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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Thomas Friedman Wants the People Who Gave Us the Housing Bubble to Have More Power

Thomas Friedman Wants the People Who Gave Us the Housing Bubble to Have More Power

Sunday, 22 April 2012 08:46

Thomas Friedman once again derides partisanship and division in his column today. (Can you really get paid at the NYT for writing the same column over and over again? I used to make my students write new papers if they expected credit.) Anyhow, he mourns the divisiveness of U.S. politics and tells us that we need (relying on Frank Fukuyama):

"'If we are to get out of our present paralysis, we need not only strong leadership, but changes in institutional rules,' argues Fukuyama. These would include eliminating senatorial holds and the filibuster for routine legislation and having budgets drawn up by a much smaller supercommittee of legislators — like those that handle military base closings — with 'heavy technocratic input from a nonpartisan agency like the Congressional Budget Office,' insulated from interest-group pressures and put before Congress in a single, unamendable, up-or-down vote."

Those of us familiar with economics shiver when we hear a call for more "technocratic input" that is not accountable to democratic control. After all, it was the economic technocrats who insisted that everything was just fine as the housing bubble expanded to ever more dangerous levels.

Is there any reason to believe that the technocrats involved in economic policy making today are any more competent than the crew in charge from 2002-2008? There is no obvious evidence that this is the case, after all, it is largely the same crew.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to give the people who drove the economy off a cliff more power? Maybe when they get the economy back to full employment we can have this discussion, but as long as so many people are out of work, our economic experts should feel lucky to be employed. The last thing we should be considering is giving them more power. 

Comments (4)Add Comment
written by skeptonomist, April 22, 2012 9:13
Venezuela's economy is highly dependent on oil price, which is out of the control of its leaders. Even Wikipedia has this covered:

No title
written by Chris, April 22, 2012 9:36
Agreed. We elect a President and Congress to lead the government not to abdicate their responsibility to the same people who pay for their campaigns.
written by Ron Alley, April 22, 2012 4:30
The truth is we do have gridlock in the federal government. Dean's point is that gridlock is not the worst option. The article on ALEC makes many wish that state governments could also achieve gridlock.

Friedman is simply meeting a deadline, don't expect wisdom
written by John Wright, April 22, 2012 6:16
I believe Friedman keeps recycling columns because it is the easiest way to meet a deadline. Possibly the NY Times doesn't care much what he writes as long has he continues to be generally viewed as Very Important Thinker.

If you want a sample of more Friedman advice, look at his June 29, 2005 column on Ireland.


In 2005, Friedman talks about how great Ireland is doing, and enthusiastically relates:

"How Ireland went from the sick man of Europe to the rich man in less than a generation is an amazing story. It tells you a lot about Europe today: all the innovation is happening on the periphery by those countries embracing globalization in their own ways - Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe - while those following the French-German social model are suffering high unemployment and low growth."

I suggest the outline of a successful Friedman column is:

1. State a simple premise with a catchy name ("vetocracy") as in "has America gone... to a vetocracy" which is prohibiting undefined important decisions from being made.

2. Ideally, the Friedman observation such as "vetocracy" cannot be quantified. Leave it up to the reader to guess
where on the scale of vetocracy the USA currently resides. This helps make the column reusable as there will be no potentially embarrassing numerical results or predictions for the reader to view in hindsight.

3. Then mention something obvious and unquantifiable, but cast it as a "secret" as in "It undermines the secret of our success: a balanced public-private partnership."

4. As a bonus, quote someone, who like Friedman, was an early supporter of the Iraq war. Francis Fukuyama satisfies this condition in this column. As a further bonus, plug the quoted friend's book, to keep them indebted to Friedman.

5. Never refer to previous columns (see the Irish one of 2005, or the early Iraq supportive ones) where Friedman's advice has been shown less than prescient.

I would like Friedman to write a future column about the "punditocracy" that urges America into foolish wars, foolish domestic and economic policies and yet continues to be employed while so much of America is not.

In this future column, it would be acceptable to quote himself, and mention his latest book, which would probably be about "Vetocracy".

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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.