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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Will Thomas Friedman's Column Be Better in the Future?

Will Thomas Friedman's Column Be Better in the Future?

Sunday, 02 October 2011 07:04

Those who just read the headline of Friedman's column, "how did the robot end up with my job?" will be disappointed if they are expecting an improvement in the quality of columns appearing on the NYT oped page. It turns out that Friedman was just speaking metaphorically.

Friedman yet again gives us a big picture that is completely out of focus:

"In the last decade, we have gone from a connected world (thanks to the end of the cold war, globalization and the Internet) to a hyperconnected world (thanks to those same forces expanding even faster). And it matters. The connected world was a challenge to blue-collar workers in the industrialized West. They had to compete with a bigger pool of cheap labor. The hyperconnected world is now a challenge to white-collar workers. They have to compete with a bigger pool of cheap geniuses — some of whom are people and some are now robots, microchips and software-guided machines."

Of course this is in part true. We have structured our economy so that the vast pool of low cost labor in the developing world has directly or indirectly brought down the wages of autoworkers, textile workers, retail workers, and custodians. However, it has not had the same effect on the wages of doctors, lawyers, dentists or most other highly educated professionals. Nor has it prevented the nation's capital from being chock full of "six-figure buffoons," people with no discernible skill other than being able to ingratiate themselves to those with money and power and therefore earn salaries well in excess of $100,000 a year.

Nor has globalization and technology prevented clowns, like Hewlett-Packard's Leo Apotheker, from wrecking major companies and then walking away with tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars as a reward. In Mr. Apotheker's case, bringing one of the country's leading technology companies to the brink of disaster was worth $23 million (@1590 minimum wage work years). And globalization and technology have not prevented Wall Street types like Richard Fuld or Robert Rubin from pocketing hundreds of millions as they brought both their companies and the economy to ruin.

A robot columnist might try to explain such striking facts about the U.S. economy. International competition has been a major force depressing the wage and income of most of the population, yet a small group at the top has been able to game the system to largely protect themselves from such competition. But apparently we will not be reading about this fundamental feature of the U.S. economy on the NYT oped page; Thomas Friedman still has his column.

Comments (7)Add Comment
written by skeptonomist, October 02, 2011 11:18
Dean often talks about how US professionals are protected from competition, but the more important phenomenon overall is the protection of capitalists. In a true free market the switch from high-cost US labor to low-cost Chinese (say) labor should lead to only a temporary boost in profits, as companies compete to reduce prices and as they compete for the Chinese labor which was originally cheap. But the political power of capitalists enables them to maintain monopolies and protect their profits in various other ways. The mechanisms of this receive too little attention from economists; they are a major reason for the increase in income inequality.
When Bots Compete with Bots Everyone Wins
written by izzatzo, October 02, 2011 12:41
A robot columnist might try to explain such striking facts about the U.S. economy.

Actually Friedman is a bot that replaced the real Friedman a few months ago given the winner-take-all hyperconnected productivity that resulted in NYT readers using bots to read for them since bots now communicate directly with each other.

Accordingly Beat the Press will soon change its name to Beat the Bots once the trickle down effect reaches CEPR.

Stupid liberals.
written by Kat, October 02, 2011 12:55
How lacking in self awareness can one individual be?
I propose next time Bobo wishes to pen (yet another) column on American's unearned self esteem he need not scour the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience or traipse off to the Harvard Decision Lab. He simply needs to offer up the moustache as exhibit A to underscore his point.
Owners of the world unite.....
written by diesel, October 02, 2011 1:49
The Neoliberals have turned Marx on his head. In a great historic irony, it is not the workers of the world who are uniting, but the owners. It is they who advocate eliminating all trade restrictions which formerly protected the unique sovereignty of nations. The gentlemen's agreements that are called "free-trade" policies have effectively pitted each worker against all as this quote from Friedman's column shows, "My employees are all over the world — more than half outside the U.S. — and more than half of my revenues and my plans for growth are out there, too. So you tell me: What is out and what is in anymore?”.

Precisely. Well, one thing is for sure, nationalism is out. Formerly, workers worshipped the good ol' US of A with the same fervor they reserved for their favorite football team. Now they are expected to feel loyalty to what? The IDEA of free trade? Doesn't seem likely. And for the same reason Marx's revolution never took hold. People are just too stubbornly parochial. They love their neighborhood, not an abstract idea.

It's interesting that many of the architects of the doctrine of neoliberalism confess to having been avid Marxists as undergrads. Maybe they never really "grew out of it" as they claim, but rather use the same impulse in a way that yields the most remuneration for themselves.
Law Differs from Medicine
written by LSTB, October 03, 2011 10:42
However, [how we've structured the economy] has not had the same effect on the wages of doctors, lawyers, dentists or most other highly educated professionals.

It's important to supplement Baker's point by adding that legal services are sold on a free market, and that the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook advises, "Competition for job openings should be keen because of the large number of students graduating from law school each year." http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos053.htm

Because there are more people trained to provide legal services than there are jobs available, one must ask why prices haven't dropped. Actually, they have for low-end legal services, i.e. the kinds that could and are being outsourced to India or are already dirt cheap (the $399 uncontested divorce).

The reason high-end law firm salaries remain high is (a) law firms float on prestige, and paying incoming associates large salaries gives them bragging rights, and (b) their hourly billing practices promote overcharging. As of now, large law firms are hiring far fewer six-figure associates out of prestigious law schools and are switching to staff attorneys who do the same work for a lot less and fewer benefits. The free market will reduce the salaries of high-paid lawyers, just not because the strong dollar offshored their jobs, nor because Zhang and Ming plc can somehow provide an equally competent and cheaper will with trust under Maine law.
You don't need a robot to replace Friedman...
written by tom allen, October 03, 2011 1:48
just a one-line program:

while (war != won) {withdrawal = now + 6 * months};

It would save the readers and editors a good deal of time.
written by fusillijerry, October 03, 2011 4:59
Friedman makes me choke with his endless mangled metaphors. Had to turn off the TV the other Sunday when he was using a rocket metaphor and he said....

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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.