In the future, if you tell a student or a journalist that you favor free markets and limited government, there is a risk that they will ask you why you support dictatorships, torture, and corporate welfare. The reason for the confusion will be Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
In a very short time, the book has become a 21st-century bible for anticapitalists. It has also drawn praise from mainstream reviewers: "There are very few books that really help us understand the present," gushed The Guardian. "The Shock Doctrine is one of those books." Writing in The New York Times, the Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz called it "a rich description of the political machinations required to force unsavory economic policies on resisting countries."
Klein's basic argument is that economic liberalization is so unpopular that it can only win through deception or coercion. In particular, it relies on crises. During a natural disaster, a war, or a military coup, people are disoriented, confused, and preoccupied with their own immediate survival, allowing regimes to liberal-ize trade, to privatize, and to reduce public spending with little opposition. According to Klein, "neoliberal" economists have welcomed Hurricane Katrina, the Southeast Asian tsunami, the Iraq war, and the South American military coups of the 1970s as opportunities to introduce radical free market policies. The chief villain in her story is Milton Friedman, the economist who did more than anyone in the 20th century to popularize free market ideas.
To make her case, Klein exaggerates the market reforms in question, often ignoring central events and rewriting chronologies. She confuses libertarianism with the quite different concepts of corporatism and neoconservatism. And she subjects Milton Friedman to one of the most malevolent distortions of a thinker's ideas in recent history.