One of my favorite progressive authors, Naomi Klein, posted a much-needed correction of a recent piece by Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, titled “How Milton Friedman Saved Chile,” in which he compares earthquake damage in Haiti and Chile. Klein’s correction underscores a dangerous trend in our country—that lies and misinformation are being pushed by our news media on a daily basis, without embarrassment or apology. In this example, Klein discovers that Stephens wrongly credits the Friedman-style, free market economics of the Pinochet years with providing better building codes in Chile. Forget that Milton Friedman never was a champion of building codes or anything else that would stand in the way of unfettered capitalism.
According to Stephens, the radical free-market policies prescribed to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet by Milton Friedman and his infamous “Chicago Boys” are the reason Chile is a prosperous nation with “some of the world’s strictest building codes.”
There is one rather large problem with this theory: Chile’s modern seismic building code, drafted to resist earthquakes, was adopted in 1972. That year is enormously significant because it was one year before Pinochet seized power in a bloody U.S-backed coup. That means that if one person deserves credit for the law, it is not Friedman, or Pinochet, but Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically elected socialist President. (In truth many Chileans deserve credit, since the laws were a response to a history of quakes, and the first law was adopted in the 1930s).
Naomi Klein’s piece provides us with the real story of pre-coup Chile, the Chile of the 1960s, which “had the best health and education systems on the continent, as well as a vibrant industrial sector and rapidly expanding middle class.” She reminds us that Chileans believed in their government, and freely elected Allende to further their democratic socialist project. And, yes, that the United States was central in overthrowing the Allende government and in installing a brutal dictator. I’m happy Naomi Klein took the time to set the record straight.
Naomi Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rises of Disaster Capitalism and a contributor to The Nation and The Huffington Post.