Herb Gintis on Naomi Klein

Herb Gintis is one of my favorite thinkers, and I find his Amazon reviews more interesting the the NYRB. So I’m sorry I missed his August review of the Shock Doctrine, and maybe you are too. Here it is. The peculiar thing about the review is that Gintis is rather gentler with Klein than he is with today’s big winner, Paul Krugman. He basically savages Krugman, but seems to extend to Klein the warmth of comradeship, apparently seeing in her traces of his own dissapointed socialist radicalism. He joins in on the Friedman bashing, heartily derides “free market economics,” and then quietly suffocates Klein’s own ideological dreams (so like his, once!) with a pillow and a sigh.

[Klein] reveals her own sympathies towards the end of the book, when she remarks that “Democratic socialism, meaning not only socialist parties brought to power through elections but also democratically run workplaces and land holdings, has worked in many regions, from Scandinavia to the thriving and historic cooperative economy in Italy’s Emilia Romagna region. It was a version of this combination of democracy and socialism that Allende was attempting to bring to Chile between 19870 and 1973.” (p.569) 


… it would be nice if Klein’s alternative were generally viable. Thomas Jefferson’s vision of forty acres and a mule would be vindicated, albeit in a more socially organized manner. But it is not. Worker’s control is a great dream (I dreamed it myself for many years), but it founders on the reality of capital diversification, which the worker-owned firm cannot handle. Cooperative land holding is just a myth, pure and simple, and always has been, throughout human history. 

Like many progressives, Klein’s instincts are anti-market (although even her precious cooperatives are marketing cooperatives, after all). It is a plain-faced fact that poor countries that have attempted to compete in the world market place rather than shelter themselves from it have done quite well, China and India being the most prominent. The idea that socialist cooperatives might outcompete capitalist firms has little going for it. Perhaps a country with mountainous oil revenues can play at sounding anti-capitalist (e.g., contemporary Venezuela), but the future of prosperity in virtually all poor countries depends on developing markets and state institutions that support markets in a synergistic and democratic manner. It is up to us to dirty our hands (and hearts?) to help them attain this, rather than remaining pure but ineffectual, fighting for a socialist world that, far from struggling to be born, simply cannot exist.

It’s the narcissism of small differences, I guess. Krugman gets it good and hard for being the wrong kind of market-friendly egalitarian liberal social democrat. Klein gets a lovingly exasperated “Oh Naomi!” for her benighted advocacy of the dangerously impossible. Yet, in the end, Gintis does not allow his sentiments to overcome his final judgment. Krugman and Klein both get two lousy stars.