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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Thomas Friedman Wants YOU to Sacrifice

Thomas Friedman Wants YOU to Sacrifice

Wednesday, 07 September 2011 10:24

That's right, he said it in his column today. He approvingly quoted Kishore Mahbubani, a retired diplomat who is now the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore:

“No U.S. leaders dare to tell the truth to the people. All their pronouncements rest on a mythical assumption that ‘recovery’ is around the corner. Implicitly, they say this is a normal recession. But this is no normal recession. There will be no painless solution. ‘Sacrifice’ will be needed, and the American people know this. But no American politician dares utter the word ‘sacrifice.’ Painful truths cannot be told.”

Sacrifice is wonderful if it serves a purpose, but there are two big unanswered questions. First how would sacrifice help the recovery right now and second, exactly who do Mr. Friedman and Mahbubani think should be doing the sacrificing?

On the first question, I suppose that Friedman and Mahbubani want to see taxes increased or benefits like Social Security and Medicare cut. Both of these steps would mean real sacrifices for low and middle class people, but how exactly do they help the recovery?

Remember our problem is too little demand. So we make people sacrifice by paying higher taxes. How does this increase demand? Or we cut their Social Security benefits or make them pay more for their Medicare. Again, this would imply real sacrifice, but how does this spur the economy?

Are there businesses out there who are saying that they will not hire or invest today because Social Security and Medicare are too generous? Will these businesses decide to hire more workers and expand their business if the government cut these benefits? 

In more normal times, there was at least a plausible argument that this could be the case. The story would go that reducing the deficit would lower interest rates, thereby encouraging businesses to invest. (Actually most research shows that investment is not very responsive to interest rates.) However, with interest rates already at post-Depression lows, it is difficult to envision them going much lower, nor that there would be much additional investment even if they did. In other words, Friedman and Mahbubani seem to be calling for pointless sacrifice.

The second part of the story is who they want to sacrifice. The top 10 percent of income distribution received the vast majority of the gains from economic growth over the last three decades. A grossly disproportionate share went to the top 1.0 percent and the top 0.1 percent. It might be reasonable to expect that the big gainers over this period would be the ones who should be doing the sacrificing.

But not in Thomas Friedman's world. In his world, sacrifice must be shared equally. Those who are incredibly rich and those who are barely getting by are both called upon to make sacrifices for the greater good. That's Thomas Friedman justice.

Comments (26)Add Comment
It's not "YOU"
written by James, September 07, 2011 1:12

if you are the top earners. It's not you if you could use "carried interest." It's not you if you are a private banking client. Other than that, it's "YOU!"

It's surprising that Friedman has to quote someone all the way from Asia. People just have to read a little about Mahbubani and the country whose income disparity between the top and poor ranks in the highest one third in the world, according to publicly available data.

And now, he wants sacrifice to move that chasm from oversea to U.S.?
Sacrificial Signals Necessary to Restore Confidence and Spending
written by izzatzo, September 07, 2011 1:29
In economics signalling is a means of gaining credibility between buyers and sellers and sacrifice is merely one of many ways to send a signal.

Friedman and Mahbubani understand that economic recovery must begin with economic signals like sacrifice designed to restore confidence before a turnaround can begin.

For example one powerful signal to jump start austerity debt reduction is for the very sick to commit sacrificial suicide through voluntary death panels rather than bleed dry the oppressive health care expense necessary to sustain them.

The proactive use of voluntary suicide by less valuable members of society will prevent crowding out of more valuable members the same way competition drives resources to their highest valued use when all resources are employed, so it's an efficient outcome.

Be a Sacrificial Signal Lamb today and save your country. Either impale yourself on the Altar of Austerity so others can live or at least take out a freeloader in your place.

Stupid liberals.
Roosevelt wants YOU to live in a just society
written by frankenduf, September 07, 2011 2:32
FDR had a quote that exposes the shameful immorality of friedman and the corrupt apologetics:
" No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order. I stand or fall by my refusal to accept as a necessary condition of our future a permanent army of unemployed. On the contrary, we must make it a national principle that we will not tolerate a large army of unemployed and that we will arrange our national economy to end our present unemployment as soon as we can and then to take wise measures against its return. "
sacrifice THIS, friedman

Mister We Could Use a Man Like Roosevelt Again
written by KJMClark, September 07, 2011 4:43
God, that's brilliant. Forget the whole 'arc of history' hooey. Obama should just go back and rip off text from FDR's speeches.

Except he would have to want to be like FDR to even think of it. Aye, there's the rub. You'd think any Democrat would want to be like the most popular President in modern history. Apparently not.
I will murder your wife, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by urban legend, September 07, 2011 5:44
The simple premise for Democrats should be that most Americans have been doing all the sacrificing for the last 30 years: stagnant incomes, higher costs for basics like health insurance and college, higher share of income taxes.

Americans get that. Do the DC Democrats?
written by ltr, September 07, 2011 5:48
Typical Friedman, false as false can be.
Does Friedman have Obama's ear?
written by R.V. Scheide, September 07, 2011 7:15
President Obama used very similar "sacrifice" language during his Labor Day whistlestop tour. These are tough times, he said, but we're tougher. Mr. Obama, I am a long-term unemployed college graduate who is beginning to understand he's not so tough after all.
written by Jay, September 07, 2011 7:27
Perfect example of how meritocracy is bogus. Friedman gets to ramble about non-sense for big dollars and actual college graduates with a better understanding of basic economics end up for working retail or fast food for less than $10.00/hour.
Friedman's Arbitrage of America's Workers
written by Union Member, September 07, 2011 7:34
When people protested for liberty in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, the US had an unprecedented chance to leverage - what was at the time - its considerable moral standing in the world to amplify that peaceful plea for economic and political justice and help move China toward a system much like our own. Instead the Washington Consensus ( i.e. Cult of Globalization) balked and the tanks rolled against their own people.

But to leave the Chinese people behind, with a weak human rights scolding (one elite to another) wasn't the end of it. The Washington Consensus has, ever since, ( with Thomas Friedman as it's leading foreign policy spokesman) cheered on and relentlessly argued for an arbitraging of the American standard of living with the exploitive policies that China's power elites impose on its own people.

So here we are, 20 plus years later ( just one generation), and rather than the Chinese becoming more like us - open and prosperous - we have become more like them - repressive and poor.

And America's moral strength has seemed to have gone the way of its economic bubbles.
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
The noblest calling....is to call on other's to rise to noble deeds
written by diesel, September 07, 2011 9:49
Dean observes that "Friedman and Mahbubani seem to be calling for pointless sacrifice." Precisely. And that is as it should be.

Only a gesture of magnificent futility can express the glorious indifference to the merely mundane that characterizes the true hero. In fact, sacrifice that is useful, that fulfills a purpose is not truly sacrifice--it is calculated self interest. To fully capture the hero's contempt for ordinary life, one's sacrifice must be wasteful. So in the spirit of the deranged British Generals, who, in WWI ordered countless poor slobs to fix bayonets and charge across open muddy, pockmarked fields into the teeth of the enemy's entrenched machine gun fire, let's join with Friedman and yell "CHARGE! (suckers)" .
category error?
written by cervantes, September 08, 2011 11:43
Indeed, it does not make sense to say that we need to make some sort of "sacrifice" that will fix the economy. However, it is arguably true that the standard of living of U.S workers will continue to stagnate, if not in fact decline. That doesn't mean it's "needed" or somehow fixes some other problem, but I suspect it will happen. Of course it's hard to imagine any politician going around saying that. It may be that there are public policies that would make that not be true, but they aren't going to happen.
The Punishing Class
written by Scott ffolliott, September 08, 2011 11:53
It must be good to be a member of the punishing class.
Remember Friedman
written by Scott ffolliott, September 08, 2011 11:58
Remember Friedman made his money the old fashioned way, he married into it.
Lee Yuan Kew
written by Glenn, September 08, 2011 12:09
I at first thought that the "Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy" had to be a joke. Sadly, I see that a purportedly-benevolent despot is exactly what Friedman thinks is needed so I guess the joke's on us.
Show me the money
written by Eli Rabett, September 08, 2011 1:16
The flat truth is that everyone outside of the top 5% *and that is being generous* is OUT OF MONEY. Confidence has NOTHING to do with it.

Want a recovery, increase taxes on the upper 5%, sink taxes on everyone else.
Is the real problem too little demand?
written by Kal, September 08, 2011 1:56
"Remember our problem is too little demand."

Lots of smart people think the real problem is the increasing real cost of natural resources, particularly energy. In a world of nearly free infinite supplies of energy, we could probably agree that tinkering with demand might be the right thing to change direction or momentum. But then in such a world we would probably not have high unemployment.
The problem
written by BH in MA, September 08, 2011 3:26
People are willing to sacrifice as long as it's for a reason and they see EVERYONE making sacrifices along with them. If you have one group that insists that THEY not sacrifice at all, or that they receive additional benefits while everyone else makes sacrifices then you have a problem. The wealthiest have demanded that a) they remain whole, meaning government bailouts at 100 cents on the dollar wherever possible, b) that they pay no additional taxes whatsoever to help the unemployed, reduce the deficit, help pay for infrastructure projects, whatever, and c) they have their congressional mouthpieces demanding their taxes be lowered EVEN FURTHER while retirement ages be raised, Social Security be cut and Medicare eligibility be pushed further into the future. Despite having more than 99.9% of everyone else in the country they are demanding that they receive EVEN MORE and that the extra come at EVERYONE ELSE'S EXPENSE.
Even better question
written by Matt, September 08, 2011 4:11
Are there businesses out there who are saying that they will not hire or invest today because Social Security and Medicare are too generous?

An even better question: if there ARE such businesses, do we really want to allow them to prosper? I don't care how much "prosperity" Bubba's Baby BBQ would bring to the economy, it's still a horrible idea.
Dean Just because YOU can't see them
written by Bruce Webb, September 08, 2011 4:29
Doesn't mean the Mustache of Understanding can't see the Invisible Bond Vigilantes and the Confidence Fairy. Or his broker anyway.

Actually it is just Voodoo Economics updated with Magic Dust and Fairy Unicorns, Magical Thinking in a Tutu or something. The grownups like Friedman don't have to believe it. As long as their readers/listeners do.
Lifetime of Tom Friedman
written by leo from chicago, September 08, 2011 4:37
So after God knows how many years of Tom Friedman babbling on about the economy and all the great things we can expect from (de-)industrialization, he now tells us it's time to sacrifice?

It's kind of like the bumbling fireman who's upbeat while your house is burning down only to ask you at the end if you've made provisions for alternative housing.

What a buffoon.
Does Freidman even follow the news?
written by Gzoref, September 08, 2011 10:11
This Friedman column confirms for me an idea I've had for a while: Thomas Friedman doesn't even follow the news, or so it appears.
EVERYBODY is saying that we need to sacrifice. The term "shared sacrifice" is one of the most overused phrases today. Whether they are being genuine when they say it is another issue, but it is simply untrue that "nobody" is talking about sacrifice!
The Flase Choice
written by Absurdity, September 08, 2011 10:23
The author is right on target. There is no spurring the economy by stealing more money from our social benefits. In fact, the reduction of money to those that are desperate for it will drain the economy of consumers that are forced to spend to survive. The false choice!
written by Texas Aggie, September 08, 2011 11:25
Somehow izzatzo seems to think that liberals are the ones pushing this meme. That the opposite is true is so obvious I have to conclude that s/he is being deliberately deceitful.

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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.