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The Truthdig Interview With Naomi Klein
Posted on Jun 26, 2008
Anderson: I could see how maybe some followers of Milton Friedman might say you’re drumming up conspiracy theories, but it’s hard to argue with the evidence that you’re presenting here and in your book. So, what do you say, or what might you say, to critics who think you’re making connections and seeing deliberate actions on the part of these governments that just aren’t there?
Klein: Well, everything in my book is documented. And calling me a conspiracy theorist is just a political strategy. It’s not actually an argument—it’s a way to not have an argument. It’s an argument avoidance strategy. And, you know, I’m really careful not to make any claims that I can’t source. And my sources are the right-wing economists themselves, which is what I think drives them most crazy. I mean, one of my most favorite reviews for the book was a negative review in the Financial Times where he says, “The worst thing she does is quote the Financial Times to bolster her argument.”
Anderson: Consider the source.
Klein: It’s true! I found the Financial Times enormously [helpful]. ... And, you know, I don’t quote other “lefty,” you know, analysts to support my claims, much as I may enjoy reading their writing. That’s not what’s supporting this argument. Now, I think there is a real pushback now from the true, you know, hard-core Friedman fanatics, like the Cato Institute has published an attack paper on the book, and ... Reason [magazine] has sort of an unnatural obsession and so on.
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And the University of Chicago, for various reasons, became ground zero for that pushback, for that counterrevolution. And Milton Friedman, because he is a tremendous popularizer, really led the way and played an important historical role, meeting with many political leaders, acting as their adviser.
But this isn’t about him. And, for instance, in this Cato Institute background paper, the writer talks a lot about how Milton Friedman only went to Chile once and met with Augusto Pinochet once, you know, that hardly constitutes influence. Well, first of all, I make that clear in my book that he only went there once, but the whole point of those three chapters is that there was a massive program that was started by the U.S. State Department to bring hundreds of Latin American students to the University of Chicago to study.
Anderson: Right, the exchange program.
Klein: Yeah, and then to go back to Chile and take up top positions in Pinochet’s government as finance minister, head of the Central Bank. So, this is so much bigger than Friedman, and the response is only focused on Friedman. And it’s only focused on redeeming his name. And ... the truth is that the far right doesn’t have, or the far economic right, doesn’t have a lot of gurus, right ... [they] don’t have a lot of heroes like this. There’s Reagan ... but intellectual heroes—there really aren’t many, right?
Klein: I mean, who—Ayn Rand? It’s a thin bunch. And Friedman and his family are really quite obsessed with legacy. In one of his last interviews—I just saw a clip of it on the Cato Institute Web site—he talks about how the real test of his influence is not what people think of him now but what they’ll think of him in 25 years. So, there was, you know, a great deal of consciousness about securing a place in history. And when Milton Friedman died in 2006, it seemed that his place was pretty secure, I mean, the obituaries and memorials were just across-the-board hagiography. And that’s changing, you know, and that’s threatening. And so now there’s this pushback that I think is really not about the economic legacy of these policies but much more about a man and his fans and his family wanting to protect their version of the role he played in history.
And what’s interesting is that ... the fiercest fight is actually happening right now at the University of Chicago, where it was announced three weeks ago that there’s going to be a Milton Friedman Institute—a $200-million Milton Friedman Institute—to carry his legacy forward, and it was launched by Gary Becker, who was one of his students and a real disciple—a true Chicago-school ideologue who still teaches at the school. And what’s interesting is that there’s been a little bit of a rebellion of academics at the University of Chicago. And more than 100 of these professors, faculty members, have signed a protest letter talking about how it’s already so difficult for them ... and these are not economists—they’re anthropologists, they’re historians, political scientists ... how difficult it is for them to travel in the global South, like in Latin America and Africa, and be associated with the Chicago School of Economics, because it is seen as having done so much damage around the world. This is really unprecedented—the idea that Milton Friedman’s name would be seen as a liability at his own alma mater!
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