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Hey Naomi Klein. You’re Wrong!

Posted by: Mitch Rofsky @ Oct. 20, 2014, 2:49 p.m.

OK, You’re Not That Wrong—It’s Just the Title of Your New Book…

Well-known progressive author, Naomi Klein, has just released her latest book: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

Klein says that we can’t have a free market because its incentives will never stop business from destroying the climate. She calls this free market: capitalism.

But she doesn’t call for socialism.

Hmm…she hasn’t come up with a name for an economy that is between capitalism and socialism?

Here’s one:  “liberalism”—which represents regulated or mixed capitalism, not free market capitalism. But it’s still capitalism.

The fact is, liberals aren’t socialists—and shouldn’t be. Here’s why:

Socialism means government ownership—and government will never innovate like the private sector.  Even if it comes up with the innovations (which it certainly won’t in every case), it will often sit on them for fear of what it will do to existing jobs. We need innovation to increase everyone’s well being. Otherwise, it’s going to be a race between today’s Western middle class and the the world’s poor.  

Much of Klein’s effort is around framing—structuring climate change as more of an economic issue than an environmental issue.  This is effective—and special as conservatives have done a much more masterful job of framing than liberals.

But, in the U.S., the key frame isn’t around capitalism. It’s around our government, really about our history. Because to conservatives it’s all about the individual vs. the government.  

But that’s just wrong. The key frame for any country is really the marketplace vs. the government.

And the fact is: both are imperfect…and we need each to fix (or at least improve) the other.

Conservatives refuse to acknowledge the imperfections of the marketplace. Klein has focused on one of the more obvious ones: business can impose their pollution (in this case, carbon) on innocent third parties without internalizing their costs.

Only the government can fix this.

But it hasn’t.

Thus, the need for a carbon tax to price and internalize the climate change costs—and other externalities (i.e. oil spill clean-up).  As a result, fossil fuels would more accurately reflect their true costs (assuming no tax subsidies). Then alternative energy could compete without receiving subsidies as well.

Admittedly, framing is much harder for liberals than conservatives. Conservatives just need to criticize the government and promote the marketplace.  Liberals need to defend and criticize the government and the marketplace.

So Naomi, you’re doing a much better job of framing than your fellow progressives. But we still need an adjustment in your title. Perhaps: This Changes Everything: Free-Market Capitalism vs. the Climate. Or: This Changes Everything: Free-Market Capitalism vs. Regulated, More Perfect Capitalism.

You choose.

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