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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Imagine If NYT Columnists Like Thomas Friedman Had to Know About the Great Recession?

Imagine If NYT Columnists Like Thomas Friedman Had to Know About the Great Recession?

Saturday, 11 September 2010 23:06

Then they wouldn't write ridiculous things like: "our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word 'sacrifice.' All solutions must be painless." If someone told Friedman about the recession, that nearly 15 million people are unemployed, that nearly 9 million are underemployed, and millions more have given up working all together, then he would not be saying nonsense about how baby boomers are looking for painless solutions.

On this planet, the vast majority of baby boomers, who have to work for a living, are already experiencing vast amounts of pain. What planet does Mr. Friedman live on and why on earth is he given space in the NYT to spew utter nonsense?

Comments (30)Add Comment
written by jeff hoffman, September 11, 2010 11:50
In his perfect world everyone else needs to sacrifice more. The right wing likes to post pictures of Mr Global Warming's multithousand square foot domicile as a testimony to his seriousness on that subject. As far as the debates he would like to see between both parties about taxes, the deficit, education, etc., Obama has spoken on multiple occasions on all of these subjects.
Not really fair Dean...
written by Extinct Species, September 12, 2010 3:32
Not a Friedman fan but this is largely unfair. He didn't say people weren't being stuck with making sacrifices. He said "our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word 'sacrifice.' All solutions must be painless."

Don't you think that is basically true? I do. Which leaders are openly asking for sacrifice? There are a few but not many.
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
The catfood commission talks about sacrifice.
written by John Emerson, September 12, 2010 8:01
The catfood commission talks about sacrifice, and that's the kind Friedman wants. He just wants leaders to show more enthusiasm for the further sacrifices he has planned for us.
written by Darren , September 12, 2010 8:33

Disappointing comment Dean. I – and I imagine many others - read Beat the Press to review the misreads, misinterpretations, obfuscations and data cherry-picking of various journalists. Yesterday, rather than correction I read a factual slice and dice more worthy of McArdle or Brooks.

As others mentioned, you took Friedman’s statement that politicians only want painless solutions. Asking for any specific sacrifice from the populace is no longer acceptable. A quick look back at the combination of tax cuts and involvement in two wars and a comparison to the 70%+ top tax rates during Vietnam and the 90% + tax rates during WII and Korea supports Friedman’s contention. You completely ignore the politicians and the key “solution” part of the theme, so you may riff on “Friedman doesn’t know that people are suffering.” Then you go so far as to expand the comment and make it appear that Friedman was talking about the world. Poor work.

As if the spin wasn’t enough, you don’t point out an actual problem in the column. Friedman quotes Samuelson “ Why, he asked, have we spent so much money on school reform in America and have so little to show for it in terms of scalable solutions that produce better student test scores?” While I suppose one could easily call our education spending “so much money” we actually are 37th in education spending as a percentage of GDP. We are also 15th in teachers as a percent of the workforce. Oh, and Real teacher salaries have barely risen since 1991 and only are about 10% higher than the inflation adjusted salary of 1971.
written by jane hay, September 12, 2010 8:45
The last American leader who talked about mutual sacrifice is still made fun of by the media - Jimmy Carter. He had it right, but no one wants to listen. If I recall, he lost the election.
written by Eleanor, September 12, 2010 8:48
In what sense are the baby boomers responsible for any of the current mess? Their only crime has been to believe pundits and leaders and do what they were told to do. They got jobs. They worked. They spent money and kept the economy going, even though they couldn't entirely afford to do so. But their leaders told them to shop (remember George Bush after 9/11) and told them housing was a safe investment. Yes, they should have been more critical. Yes, they should have demanded more of society and life. But an entire, very powerful culture worked to keep them confused and compliant. In spite of this, America is in many ways a more decent place than it was when I was a kid -- less racist, sexist and homophobic. The big loss has been the destruction of the union movement. That wasn't done by ordinary Americans. It was done by the government and the bosses.
Great comment!
written by PL 11216, September 12, 2010 9:01
If I remember right Mr. Friedman lives on a flat planet.

The reason he can write this kind of thing is because it is glib nonsense likely to be taken as true by many NYT readers. The idea that Americans aren't willing to sacrifice or want "painless" solutions fits in with an elite perspective on people of the United States.
written by Darren, September 12, 2010 9:06

It was also the Baby Boomers who were putting the messages out there! An entire, very powerful culture? It was the same baby boomers who put the message out. "Greed is Good," remember that?

Frankly, it is a bit of a stretch to hang the mantle of les racist and homophobic on the boomer generation as well. The "greatest generation" passed the civil rights legislation, and those under 40 are leading the way for equal rights for homosexuals.

Frankly, your blame everyone but the boomers post reinforces statements that the boomers are neither willing to sacrifice nor willing to accept responsibility.
written by diesel, September 12, 2010 9:28
Another vacuous Friedman column loaded with mislabeled entities, unexamined premises, skewed reasoning and irrelevant conclusions. He uses the terms sacrifice, Greatest Generation, weak principals, selfish unions, school reform, values breakdown, painless etc. as though their meaning and content were self evident, need not be concretely specified, and takes it for granted that these words are perceived and conceived the same by everyone. Nothing is fleshed out, no proofs offered, just a paste-up of urges and impulses held together by the inner logic of Friedman's emotional state. He argues that we have morally gone off the rails, because our leaders are too timid to call for collective sacrifice. How can one even begin to counter this statement? It not an assertion of fact, it's a wistful sigh.
What if we had attacked Mexico instead of Japan re: Pearl Harbor?
written by MK, September 12, 2010 10:39
"Imagine If NYT Columnists Like Thomas Friedman Had to Know About the Great Recession?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ How about imagine if NYT Columnists like Thomas Friedman had to know about the great recession and it didn't change anything? Mission Accomplished! Same for Judith Miller, she knew what she was doing and she and the NYT didn't care, they supported Cheney/Bush plan of going to war with Iraq. Mission Accomplished! That's why I do not subscribe and rarely read the NYT, TRAITORS to the citizens of the USA.

I read or heard somewhere recently someone said our decision to invade Iraq is like as if we had responded to Pearl Harbor by attacking Mexico instead of Japan. Idiots are in charge in the gov't., media, and corps.
All Dressed Up But There's No Party
written by izzatzo, September 12, 2010 10:59
From the NYT article, this quote by Friedman:

So much of today’s debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, “is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It’s a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people.”

This highlights the popular ignorance of economics hiding behind claims that "individual responsibility" and "values" and "ethics" can pull the US out of the Deep Recession.

It's a supply side argument fixated by Friedman on the stereotypical hero values of the Greatest Generation, all the more absurd because it's based in the WWII government spending that grew the US out of the Great Depression from the demand side, not the supply side.

Although sacrifices by soldiers in that war were linked, unlike today, to other sacrifices like civilian rationing of essential goods and purchases of US Savings Bonds, the massive deficit spending itself was not considered a "giveaway" or "irresponsible" as it's conveniently labeled today.

If anything, current critics of stimulus spending themselves are the free riding, irresponsible leeches looking for a giveaway as they benefit from deficit spending, then strut back and forth to outfearmonger each other on the evils of excess debt, the same clowns for example who blindly claimed the Bush tax cuts would pay for themselves rather than add more than $2T to the debt, no less in a time of useless war, unlike WWII. Sacrifice? They want sacrifice?

True, there's been a sea change in values and education driven heavily by technology and reflected in the culture wars. But for Friedman to advance this as an economic explanation of how to recover from a deep recession caused by a busted bubble, is like lecturing people to spend several hundred dollars and a lot of time gettng dressed for the party when there's not one.

There's no party to go to Mr Friedman, no matter what sacrifice is made from the supply side is made to prepare for it. There's no demand for parties except those held by the ultra rich. Go wag your sacrificial finger at them.
Oligarch Commision
written by Union Member, September 12, 2010 11:11
We need an Oligarch Commission to discuss just how to get the Military Petroleum Finance Princes to stop living like Gold-Enameled Byzantium God's and start making all the necessary sacrifices Friedman seeks and restore our Democracy.

Friedman never acknowledges the extreme suffering his ideas cause or those who profit from the same suffering.
written by quant.this, September 12, 2010 12:01
Thomas Friedman lives here in Bethesda in what can be described as a Newport Rhode Island style mansion. I'm not talking McMansion here, I'm talking a house with several wings. His wife is the daughter of the owners (or ex at this point) of General Growth Properties and at one point worth a few billion. Now they are only worth a few hundred million so they do feel pain....not.
Darren buy a calender
written by Bruce Webb, September 12, 2010 2:57
"It was also the Baby Boomers who were putting the messages out there! An entire, very powerful culture? It was the same baby boomers who put the message out. "Greed is Good," remember that? "

Boomers were not ruling the world in the 80's and I doubt the fictional Gordon Gekko would have even qualified as a leading edge Boomer being that in 1987 (the release date of the movie) Boomers ranged in age from 23 to 41. Even now only a relative handful of Boomers are in positions of real power, outside the tech world corporate suites are not ruled by people in their early fifties and certainly Congress isn't. In short it wasn't Boomers who brought you the Reagan Revolution, but it was Gen-X that bought into the myth that everything was our fault and not that of rent seeking 70 and 80 year old billionaires
written by Wes, September 12, 2010 3:31
Even now only a relative handful of Boomers are in positions of real power

Boomers are about to start retiring... Not in the positions of power? Come on. The Prez is one of the YOUNGEST boomers. Hillary, Bush, Clinton are boomers. Average age of Congress is 56. Look at Wall street execs. Look at "captains of the industry".
And it's not only the executive power. The culture is shaped by media, opinion leaders, society trends, etc. The boomers brought us several "wars of choice", housing bubble, web of debt. And Tom Friedman for that matter.

And by the way, it was not me who brought boomers into this discussion. It was Dean who decided to emphasize their tough luck - of all other population groups.
written by diesel, September 12, 2010 4:34
Wes, you don't get it. The "Boomers" is NOT ONE ENTITY. In applying one label to a not merely diverse, but acutely divided generation, you are taking the intellectually easy path. Commies Muslims, Nerds, what have you, what are these but names? These words don't denote a real entity just because someone conceives them as doing so. The same criticism applies to Friedman's careless ramblings. Use some precision, for crying out loud. SOME "Boomers' are greedy, SOME lazy, SOME frugal and hard working. Draw some meaningful distinctions based on psychology, sociology, economics, political science, religion and anthropology.

Specifically, "Boomers" were advised, by every investment councilor in America, to invest their life savings in both the stock market and their homes. They dutifully complied. The value of those investments has plummeted, leaving them exposed. SS will likely be much more important to them than they had even imagined 10 years ago. Some other "Boomers" want to dismantle SS and Medicare. The money that funds their program flows from the coffers of very rich patrons, who are themselves sheltered from want. It's class warfare, not the greed of an entire generation. Jeez. Read some books containing statistical breakdowns of distribution of income and wealth over the last 100 years. You could start with Kevin Phillips' Wealth and Democracy.
My calendar is working just fine
written by Darren, September 12, 2010 5:30
Bruce Webb wrote "Darren buy a calender"

A few boomers
Dick Fuld and Joseph Gregory of Lehman

Joseph Cassano formerly of AIG, "The man who crashed the world"

Both of the Bear hedge fund managers (Tannin and Cioffi)

Geithner and Bernanke

The list goes on and on...

Diesel and Investment Counsellors
written by Darren, September 12, 2010 5:46
You wrote "Specifically, "Boomers" were advised, by every investment councilor in America, to invest their life savings in both the stock market and their homes. They dutifully complied. The value of those investments has plummeted, leaving them exposed."

Given, a number of people invested in specific stocks that bottomed out (GM, Lehman, Bear, AIG) but many have not seen investments fall apart completely. Also, the problem wasn't that people "invested" in homes. It was that they - and this wasn't merely the boomers - purchased homes with no money down, then tapped every drop of equity in the home over and over again. Not something that any reasonable financial advisor would ever reccommend.

I doubt you could find any financial advisor who would suggest spending 100% income is a good idea either.

These also weren't the ideals that boomers learned when growing up, being raised by parents who came of age in the depression.
Why don't they have comments activated for his op-eds?
written by LJM, September 12, 2010 5:50
I would have like to leave a comment. I think our government should have asked us to sacrifice to pay for the wars rather than run up the government credit card. They told us to go shopping. Cheney, Rumsfeld and a host of others in that crowd are much older than baby boomers. Many of them have made buckets of money off those wars. As for the baby boomers, we're a diverse group. Some of us are grandparents. Those who were born in the later years of the baby boom are quite different from the "oldies" ready to collect SS. I think most boomers would be willing to make sacrifices to make sure SS, medicare and medicaid are secure, for example. They don't want cuts to those programs. They don't want their kids saddled with debt. Tax cuts for the rich and the two wars took place under the boomer president Bush, but many of the people he had advising him were much older people. Bush was not a typical baby boomer.
Missed the worst...
written by Henk, September 12, 2010 6:27
Friedman's sense of sacrifice is not the worst of that article. This is..."...we would get excited about U.S. politics when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can’t cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when — who acknowledge that we can’t compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years —"

This attitude is typical of "Centrists." They think its both parties fault, but I would submit that its difficult to "debate" tax increases when one side thinks that No tax is legitimate. Its hard to talk spending cuts when one side doesn't believe that Government shouldn't spend on anything, but a few narrowly defined programs. Its difficult to debate public school funding when one side doesn't think there should even be public schools. Its difficult to debate Government when one side doesn't believe in Government. Friedman and his ilk don't seem to have noticed just how far to the right the Right in this country has gone.
Have to agree with Extinct Species and others
written by Rob Lewis, September 12, 2010 6:50
I too think Friedman is a pompous poopiehead, but he was right about the sacrifice thing. After 9/11, Bush asked Americans to "go shopping." Wow, that qualifies us for Greatest Generation II, right?

How different things might be if he had asked us to pull together in a massive push to remake our energy economy and get off foreign oil.
Not much sacrifice in the energy sector...
written by AndrewDover, September 12, 2010 8:06
The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents, no higher than it was in 1994.

Meanwhile, US Oil production continues to drop, and consumption and imports rise. (Minor dip due to recession recently) http://www.taxfoundation.org/t.../245.html

State tax varies, see


written by JDW, September 12, 2010 9:25
One of Friedman's points has been well-documented by the comments above: too much of today's "debate" involves discrediting a speaker rather than identifying then debating the correct issues with a view toward seeking a mewaningful solution. This was once known as civil discussion, and it used to work pretty well, especially when each speaker's cleverness was not scored.
written by cosmosis, September 13, 2010 12:51
What cab driver did Flatearth Friedman get this crap sandwich from?
Not a billionaire anymore
written by lee4713, September 13, 2010 9:25
His wife's family's fortune (shopping malls) has tumbled to only a few hundred millions. So it's time to tighten the belt in the Friedman house.
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written by David, September 16, 2010 3:21
"On this planet, the vast majority of baby boomers, who have to work for a living, are already experiencing vast amounts of pain."

So Baby Boomers think that "working for a living"="experiencing vast amounts of pain"?

That pretty much proves Friedman's point, I think.
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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.