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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Is Thomas Friedman More Incoherent Than Usual?

Is Thomas Friedman More Incoherent Than Usual?

Sunday, 29 January 2012 00:01

In a column that repeats the usual Thomas Friedman line about all the barriers between countries coming down in the brave new world (while conveniently ignoring the barriers that protect highly paid professionals like doctors and lawyers, allowing them to earn far more than their counterparts elsewhere in the world), he approvingly quotes Michael Dell:

"'I always remind people that 96 percent of our potential new customers today live outside of America.' That’s the rest of the world. And if companies like Dell want to sell to them, he added, it needs to design and manufacture some parts of its products in their countries."

The statement Friedman attributes to Dell implies the exact opposite of his "world is flat" story. Dell is saying that he must design and manufacture a portion of the products he sells in the countries he sells them. This implies that there are political barriers to complete mobility, which would mean that Dell could manufacture and design his products wherever it is cheapest to do, regardless of where he sells them. 

Friedman's quote from Dell indicates  that protectionist restrictions are still an important reality in the world. Presumably the logical response would be to either try to reduce these barriers in other countries or to adjust our trade policies to ensure that they work best for the United States in a world that is clearly not flat. 

Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Liam Auer , January 29, 2012 2:08
Or, you know, there might be something beyond that called economic geography. Read what Paul Krugman's written about it; it might be important and suggests that it's not just political barriers at work. Doesn't support Friedman at all, but shows there is a little more nuance to the argument.
re liam
written by Andrew Clearfield, January 29, 2012 4:15
Dell says (according to Friedman) that "In order to sell to our customers in countries X, Y, and Z, we must produce our products in countries X, Y and Z."

This quote implies the existence of trade barriers. The quote does not imply anything about economic geography issues. If Dell needed to produce its product in country X because of economic geography issues, it would be because other relevant suppliers were located in country X, not because Dell's customers were located in country X.
written by jhm, January 29, 2012 4:47
There was a convention or some such of mayors in DC in which several of the mayors of local cities in my area participated. Local news sent a team and who do you suppose was on the big screen in the background apparently giving a speech to the assembled worthies? none other that this buffoon Friedman.

My first thought was to wonder how much he was being paid to spout irrelevancies to these mayors, my second was to hope that no one was paying any attention, or at the least taking his words seriously. God help us otherwise.
Flat Earth Society Wages Campaign to Smash Dell Computers
written by izzatzo, January 29, 2012 5:49
After learning Friedman never meant the earth was literally flat and Dell was outsourcing jobs teabaggers staged raids on domestic Dell computers and ceremoniously tossed them off roofs to re-enact the original tea party.

Mitt and Newt agree it's an appropriate response to OWS. If Americans don't make it it's not worth making - or buying.

Stupid liberals.
written by John, January 29, 2012 8:09
You may have not noticed, but we have quite a few foreign doctors in the us. About half the staff at my local hospital attended med school in India. And most urban medical center primary care residencies are filled with foreign med school grads. However, none of the Econ professors at my local colleges are from abroad. Nor are any of the mangers of my city or county. And not one of the teachers at my kids local school is from another country. And our teachers are paid quite a bit more than their Indian counterparts. Are you advocating opening up immigration for teachers as well?
The Answer To The Headline Question Is:
written by Jeffrey Stewart, January 29, 2012 10:54

How Tom is considered "liberal" by my local newspaper is beyond comprehension.
Trade in Professional Services
written by Dean, January 29, 2012 11:36
Insofar as immigration is based on economic considerations, as opposed to family unification and human rights, we should bring in the people who offer the most benefit per person. How far down the pay ladder we go would depend on how many immigrants we allow in the country. Certainly this would mean an open door for doctors, lawyers and economists, probably not for school teachers.
written by sparagmite, January 30, 2012 11:37
Several of my economics professors were from India, and they were excellent I might add. Getting a little nervous, Doctor John? Yes, and let's focus on teachers, not corporations, since that's what Fox is doing.

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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.