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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Thomas Friedman Tells Readers that "Compromise" Is Not a 4-Letter Word, Readers Tell Thomas Friedman That "Homework" Is Not Either

Thomas Friedman Tells Readers that "Compromise" Is Not a 4-Letter Word, Readers Tell Thomas Friedman That "Homework" Is Not Either

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Sunday, 05 January 2014 15:32

Thomas Friedman once again pronounces a pox on both their houses, demanding that Republicans and Democrats compromise and embrace his agenda for moving the country forward. The big problem is that because Thomas Friedman apparently doesn't believe in doing homework, he doesn't actually have an agenda that would move the country forward.

Taking his items in turn, he calls for an investment agenda, with the qualification:

"But this near-term investment should be paired with long-term entitlement reductions, defense cuts and tax reform that would be phased in gradually as the economy improves, so we do not add to the already heavy fiscal burden on our children, deprive them of future investment resources or leave our economy vulnerable to unforeseen shocks, future recessions or the stresses that are sure to come when all the baby boomers retire."

Now the folks who have done their homework know that projections for Medicare and Medicaid spending have been sharply reduced in the last five years as the Congressional Budget Office and other forecasters have incorporated part of the slowdown in cost growth that we have seen over this period. This means that the deficit projections for 10-15 years out don't look nearly as scary as they did in the recent past. The reduction in projected cost growth exceeds the savings from almost any remotely feasible cut that might have been proposed five years ago.

On the Social Security side of the entitlement ledger, most older workers have almost nothing saved for retirement because people with names like Greenspan, Rubin, and Summers are not very competent at running an economy (another example of the skills shortage). This means that it is not practical to talk about cuts to Social Security for anyone retiring in the near future since this is the bulk of what most retirees will be living on. In fact, those who did their homework know that many people in Congress and across the country are now talking about increasing benefits. We can cut our children and grandchildren's Social Security, but this is a dubious way to propose to help them.

Then we have Thomas Friedman's energy agenda:

"We should exploit our new natural gas bounty, but only by pairing it with the highest environmental extraction rules and a national, steadily rising, renewable energy portfolio standard that would ensure that natural gas replaces coal — not solar, wind or other renewables. That way shale gas becomes a bridge to a cleaner energy future, not just an addiction to a less dirty, climate-destabilizing fossil fuel."

Friedman apparently has not done his homework here either. Andrew Revkin, who certainly is not a knee-jerk enviro-type, devoted a blogpost to a new study indicating that fracking results in much higher emissions of methane gas than had previously been believed. While this study is not conclusive, its findings certainly deserve to be taken seriously. Unless they can be shown to be mistaken, it is wrong to imagine shale gas to be the bridge fuel Friedman claims.

Then we are told:

"In some cities, teachers’ unions really are holding up education reform."

Really, the problem is teachers' unions? Well, large chunks of the country don't have any teachers' unions to block reform. Yet, we don't hear of Texas and Alabama beating out Finland (which does have teachers' unions) for top rankings on standardized tests or other measures of student performance. Teachers' unions have often come into conflict with self-proclaimed reformers. While the unions may have obstructed their agenda (which often seems largely focused on weakening teachers' unions), it is far from clear that this has had negative outcomes for students. In the Chicago teachers' strike in 2012, the most noteworthy recent confrontation, the parents overwhelmingly sided with the teachers, so apparently they haven't been clued in on the benefits of reform.

Next we get Thomas Friedman's theory of wage inequality:

"Finally, the merger of globalization and the information-technology revolution has shrunk the basis of the old middle class — the high-wage, middle-skilled job. Increasingly, there are only high-wage, high-skilled jobs."

That's a nice try, but the data don't fit Thoams Friedman's little hyper-connected technology driven story. My friends Larry Mishel, John Schmitt, and Heidi Shierholz looked at this issue very carefully. In the last decade the jobs that have been growing most rapidly are actually low-skilled occupations. If we want to look for reasons for wage inequality we might try items like declining unionization rates and high unemployment.

So Friedman is surely right that we should not view compromise as a 4-letter word, but that doesn't mean we should agree on a policy agenda that is not grounded in evidence.

Comments (15)Add Comment
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written by djb, January 05, 2014 3:33

one of many columnists who, when it comes to economics, really have no qualifications to talk about what they talk about and prove it over and over again
Ummm...
written by martinmc, January 05, 2014 4:45
Alabama does have a teachers union. Very powerful politically, not so much progressively (though, by state standards, liberalish).

That said, schools suck here because we want them to. We don't fund them and we hope all the white kids (the "good" ones anyway) will flee to a private school.

About 15 years ago, the Alabama School system was declared unconstitutional under the Alabama Constitution (longest constitution in the world!). Nothing was ever done because we like it that way. And low taxes!
Risk is a Four Letter Word Thomas Friedman Avoids
written by Last Mover, January 05, 2014 4:46

If Friedman was in rocket science or brain surgery, he couldn't possibly mangle those disciplines any worse than he does economics, except he would be laughed off the stage as a crackpot.

He survives in economics because he's a leading loser liberal among columnists on the subject, always striving for a Third Way Grand Bargain that preserves the current obscene sructure of income and wealth distribution by totally avoiding it - and thus embracing it.

He constantly holds up rare winners as something attainable by all, as if Americans would just learn and train more to compete head-to-head with the global braniacs and techniacs in the economic fairy tales he digs up and fawns over ... they could make it too.

Speaking of four letter words, notice how Friedman studiously avoids the term "risk" in context of the economic predators he effectively represents as a loser liberal sock puppet, who always manage to shift risk to others as they privatize gains and socialize losses while financing the gee-whiz-wow stuff Friedman parades around as legitimate economics.

In his own way, Friedman preaches what the predators preach, that free market competition is good for everyone but them as the pillage and plunder continues.

Let them eat risk.
...
written by AlanInAZ, January 05, 2014 5:31
I am not surprised Medicare is bending the cost curve. My own recent experience confirms this. I had hip replacement 6 weeks ago in my community hospital and have received the bills. The total cost (hospital, surgeon, anesthesia, pre-op exams) came to $9,228 of which Medicare paid $7,687, Blue Cross paid $1,038 and I paid $503. This is far less than costs in the past NYT article on medical tourism in which someone paid $13,000 in Belgium six years ago. The surgery was state of the art - I walked out (with a walker) the next day. I was walking without a cane in two weeks. To me this shows what group purchasing can do coupled with improvements in surgical technique. I can't imagine anyone on Medicare would consider leaving the country for this surgery. If Medicare could negotiate drug prices even more cost bending could be obtained.
If homework is good for the goose take a gander at this
written by CMike, January 05, 2014 5:36
Dr. Baker says,

...we don't hear of Texas and Alabama beating out Finland (which does have teachers' unions) for top rankings on standardized tests or other measures of student performance.


And, in fact, no matter how you look at it, Alabama doesn't beat out Finland for "rankings on standardized tests or other measures of student performance." However, if you ignore my comment which is the third in a series of four that begins at the link below but do read the other three which are copied and pasted excerpts from posts by Bob Somerby and IowaHawk they might raise questions for you as to where Texas schools actually do rate compared to top ranked Finland's.

http://avedoncarol.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-shape-of-things.html?showComment=1388826129059#c3268577425155104703
amazing
written by medgeek, January 05, 2014 5:52
Nice point-by-point takedown, Dean. I've wondered for a long time why anyone takes Friedman seriously.
.......
written by djb, January 05, 2014 8:03

But of course this sounds like the grand bargain obama is pushing again
...
written by JDM, January 05, 2014 8:05
Even if Friedman's proposals were all terrific ideas, where and how is this compromise supposed to happen? Obviously he hasn't been paying the least bit of attention to our political process for years, a process where Republicans repeatedly vote against virtually anything the Democratic party votes for. This process is so extremely one-sided that Republicans even vote against bills and amendments they initially proposed.
Finland …
written by Squeezed Turnip, January 05, 2014 9:06
… had the greatest drop ever in TIMSS mathematics scores (38 points), which placed it right below Texas (515 versus 514 average scores, not statistically significant, so Texas did not "beat out" Finland, it barely kept up). However if you you look at the science scores, Finland had an average score of 552 versus Texas' average score of 524. So, despite improvements in Texas, Finland improved more.

Now, Texas has $40k+ income per capita, Finland has $36k income per capita. Despite Finland's fall on the mathematics portion of the TIMSS this round, there seems to be some evidence of greater efficiency and effectiveness. The funny thing is that the Finns took all of the ideas that US math and science educators published (but that US politicians found distasteful) and improved their lot, substantially.

The NAEP TIMSS linking study summarizes how the US (and individual states) did against the international community (pdf found here: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsrepo...013460.pdf)

i also highly recommend reading the Brookings' 2013 Brown Center Report on Education for a clear-eyed view at the results, though it doesn't mention Texas specifically. Find it here: http://www.brookings.edu/resea...-loveless#

The main concern right now is that Texans need to keep the anti-evolution, pro-secessionist fundamentalists from overtaking the State Board of Education. There are really are people here that would be right at home living in the 1500s, folks.
Squeezed Turnip,
written by CMike, January 05, 2014 11:56

Thanks for the links.

According to that NCES document, Finland's real GDP was at $45,040 per capita during the 2010-2011 period with spending on education there at 6% of GDP; Texas's real per capita GDP was at $44,788 per capita during the 2009-2011 period with spending on education there at 4% of GDP. There's no indication in that document for the median household income level in each of the two jurisdictions nor the percentage of children in Finland and in Texas who live in near poverty or worse income environments during infancy and their school years. Also, the document does not show the test scores dis-aggregated for racial and ethnic groups in Finland and Texas to separate out the results for their majority and minority student populations.

All of that extra information would be helpful in comparing how well each school system is performing.
You read Friedman so we don't have to.
written by F.fursty, January 06, 2014 3:05
Or maybe no one should be? It's really hard to understand how such a clown became so influential. Anyway, I appreciate what you must suffer on your readers' behalf.
Folks who have done their homework on Medicare? Doesn't include Krugman
written by Rachel, January 06, 2014 6:54

Growth in Medicare spending may increase when the economy gets better. May increase a LOT as more health care providers build more market power in response to the ACA. I suggest that we need to go with Drew Altman on this. Krugman is not a health care specialist, and doesn't seem to be giving it enough time.
...
written by Kat, January 06, 2014 7:40
"We should exploit our new natural gas bounty, but only by pairing it with the highest environmental extraction rules and a national, steadily rising, renewable energy portfolio standard that would ensure that natural gas replaces coal — not solar, wind or other renewables. That way shale gas becomes a bridge to a cleaner energy future, not just an addiction to a less dirty, climate-destabilizing fossil fuel."


That's the ticket, Tom. This really sets you apart from the flacks in the industry who say things like

"We should exploit our new natural gas bounty, but only by pairing it with the highest environmental extraction rules and a national, steadily rising, renewable energy portfolio standard that would ensure that natural gas replaces coal — not solar, wind or other renewables. That way shale gas becomes a bridge to a cleaner energy future, not just an addiction to a less dirty, climate-destabilizing fossil fuel."


Change the conversation
written by Joe, January 06, 2014 11:00
You have to change the terms of the conversation. It's still taken as a give that the deficit is a bad thing. It is not. It is a good thing. The federal deficit is the nongovt surplus. Anyone think the private sector needs a smaller surplus? Didn't think so.

Thomas Friedman column antidote is right there in the New York Times
written by John Wright, January 06, 2014 3:01
One tragic disadvantage that the print subscribers to Tom Friedman columns have is lack of access to the readers' comments to Tom Friedman's columns.

I believe the best way to view the comments is to click on the "Reader's Picks" and see which comments the NYTimes readers voted highest.

For this Friedman column, high ranked reader's comments had "I cringe every time I read punditry that recommends reducing "entitlements", "Tom Friedman is out of touch" and "This column read like a press release from Karl Rove".

Friedman manages to write entire columns with no quantifiable goals (numbers are very scarce in Friedman columns) and statements are never buttressed with links or references.

Possibly the NYTimes continues to pay this fundamentally lazy columnist because his message appeals to the well-off.

It can't be because he provides good advice.

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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.

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