History of Economics Playground

A Quick One (Message to Naomi)

Naomi KleinYesterday, I had my first introductory economics seminar with my new students. At the end of this 4-hour marathon, which included the definition of economics and some preliminary knowledge on methodology, economic history and the history of the discipline, one of my students, who, I had noticed, stared at me quite incredulously during my speech, approached me and asked me in an aside: "Mr. Giraud, have you read the Shock Doctrine?". My being a henchman of the capitalist system and an advocate of its innumerable horrors had been revealed to him.

Naomi, I understand that the business of ideas is a very competitive one and that it might be a bit easier to thrive there with some simplistic views of the world and a well-rounded rhetoric. It might even be nicer if you wear a fancy leather jacket which, I must admit, leaves a very good impression upon me - I love the red-and-white stripes on your right shoulder! - but, seriously: please stop brainwashing my students!



Klein is not an academic and cannot be judged as one. There are many places in her book where she oversimplifies. But Friedman and the other shock therapists were also guilty of oversimplification, basing their belief in the perfection of market economies on models that assumed perfect information, perfect competition, perfect risk markets. Indeed, the case against these policies is even stronger than the one Klein makes. They were never based on solid empirical and theoretical foundations, and even as many of these policies were being pushed, academic economists were explaining the limitations of markets — for instance, whenever information is imperfect, which is to say always.



Do Your Homework: Yes, I think we both agree on that. I am not trying to take Friedman's defence here. What is more problematic, though, is from an educational point of view, the fact that many newcomers who are coming to economics through Klein's book - there are many, I fear - are going to believe that all economists think like Friedman or, more precisely, that every economist who is pro-market at some point, underwrites the killing of thousands of people in Chili or everywhere else. I would not consider myself a libertarian; I am not a conservative, for sure; I think I can apply to myself the "mild liberal" tag (in both the European and the American sense of the term). I am not even a practicing economist, because though I teach introductory economics my main research work is in the History of Economics. Still, because of Klein's book (and probably because my student has not been able to read it with the adequate distance it required) I will have to spend a lot of time during my class being apologetic about a lot of things I will have to say. Every time I'll present the quantitative theory of money or the permanent revenue hypothesis, my student will see thousands of dead corpses and electro-schocked people. That's a bit excessive, right?


The evidence that the student has been brainwashed is that she asked you if you'd read a book? Next thing you know you will find that you have RATM fans in your classroom or running for public office, heavens protect us from the zombie communist hoards!


Yann, I understand that the business of ideas is a very competitive one and that it might be easier to thrive there by presenting a variety of simplistic views of the world to some introductory economics students, with well-rounded normative rhetoric like "dead-weight loss" and "equilibrium" presented as if they are positivist concepts despite the utter lack of a mathematically rigourous axiomatic system behind them. It might be even nicer if you wear a scruffy hoodie, some stubble, and a shaved widow's peak, all of which (I must admit) leave a very good impression on me - I especially love the black square-frame spectacles! - but seriously: stop asserting that anyone is making a more concerted effort than you are to brainwash your students!


@buermann and @economics: I must admit I laughed reading your comments. I am not a huge RATM fan but I like Against Me, Fugazi and Converge (among others) so I think this is fine with me. I also received another, more substantial, comment about this post - on the idea that Klein's book has not received the proper attention it should have received from the HET community, and also on the fact that I might be a bit unfair toward a student who, after all, has just read a book and wanted to learn more about it (which is also buermann's argument, right?). So let's say these are well taken points and that they'll deserve more than a simple comment, so give me a break and let me write another blog posting on why, to me Klein's book pose a certain number of issues, some of which are useful and legtimate and some of which are, to me and from a historical perspective, much more problematic. 


Yann, that is just a brilliant little post, and the commentary has me smiling and laughing. I for one thoroughly enjoyed the Shock Doctrine and may well mourn the fact that budding economists are not tempted to the topic by The Worldly Philosophers like they used to be. But then again, if you have undergraduates reading whole books (gasp) and wanting to come and argue about theory and some of the evidence, that can't be a bad thing. In fact, it sounds like you could have a really good year, with a bit of scepticism thrown in.  And hey, if the implementation of a theory has led to thousands of deaths (be it pre germ-theory of disease; or washington consensus linked neo-classical theory) then perhaps it is useful to get that bit of perspective into the frame.

Either way, you potentially have several hundred eager and interested students. That in itself is a ressource you should not let go to waste ! 


How ridiculous can you be? The fact is that the "Shock Doctrine" refers to a process parallel to,...and built upon a process of brainwashing by unscrupulous people abusing power and victimizing, in great measure, innocent people in the process. The truth is that Naomi Klein has revealed contextual historical patterns of economic abuse over entire demographics that economics has assisted and facilitated in spreading around the world. The political agenda of economics is insidiously cloaked as academic, but the fact is that academia has been captured and privatized for vested class interests. You should be ashamed of yourself for chastising Naomi Klein for filling in the historic blanks that you have so elegantly selectively neglected in your facilitation of profiteering as economic discipline.

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