In Defense Of Scott Walker's Crisis Exploitation

by Jonathan Chait | February 25, 2011

Paul Krugman cites Wisconsin as confirmation of Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine":

The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” which argued that it was part of a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.
Which brings us to Wisconsin 2011, where the shock doctrine is on full display. 

Well, Klein's attempt to demonstrate that conservatives have a particular tendency to exploit crises was fatally flawed, as I argued in a 2007 review.

I agree that Scott Walker and his allies have displayed relentless intellectual dishonesty in their robotic insistence on pretending their argument centers around the budget and refuses to acknowledge that Democrats and unions have accepted austerity budget cuts. But we need to disaggregate a few concepts here. Taking power during a crisis, and using political power to enact an agenda who reach goes beyond remedying that crisis, is neither wrong nor a tendency particular to the right. Many parts of the New Deal had nothing to do with ending the Depression.

Indeed, the quote that most closely fits Klein's "Shock Doctrine" thesis is Rahm Emanuel's admonition not to waste a crisis. Now, conservatives have recycled this quote endlessly, often making Klein-like arguments about the sinister liberal method of exploiting crises. I find these equally unpersuasive. But it's true that Obama combined counter-recessionary policies with other goals. Obama decided, correctly, that the economic crisis required a large dose of Keynesian spending. What should we spend the money on? Well, Obama sensibly figured you might as well spend it on valuable new programs like high-speed rail and competitive education grants. There was no macroeconomic justification for spending money on those things as opposed to highways or old-fashioned block grants. Obama saw his decision as killing two birds with one stone.

Likewise, there's nothing wrong in principle with Republican governors proposing to close their state deficit and bust unions at the same time. I disagree with the union busting. Moreover, they shouldn't lie about what they're doing, and it would have been nice if Walker admitted he planned to do this during the campaign instead of springing it on voters afterward. But that aside, there's no reason why Walker's budget measure should be narrowly restricted to the budget. 

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