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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Thomas Friedman Talks Dumb

Thomas Friedman Talks Dumb

Saturday, 19 March 2011 22:39

That was his word, but since he brought it up, the term can be rightly applied to his reference to the "unsustainable deficit." Of course people who are not dumb know that the story of exploding budget deficits is a story of exploding private sector health care costs. The United States already spends more than twice as much per person as the average for other wealthy countries, with little obvious benefit in outcomes.

This is why people who are neither dumb nor dishonest talk about the need to fix the country's health care system, not the budget deficit. If the U.S. health care system were as efficient as the system in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands or more than 2 dozen other countries, there would be no long-term deficit problem.

Comments (10)Add Comment
Friedman Understands Americans are Worth Twice as Much
written by izzatzo, March 20, 2011 5:04
Friedman is misunderstood by simpletons like Baker who fails to grasp that more education and skill training will make Americans worth twice as much as those from other countries that spend only half as much on health care.

Once Americans come up to par to regain their global competitive edge from the supply side, they can survive under Friedman's flat earth world as productivity increases to create full employment that will pay off the deficit and easily provide the more expensive health care necessary for Americans whose net worth will double that of socialist single payer countries.

Baker is either dumb or dishonest to miss such an obvious economic fact, but of course that's what happens when economists stray from their discipline into more rigorous areas like journalism without the education and skills to compete with an intellectual giant like Friedman.

Stupid liberals.
Simple answer Dean again
written by Tony, March 20, 2011 5:33
There you go again Dean, trying to claim that there are simple answers to complicated problems. My uncle, who has a PhD in Economics and lives in Europe will tell you, that Europe, by and large, more or less, has the same budget problems that we have. Why do you think they are raising the retirement age in Germany, France and England. Remember all the protests that occured in Europe a few months ago over this change? If Europe's lower health care costs were the answer, then why does Europe have all the budget problems that they have today? And these problems have very little to do in my opinion with the problems of Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. The only question for me, who is in worst shape, Europe or us?
written by bmz, March 20, 2011 7:01
"Americans[are] worth twice as much as those from other countries that spend only half as much on health care."
I don't know if you write shampoo ads or have been hanging around too many Republicons lately, but truly is the stupidest attempt at sophistry I've heard in a good while, especially inasmuch as every available measure shows that we receive half the care for twice the price.
Exporting PhD uncles won't help with deficits
written by Arkady, March 20, 2011 7:09
But we should try anyway. The problem is that no matter where they go, no matter how different the circumstances, they're always going to compare apple to oranges and discover that they're both species of cactus.

I like izzatzo's argument much better. The reason we cost more is because we're worth more. If my health care costs four times as much as comparably situated fellow in France, it stands to reason that I'm worth four times as much. The same formula can be applied to military spending and support for banksters.
The sorrows of Conservativism
written by diesel, March 20, 2011 8:07
One cannot be a "Conservative" and simultaneously be (1) Intelligent i.e. capable of formal operational reasoning, (2) Informed of and mindful of the facts, (3) Intellectually Honest i.e. employing the basic rules of logic, and (4) Empathetic. A "Conservative" may embody any one, two or three of these qualities, but not all four. You may amuse yourself by figuring out the permutations of which type of conservative fits with which deficient combination.
written by joe, March 20, 2011 8:35
"If Europe's lower health care costs were the answer, then why does Europe have all the budget problems that they have today?"

Their problems are not driven by health care inflation. US problems are driven by health care inflation. If they faced US rate of health care inflation, their problems would be drastically worse.
A Clash of temperaments
written by JHM, March 20, 2011 8:58
It seems plain enough why Comrade Dr. Baker and little Tommy Wobble with the big moustache do not get on well, and ‘dumb’ is only a small part of it.

Much more important than the IQ challenge is Tommy’s fickleness: he has never believed anything for six weeks without a break in his life. No sooner has he had lunch with Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather and decided it is time to be realistic about mental illness, than Tommy, or Tommy’ corporation’s social secretary, schedules him a meal with some tertiary-academic social scientizer who thinks paranoia is the most sensible scheme for coping with the former real world. So then Tommy shares breakfast with *that* neoguru, and rehashes his companion’s neowisdom like a good _chela_, only to fall victim, a couple weeks later, to Prof. Tertius Quis, who, as you know, uniquely takes the line that . . . and at their dinner date . . . explains to Mr. Friedman . . . . in the next day’s op-ed . . . .

And so it goes.

Comrade Dr. Baker is the exact reverse: he makes the Rock of Gibraltar seem alarmingly flighty.

Of course after factoring in the ‘dumb’ factor, everybooby rational will award Dr. Baker twelve or fifteen palms to every one for little Tommy, BUT I think the laddie does deserve his one. It is, to begin with, quite an impressive moustache. And surely we ought to take care lest we discredit the pulpit from which little Tommy Wobble bullies? Sooner or later the NYTC will replace him, no? Surely his successor is entitled to some presumption of being worthy of a little attention.

¡Don’t let Friedman the Policy Jellyfish spoil classy upmarket punditry for everybooby!

Meanwhile, Bakerite monolithicity has a couple of minor drawbacks itself. It might take a cast of thousands weeks of effort to force some new element into the Received Synthesis, like -- possibly, ’tis just a "for instance" -- those higher food prices that Prof. Whoziz evidently mentioned to Master Moustache this week. Eventually such a fresh development might qualify for prime time on WBAKE, especially if it can be recast as "the Great Bread Bubble of 2011" or if some anti-fake free trade angle, or connection with the cost structure of American medicine, can be found.

But it would be silly to expect rapid response, which means that one might worry a little, maybe, about timely response.


(( The happy meals are pure speculation, though they seem very likely indeed to me, who have trouble imagining little Tommy sitting through a formal lecture, let alone reading all that SocSci dreariness that his corporation colleague Don Davidito de Brooks y Podhòretz relentlessly wades through and rehashes for the benefit of NYTC patients / victims / customers.

(( If I have guessed right, the Friedmanite waist line is almost as noteworthy as the Friedmanite face hair. The lifestyle of little Tommy Wobble (as here tentatively reconstructed) would turn almost anybody else’s metabolism into that of a blimp in six weeks, but -- although full-length photographs are not easy to find, this seems not to have happened despite whole decades of dipnosophistry, http://j.mp/h2Zsd7 .

(( Can it be that, after all this time, Tommy is still so fascinated by each new burbler of weekly wisdom that he mostly forgets to chow down?

(( ¡Ah, to be young like that forever!" ))
written by skeptonomist, March 20, 2011 9:03
The practice by Dean and other economists of blaming health care for deficits is arbitrary and illogical and serves to divert attention from the immediate and real long-term problem. There is no question that other health-care systems have lower costs but there are many other ways that money could be saved - for example by reduction of the military and elimination of superfluous wars.

A great deal of money could be saved by elimination of land rents, if the country chose to go to a different system. Housing is normally the largest item in family budgets, and land rent and associated charges (mortgage interest) may make up the majority of this, depending on location. Housing bubbles are typically about speculation in land values, although there was a large element of plain swindling in the recent bubble. The alternative to a system of private land ownership and rents is a central authority which allocates land use in a presumably rational way - this would of course be considered highly socialistic and changing from the current system would drastically redistribute wealth and future potential for wealth. Those who object to converting health care to a more efficient system do so for essentially the same reasons.

The key to reduction or elimination or deficits is not to pick out some particular segment of the economy that one would like to see changed, but to commit to keeping tax rates high enough to offset expenditures (in the long run, not year-to-year). The claim by rightists that reducing tax rates would automatically lead to greater efficiency and prosperity has been thoroughly disproven empirically. There is no reason for liberals (meaning open-minded people) to subscribe to the rightist premise that tax rates must never be raised.
written by liberal, March 20, 2011 9:52
skeptonomist wrote,
A great deal of money could be saved by elimination of land rents, if the country chose to go to a different system.

Huh? You can't eliminate land rents. You can, however, change who pockets them.
written by Bloix, March 21, 2011 11:49
Dean, a bright and reasonable fellow I know is willing to be persuaded that the deficit hawks are incorrect but he wants a book that explains the issue. Blogs won't do - he's an academic type and he wants the imprimatur of authority. Any suggestions?

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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.