“There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud,” said Milton Friedman.
The neoliberal, ‘Chicago School’ of economics that Friedman was a proponent of bolstered an era of shareholder capitalism and globalisation that defined the business world for decades.
But in the 21st century, increasing numbers of individuals, thinkers and academics have criticised Friedman’s school of thought, along with the ideas of globalisation, deregulation of markets and the concept that global corporations only have a responsibility to their shareholders. Perhaps one of the most significant criticisms raised over the last two decades is the link between capitalism and climate change – an idea that was ushered onto the international stage by one of the most prominent thinkers, journalists and activists today: Naomi Klein.
Who is Naomi Klein?
Born in Canada in 1970 to a politically active family, Klein studied Politics and Philosophy at the University of Toronto before taking a job at Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail.
She has since become an award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author, and is currently University of British Columbia tenured Professor of Climate Justice and co-director of their Centre for Climate Justice.
Klein first achieved international acclaim in 2000, with the publication of her first book. No Logo analysed the branding and marketing practices of global corporations, particularly focusing on the way in which global corporations sought to alter individual consciousness in line with branded lines.
No Logo introduced her as an important emerging figure in the anti-globalisation movement, but it was her second book, The Shock Doctrine, that garnered international acclaim and solidified her position as a leading thinker of the 21st century.
What are her key arguments?
Moments of crisis are exploited by corporations and benefactors of capitalism in order to push through social, political and economic changes.
In The Shock Doctrine, Klein pioneered the study of disaster economics: the rapid-fire corporate reengineering of societies still reeling from shock. Klein cites examples including Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973, the Falklands War in 1982, the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City.
Klein directly draws on Friedman’s version of capitalism as a facilitating concept: “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around,” Friedman says. “That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”
“Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life.”Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything
Klein argues that major economic moments of crisis trigger a sense of shock, which is exploited by key figures in global capitalism in order to create political, social and economic changes that would otherwise have been impossible to orchestrate.
“For economic shock therapy to be applied without restraint,” Klein states, “some sort of additional major collective trauma has always been required, one that either temporarily suspended democratic practices or blocked them entirely.”
The Shock Doctrine was also adapted into a short film, created by Naomi Klein and film director Alfonso Cuarón.
Contemporary capitalism is the main cause of climate change.
In 2014, Klein extended the philosophy that she introduced in The Shock Doctrine with her second book, This Changes Everything, which was also made into a documentary in 2018. She posited that climate change comes as a direct result of global capitalist economies, and that deregulated capitalism renders the fight against climate change futile.
“Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life,” Klein argues. “What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”
“We can build a better future, if we’re willing to change everything.”Naomi Klein
Her view of the future
Klein’s critical perspective on globalism, neoliberalism and climate change are not without hope or a vision of the future. Many of her lines of argument seek to empower individuals to reach a more balanced and nuanced understanding of the world around them so that they can make positive changes.
Her most recent book How To Change Everything: The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Earth and Each Other was published in 2021 and encourages young people to feel more engaged, empowered and hopeful about creating a better world to live in.
“I wrote this book to show you that this change for the better is possible,” Klein writes. “The goal is to fight climate change while also making a fair and livable future possible for everyone. And young people are not just part of that movement. They are leading the way … We can build a better future, if we’re willing to change everything.”
- What is the Friedman Doctrine? – The Beautiful Truth
- How To Change Everything: The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Earth and Each Other, Naomi Klein (2021)
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein (2014)
- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein (2007)
- A Conversation with Naomi Klein – The Beautiful Truth