Are Our Soldiers Dying in Vain?

I think Obama stumbled so badly because he was trying not to utter the stupdity Edwards uttered just after him. For Edwards, I guess, death is never in vain as long as you signed up to follow orders, possibly in completely pointless wars.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

6 thoughts

  1. Why is this animus directed entirely toward Klein? She isn’t the only person to take issue with Friedman (controversy seems to have followed him for quite a while when he was alive); nor is she the only person to have written histories skeptical of the free market. One might consider David Harvey, or Walden Bello, or Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (a search of this website reveals not a single document mentioning these equally—and maybe more important—names). It seems to me that one can find Klein’s basic position communicated effectively in Hardt and Negri’s Multitude:
    If by free market one means a market that is autonomous and spontaneous, free from political controls, then there is no such thing as a free market at all. It is simply a myth . . .Even the free market of British capitalism’s liberal heyday in the mid-nineteenth century . . . was created and sustained by state power, an articulated legal structure, national and international divisions of labor, wealth, power, and so forth. An economic market is always necessarily embedded in a social market and ultimately in political structures of power. Those who advocate freeing markets or trade from state control and not really asking for *less* political control but merely a *different kind* of political control. (167-168)
    Even if you take issue with Klein’s narrative, one might say it attempts, for better or worse, to sketch out those different forms of “political control” Hardt and Negri claim are continually present. It would be much more difficult—and ultimately more productive—to take on this question.

    1. It is simply a myth…
      It is simply a myth that this is a myth, unless one wants to define away free markets by calling just about anything “political.” There are many cases of the enforcement of property rights and the persistence of trade free from state control (though if one includes coercion to mean emotional manipulation and such, as Wilkinson does, then no, it’s never been “free”). The American frontier, portions of medieval Italy, medieval Iceland, etc. In fact the creation of a state presupposes a previous level of wealth generating activity that could not have been state created and enforced.
      But even assuming states, I’d submit that increased levels of state control leads to cartelization and the tendency toward consumer unfriendly schemes. You can call the relatively easy exit of consumers from unsatisfactory commercial relations “political” if you’d like, but I’d disagree.

    2. Why is this animus directed entirely toward Klein? She isn’t the only person to take issue with Friedman…
      I think it’s because she’s been so obviously dishonest about what Friedman did, said, and believed.

  2. I see your thinking here, and it was my mistake in not giving a bit more context for this little quote. Hardt and Negri are talking here specifically about the way neoliberalism developed into the major (some commentators prefer the word “hegemonic”) economic discourse of the late 20th century. And while Antonio Negri’s position as an Italian intellectual engaged in a specifically Leftist tradition dictates, to an important extent, his application of the word “political” (for him politics tends to pervade most of life), here he seems to specifically mean “the presence or threat of violence.” The text goes on to say,
    Behind every labor negotiation stands political power and its threat of force. If there were no political regulation, that is, no relationship of force to solve labor conflicts, then there would be no capitalist market. This is, for example, how neoliberalism triumphed in the 20th century. That period of market freedom would not have existed if Prime Minister Thatcher had not defeated the miners in Wales and if President Reagan had not destroyed the union of air traffic controllers.” (168)
    Some of this narrative is taken up by Klein. Again: whether or not you believe her version of the story, violence is the theme linking it to the work of other the thinkers I mentioned. What that violence is, the shape it can take, is different depending on the observer. For Klein it’s the violence of dictatorial regimes; for Bello it’s the economic domination of the Global South; and so on. And even Tyler Cowen, in a 2003 interview conducted for reasononline, has speculated on the trade-offs of globalization, many of which contain moments of probably unintentional violence:
    As the world becomes more integrated, we lose a lot of dysentery and diarrhea and malaria and women dying in childbirth who don’t have to. There’s a whole list of benefits that we’re all familiar with, and those to me are most important. But in terms of culture, there is a loss. For instance, it’s absolutely true that a lot of languages are dying. There’s a gain because you bring people into a broader language network where they can write for others and they can read things by others. I don’t have a problem with that trade-off, but I don’t want to deny that something is lost. These vanishing languages are rich, and they’re interesting. There’s a net gain, but you can’t just paint a picture of an advance along all fronts. It’s not the reality.
    While this is actually a very unusual way of speaking about culture (which I can’t read more than twice without seeing a disturbing—and hopefully unintentional–equation of culture and shit), it does express an awareness of the real destruction of indigenous societies.
    What I’m trying to say here is that maybe Klein expresses, in just the loudest, most lurid terms, an attempt on the part of various writers to take the violence of these economic practices seriously. Now, you’re always free to throw Klein over your shoulder, but a number of others happen to also think there’s something wrong going on; it doesn’t matter if you call it “colonization,” “economic domination” or “linguistic loss.” I think ignoring, dismissing, or just laughing off Naomi Klein is being deaf to an audible and insistent refrain.

  3. I could put this even more succinctly. These writers ask us to take a position regarding the use of violence. Who or what legitimates our use of it? They also pose an ethical question: What does it mean to accept it as an inevitable part of economic development? These seem pertinent topics for conversation.

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