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Friedman Flattening the Elderly on NPR

Yesterday,  NPR’s On Point gave Tom Friedman a full hour to treat American minds to another round of ‘flat earth’ blender action.  The topic was Tom Friedman’s plan to fix America.

One of the key ingredients of the Friedman plan seems to be ditching the old folks.  The way he looks at it, to fix our economy we need to cut the deficit, increase our investment in infrastructure and education, cut corporate taxes and cut payroll taxes.  To pay for it he thinks we should cut social security and medicare,  increase energy taxes and cut infrastructure spending.

Don’t ask me how we can both increase and decrease infrastructure spending at the same time.  Friedman couldn’t explain it either.  I’m just going to assume that these two thoughts of Friedman’s cancel each other out.

That leaves Social Security and Medicare cuts along with an energy tax to fund:
1) reduced payroll taxes
2) reduced corporate taxes
3) reduced deficit
4) increased education investment

Clearly Friedman expects regressive energy taxes and benefit cuts to do a lot of heavy lifting.  And cuts to payroll taxes are not without potential pitfalls.

So how’s the plan supposed to work?  Friedman’s “hybrid politics” in his own words:

“We can only invent our way out of this.  We need to invent ,um, more companies that make peoples lives more secure, more productive, more healthy, more comfortable and more entertained. And sell those goods and services to other people around the world.

And we have to do that in a way that leverages such a skilled American work force with such good infrastructure that we are so productive that one American worker can do the work of ten Chinese workers or ten Indian workers and therefore be paid like ten Chinese or ten Indian worker”

What’s to prevent misallocation of these highly educated super inventors which Friedman wants to develop?  Take a look at Neel Kashkari for example,  he’s has a bachelor’s and master’s in aeronautical engineering. Yet the only engineering work we have Neel doing amounts to financial engineering banker bailouts.  If more education merely translates into more clever financial engineers then we’d be better off without it.

Friedman also forgets that American workers have not been able to translate productivity gains into wage increases for the last 30 years.  Most people are aware of that fact but Emmanuel Saez’s site contains plenty of hard data on this for those interested.  Therefore,  our American super workers won’t be paid a penny more if they are five, ten or twenty times as productive as Asian workers.  Productivity gains are entirely captured by top exec’s and  shareholders.

Friedman also discounts the obvious.  Anything worth copying will be copied elsewhere.  It won’t be a case of one American super worker replacing the work of ten Asians.  It’ll be one American super job exported to one Asian super worker who will replace the work of ten Asians.  Intel co-founder Andy Grove debunked this Fried-think about 6 months ago during a Bloomberg interview.

So what the heck is Friedman thinking?  Is this just one more lazy establishment pitch to steal from our elderly?   Shrug.  I’m gonna stick with the old folks.

For Friedman fans,  plenty of other gems came out in the course of the full hour interview.

Can’t have a Friedman piece without a bad metaphor:

“I wrote the world is flat in 2004 and people ask today me if I got it right.  I say no,  I got it wrong, the world is so much flatter than I thought.”

A splash of WTF is he talking about:

“What we envy about China is not their communism,  it’s their Reaganism.”

Last time I checked,  China wasn’t battling welfare queens.  Nor are they raising interest rates to 20% and dynamiting their own factories.  Perhaps it’s just Tom’s way of maintaining his stature as an independent thinker.  I’d say he’s got the independent part down pat.

A healthy dose of pot meets kettle:

“And that’s what’s really scary. When we see in them[China],  it’s nothing to do with autocracy, throwing people in jail.  I don’t want any of that.  I don’t want to live there.  I don’t want their government.”

Does he not realize that the United States has more people in jail than China?  And that’s in absolute terms,  in relative terms we have 6 times as many people in jail.  Even the NY Times which Friedman works for has pointed this out:  Global Prison Population.  And it’s not a particularly new phenomenon,  2001 data: (PDF).

“China is very happy to support the Iranian dictatorship,  it’s happy to support the Burmese dictatorship,  it’s happy to, you know, support the Saudi, you know, Autocracy or Theocracy, just sell us the oil and gas.”

Wait…  we’re accusing China of supporting the Saudi’s?  What about Bandar Bush?  And who do the Saudi’s buy all thier weapons from?  Is “you know” Friedman’s safe word to remind NPR not to call him out on this?

WSJ: Saudi Arms Deal Advances
White House to Notify Congress Soon of $60 Billion Package, Largest Ever for U.S.

And finally,  the dual standards of American exceptionalism:

“I don’t think we’re the same as China,  I don’t see them looking to actually project values in the world. Or to do what America does do,  which is to pay a price, um ah, to keep the sea lanes open for everyone.  A disproportionate price.  To provide global public goods.  That’s what we do.  And uh,  I don’t see China ready willing or desirous to do any such thing.  They are freeloaders on the global system.”

Funny how the Chinese are the freeloaders and yet we owe them a boat load of money which we’re never ever going to pay back.  Is being a deadbeat somehow better than being a freeloader?  Perhaps the two issues cancel each other out.

And does our establishment even want China to be doing any of this stuff?  My bet is that our establishment would freak out if China built a navy to guard the worlds sea lanes or projected it’s values on the world.  It takes some chutzpah to criticize a nation for not doing things which our establishment cannot possibly want them to do.

Sigh,  I’m sure that it would take far less than ten Chinese workers to replace Mr Friedman’s journalism.  Perhaps we could best stimulate the economy by giving Tom Friedman an early retirement.

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