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

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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.