The Chicago Boys laid waste the southern cone of Latin America in the name of unfettered private enterprise, but 125 years earlier a million Irish peasants starved to death while Irish grain was exported onto ships flying the flag of economic liberalism. Klein writes about "the bloody birth of counter-revolution" in the 1960s and 1970s, but any page from the histories of Presidents Jackson, Polk or Roosevelt discloses a bleak and blood-stained continuity with the past. Depatterning? Indian children were taken from their families and punished for every word spoken in their own language, even as African slaves were given Christian names and forbidden to use their own, or to drum. Amid the shock of the Civil War the Republicans deferred by several years the freeing of slaves, while hastening to use crisis to arrange a banking and monetary system to their liking.
but even as he is saying this, he really seems to be missing the point. As obvious as this may be to the average leftist with some sense of history, she does have a point in that the rise of American Empire (or, if you want to sound like the more PC Liberal version, "The American Century") has been accompanied by a significant ideology of "freedom" and "democracy." And there is a very clear bias towards remembering the last half century as one of the peaceful progress towards the "End of History."
On the other hand, as vitriolic as 1960s leftists like Cockburn were in their disdain for the welfare state, many of the social wage gains it provided were not just some corporate fleece job. Ditto the gains of civil rights. Yes these were won through struggle, but the international image of the US was in the forefront of the minds of the leaders who eventually had to re-write some of the hegemonic discourse to allow for these new articulations of freedom. No it was not an unmitigated success and yes there was still plenty of problems with the normalizing "regime of truth" through which the institutions of the state produced the ideal national subject.
The change in the 1970s, which Klein seems to be pointing to, is one in which many of those gains were articulated as some sort of special pleading by weenies who couldn't cut it rather than the hard won gains of people who actually contributed to the society--or as social supports for people who the state's actions (in line with the interests of globalizing capital) left in increasingly dire straits.
If Cockburn's argument is that there is never any difference in the relationship between capital and labor or capital and the state, then that, also, is an "interesting perspective" (as he says of David Harvey's Brief History of Neoliberalism). But it seems no more historically specific than Klein's account to say that nothing has really changed. On this point, I have recently been having some fairly unpopular thoughts.
I don't know much about Soviet history. I grew up in the Reagan presidency so my earliest understanding of it was as an "Evil Empire" But it seems like much of what was gained in the 20th century in the US was gained because the Soviet Union was always lurking as a counterbalance. I'm certain that the propagandistic image of that society that I had in the US was as filled with inaccuracies as the official version promoted by the Kremlin, so I can't say anything about how good it was for the Soviet people. It doesn't seem that it was a whole lot better than the social ruptures caused by capitalism and imperialism in the 19th century, but in world politics, it was at least there to keep the US (more) honest. The civil rights movement in the US and the anti-imperialism movements throughout the world not only had a friend in the Soviet Union, the possibility that they could be more friendly with the USSR than the USA made the latter pay a little more attention to (appearing) consistent. That, it seems, has been lost.
This brings me to Cockburn's example of India. I don't have sources handy on this, but I recall accounts of the pressure placed on India with the fall of the Soviet Union to transition quickly to an alliance with the US. I believe the discussions were related to the recent Nuclear alliance between the US and India, but the point was that there was a crisis that led to the Indian adoption of the neo-liberal model: the loss of its key strategic ally in the world. And clearly the Indian elite--like the Soviet elite, the Chilean elite, and the "global North" in general--were the greatest champions of this model at the time and its greatest beneficiaries. But there was certainly a cataclysmic change that took place.
It is in this context that the adoption of these policies appears to be natural and where people like Jeffrey Sachs can present a striking unawareness of the history of where the good stuff in the US came from in the interest of establishing a model that has rarely, if ever, existed in human history. The intervention Klein is making is to inform a new generation of the "global north" that it isn't just "brand bullies" we have to contest, but the entire model itself. And to do this sometimes requires the expulsion of some nuance from the argument in order to focus on some other nuances. Since her other recent work--such as the documentary The Take--is focusing precisely on the resistance to the model, I can't help but think Cockburn's critique is basically just another crusty leftist trying to retain his authority.
For even the most well organized, grassroots change in Latin America could be easily branded as some communist (or "terrorist") campaign by the sympathizers of global capital, which, because the repressive arm of the US state is currently tied may not result in the kind of intervention we saw in the cold war, but can let them legitimize local thuggery in its interests. This has been the tack taken, for instance, in the recent dealings of the Ecuadorian state with the indigenous movements there when they try to resist oil or mining on their lands--and they have one of the most well respected movements in Latin America. In other words, it is very public condemnations of the current model of capitalism that help provide the counter-hegemonic lens through which people in the North can better understand what their Southern neighbors are up to. In the end that may not help much since many of them wouldn't bother to stop some rent-a-cops from shocking an unarmed student five feet away, but every little counts, right.