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Is Thomas Friedman for Real?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012 04:34

I would make fun of the part of this Thomas Friedman column that calls for cutting entitlements to put the budget on a sustainable footing (the problem is not "entitlements," the problem is a broken health care system that raises the cost of public sector health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid), but I don't believe this piece is genuine. Yesterday, Atrios proclaimed Thomas Friedman the "Wanker of the Decade," referring to the first decade of his blog's existence.

I suspect some sort of side arrangement. Friedman is clearly trying to publicize this designation by writing exactly the sort of inane centrist, above-the-political-fray column that earned him this award. He can't fool me.

Comments (9)Add Comment
Economic Intelligence
written by Robert Salzberg, April 18, 2012 5:02
Friedman also insists that we must have "shared sacrifice" and make "hard choices".

If Americans had a little economic intelligence, we could make easy choices that involve asymmetrical sacrifice.   

For instance, eliminating the cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax would extend the trust fund till 2083.

Various forms of single payer health insurance have been proven in countries around the world to be the most efficient way of delivering healthcare. Why can't Americans get together on this?

America should have a comprehensive plan to address the over 2 trillion dollar national infrastructure deficit.

A financial transactions tax of 0.1% would raise around 100 billion a year which is about how much additional revenue we need to devote to our infrastructure.
Broken Record
written by Jeffrey Stewart, April 18, 2012 8:27
There are plenty of progressive ideas for reducing the deficit and many are included in the Progressive Caucus' Budget for All which was greeted with crickets by the capitalist, corporate media.

Some politically savvy people need to develop a strategy to implement some or all of the policies advocated by the Progressive Caucus, Dr. Baker and Robert Salzberg above. The big problem is there needs to be an effective political strategy for implementing these policies. Otherwise, it's just a pointless intellectual exercise with few concrete accomplishments.
written by skeptonomist, April 18, 2012 8:40
Although Atrios is himself a renegade economist, there was surprisingly little influence of economics in his top ten list. Friedman probably made #1 more because of his jingoism ("suck on this") than his pseudo-centrist economic positions. A separate list is probably needed for top ten economic wankers. Neither David Brooks nor Robert Samuelson made Atrios's list - who else should be on the economic top ten wanker list?
Economic top ten wankers
written by KeithOK, April 18, 2012 9:10
I'd go with James K. Glassman, who, while not actually an economist, plays one in the newspapers.
bad but not that bad
written by Peter K., April 18, 2012 10:22
Friedman like Brooks are bad but not that bad telling our free-thinking "fiscally conservative, socially liberal" fellow citizens what they want to hear (the hippies are wrong.)

Saddam Hussein was bad. He wasn't "not that bad."
written by Andrew Clearfield, April 18, 2012 11:44
I thought at first, I swear, that this column was some sort of self-parody that would reveal itself at the end with a self-deprecating nod to his wanker award. When that didn't happen I realized that Friedman's column was actually just a case of "doubling down," as Krugman calls it; an idiot who has been proven wrong over-and-over again, deciding (quite rationally) why not continue this way?, after all it's made me rich.
written by Bart Hobson, April 18, 2012 3:52
Congrats on the shout-out for your health care cost analyses in The New Yorker.
written by liberal, April 19, 2012 6:37
Andrew Clearfield wrote,
...after all it's made me rich.

IIRC he was already rich by marrying into wealth. I think his wife's family was behind General Growth Properties or something.
One must hand it to Friedman, he never seems to get smacked down.
written by John Wright, April 21, 2012 12:09
I remember both Andy Grove (Intel) and Ralph Gomory (IBM R&D) have taken Friedman to task, by name, as Friedman advocates that America can hold on to good innovative jobs while allocating the lower paid jobs to foreigners.

Friedman sells the story that America can innovate new products and let the manufacturing of the products be done overseas. If one looks at high tech firms, and one calls the innovative jobs the R&D jobs, a tech firm is maybe investing 10% of revenue in R&D, with perhaps half of that actually going to high paid worker salaries.

And for some high tech companies, 10% is a high number as Hewlett Packard (Of Carly Fiorina "Invent" slogan fame) spent only 2.5% of sales on R&D in 2011, with some of that R&D expenditure overseas.

The upshot is there aren't that many highly paid innovative jobs in most USA companies (or in the world for that matter). So Friedman's advice for America to be the innovative center of the world to create copious good American jobs is fundamentally flawed by scaling considerations.

And furthermore, I can't imagine the motivated Chinese, Koreans and Indians reserving the high wage innovative world jobs for Americans.

I suspect that Friedman having a prominent position at the NYTimes and being viewed by many Americans and media types as a serious thinker is yet more evidence that America will continue to look at the world through Friedman's rose colored view.

At least for a while.

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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.