Klein

The Sharp Side points to Alexander Cockburn's article in CounterPunch about Naomi Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine. Cockburn correctly observes that capitalism has always been brutal, as any reading of the history of English enclosures or the Irish famine will tell you. One point I had in mind in my recent post on "Disaster Capitalism", which used a review of Klein's book as a starting point, is that Neoliberalism essentially is capitalism. What’s “neo” about it is the re-assertion of the liberalization of trade, money, etc, from regulation, to the purpose of class war, disguised by the rhetoric of freedom for all. Milton Friedman, of course, is the big name, along with his Chicago boys. But Cockburn makes an important point that singling out Friedman misses the extent to which the mainstream liberal economists were touting the same line of bullshit throughout the 1980s and 19990s. Citing the left economist Robert Pollin (who I've been meaning to read; his Contours of Descent looks very good), he writes:
"Shock therapy" neoliberalism really isn't most closely associated with Milton Friedman, but rather with Jeffrey Sachs, to whom Klein does certainly give many useful pages, even though Friedman remains the dark star of her story. Sachs first introduced shock therapy in Bolivia in the early 1990s. Then he went into Poland, Russia, etc, with the same shock therapy model. Sachs' catchy phrase then was that "you can't leap over an abyss step-by-step," or words to that effect. This is really where contemporary neoliberalism took shape. And, it wasn't just Sachs.

It was also other slightly left of center mainstream economists, most notably Summers and Paul Krugman as well. To his credit, Krugman has now recanted; Sachs also, but only partially. It's true that you can make a case that this all goes back to Friedman. [. . .] But [. . .] to blame Friedman for the whole thing, and not how the entire economics mainstream went along--including the "liberals" like Sachs, Krugman, and Summers--is to let these people off the hook and to misrepresent history.
Cockburn quotes Pollin directly: "it's important to pummel the Sachs's of the world on this point, because they are changing, slowly. To get the world to change, their 1980s-1990s views need to be totally discredited. It's not enough to just say Milton Friedman was an ultra right winger and leave it at that."

Cockburn also chides Klein for her "catastrophism", pointing out that "[j]ust as there is continuity in capitalist predation, there is continuity in resistance". It's a point worth making. In a sense I was trying to hint in this direction in my post when I said that removing states from the equation makes it more difficult for resistance to take place. For how does one really resist a faceless, placeless corporation? But the truth is that I must admit that I am all too susceptible to a certain kind of catastrophism in my own thinking. I've been trying to rise above that kind of thinking, but it's a struggle for me. The interview with Iain Boal, also in CounterPunch, which I linked to last week, was an important reminder in this regard, as is this article by Cockburn, not to mention all of the writings of Noam Chomsky. There is work to do--and resistance does happen, it can happen, it has happened, victories large and small have been attained, many of which have indeed been overturned or undermined by neoliberal policies--hence, again, "neo"--but all the more reason to resist again, but resist better, win fuller, more secure victories. Things may look pretty shitty on many fronts right now, but that's no reason to succumb to thoughts of doom.

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