Category Archives: Thomas Friedman

Competing Views of Education

Tom Friedman:

My fellow Americans, we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be.” We’ve indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can’t afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world’s best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.

To top it off, we’ve fallen into a trend of diverting and rewarding the best of our collective I.Q. to people doing financial engineering rather than real engineering. These rocket scientists and engineers were designing complex financial instruments to make money out of money — rather than designing cars, phones, computers, teaching tools, Internet programs and medical equipment that could improve the lives and productivity of millions.

Tom Barnett:

1) obsessing over PhD stats is useless, because “even if China spends a fortune to train more scientists, it cannot prevent America from capitalizing on their inventions with better business models.”

2) the commercialization, diffusion and use of inventions is more valuable to companies and economies than the original act of invention (hmm, I believe we call that the “Microsoft effect”), so more MBAs than PhDs

I prefer T.F. to T.B. here, though as I am a PhD student married to an engineer, I may be biased!

Razib’s take was written before the Toms’, but I think it a good coda here:

First, scientifically trained people are very common in quantitative finance. Second, history would probably have helped us see what was going to go down; the idea that property values were always going to go up was the latest tulip mania, though the idea was buttressed by “rigorous models.”

The way scientists can help the economy is simple: keep doing science & engineering and increase economic productivity through the generation of new techniques and technologies. That’s the real engine of growth & wealth. I think we’ve really hit the era of diminishing marginal returns when it comes to increasing efficiency through more intelligent capital allocation. Perhaps the lost luster of hedge funds and the financial sector more generally will mean that those trained in the mathematical sciences will remain in those fields. The argument in Knowledge and Wealth of Nations the modern affluence is the product of spillover effects from technological innovation should make it clear what the most optimal allocation of cognitive power is, at least when it comes to aggregate social utility.

So should our education system concentrate on a ‘next generation’ of scientists and engineers, lawyers and MBAs, critical theorists and community activists, or something else?

A Geogreen Stimulus

Global warming is a useful lie. The world is too cold anyway, and warmer temps probably would save lives. But it is important to reduce our use of foreign hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas), to prevent hydrocarbon-exporting Gap states like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela from interfering with the integration of the Seam and the Core. The sun and the wind, ethanol and biodiesel, and of course nuclear power and coal are all options for us.

With that in mine, here are the sensible parts of Tom Friedman’s latest, which call for the Economic Stimulus to include environmentally friendly spending:

Op-Ed Columnist – Bailout (and Buildup) – NYTimes.com
The 2 is back. Last week, U.S. retail gasoline prices fell below $3 a gallon — to an average of $2.91 — the lowest level in almost a year. Why does this news leave me with mixed feelings?

Because in the middle of this wrenching economic crisis, with unemployment rising and 401(k)’s shrinking, it would be a real source of relief for many Americans to get a break at the pump. Today’s declining gasoline prices act like a tax cut for consumers and can save $15 to $20 a tank-full for an S.U.V.-driving family, compared with when gasoline was $4.11 a gallon in July.

Yet, it is impossible for me to ignore the fact that when gasoline hit $4.11 a gallon we changed — a lot. Americans drove less, polluted less, exercised more, rode more public transportation and, most importantly, overwhelmed Detroit with demands for smaller, more fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars. The clean energy and efficiency industries saw record growth — one of our few remaining engines of real quality job creation.

But with little credit available today for new energy start-ups, and lower oil prices making it harder for existing renewables like wind and solar to scale, and a weak economy making it nearly impossible for Congress to pass a carbon tax or gasoline tax that would make clean energy more competitive, what will become of our budding clean-tech revolution?

This moment feels to me like a bad B-movie rerun of the 1980s. And I know how this movie ends — with our re-addiction to oil and OPEC, as well as corrosive uncertainty for our economy, trade balance, security and environment.

“Is the economic crisis going to be the end of green?” asks David Rothkopf, energy consultant and author of “Superclass.” “Or, could green be the way to end the economic crisis?”

It has to be the latter. We can’t afford a financial bailout that also isn’t a green buildup — a buildup of a new clean energy industry that strengthens America and helps the planet.

But how do we do that without any policy to affect the price signal for gasoline and carbon?

Third, an idea offered by Andy Karsner, former assistant secretary of energy, would be to modify the tax code so that any company that invests in new domestic manufacturing capacity for clean energy technology — or procures any clean energy system or energy savings device that is made by an American manufacturer — can write down the entire cost of the investment via a tax credit and/or accelerated depreciation in the first year.

Finally, if Congress passes another stimulus package, it can’t just be another round of $600 checks to go buy flat-screen TVs made in China. It has to also include bridges to somewhere — targeted investments in scientific research, mass transit, domestic clean-tech manufacturing and energy efficiency that will make us a more productive and innovative society, one with more skills, more competitiveness, more productivity and better infrastructure to lead the next great industrial revolution: E.T. — energy technology

The lower hydrocarbon prices go, the less influence that gap countries like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have. And that’s a good thing.

Thomas Friedman on Barack Obama

I’ve been saying to a few friends that Obama’s words, while deceitful, are not self contradictory: he has quietly maintained a legalistic distinction between “preparation” and “precondition” that allows him to appear to say two things at once. Tom Friedman now calls Obama on this:

Op-Ed Columnist – Thomas L. Friedman – It’s All About Leverage – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
Barack Obama is getting painfully close to tying himself in knots with all his explanations of the conditions under which he would unconditionally talk with America’s foes, like Iran. His latest clarification was that there is a difference between “preparations” and “preconditions” for negotiations with bad guys. Such hair-splitting word games do not inspire confidence, and they play right into the arms of his critics. The last place he wants to look uncertain is on national security.

The next paragraph describes some “Bush III”-like promises from Obama. The rest of the article is pretty good, too.

Iran: A 9/12 War?

In two recent posts, “You’re right. Both Tel Aviv and Riyadh play us like violins” and “The other Tom’s Sunday column,” Tom Barnett appears to lay the groundwork for supporting, or at least being indifferent to, a war on Iran. I don’t mean to say that Tom has a secret agenda, or even that he embraces the logical result of his thinking. Nonetheless, the conclusion that naturally flows from his writing is a command to opponents of offensive operations against Iran: take it easy.

Working backwards, Barnett seconds New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s call for a 9/12 President. The 9/11 emergency, so goes the argument, is over. This is because emergencies are ruled by terrorists, but policy is ruled by states. We are in this for the long haul. This means getting back to normal, and letting the American system that works so well in generating wealth and happiness function. National security will take care of itself, as it always has, because we are the biggest and best country on the block.

But earlier, Tom notes that the Israeli and Saudi governments are manipulating our policy towards Iran. While the Jewish and Wahabi States are not fans of each other, both fear the rise of Iran more than they fear each other. So both advocate, using whatever means they can, for an American strike on Iran.

What a 9/12 President would do is obvious: attack Iran.

Barnett has opposed war with Iran before on the grounds that it would wreck the “big bang effect” caused by the Iraq War. I assume, that when Tom appears to endorse ludicrous ideas (like Friedman’s line of “I will not vote for any candidate who is not committed to dismantling Guantánamo Bay and replacing it with a free field hospital for poor Cubans”), Barnett is actually America’s governmental infrastructure (especially when it comes to national security) is sufficiently readjusted to the point where just playing for time makes sense. (America famously used the playing-for-time strategy in the Cold War.)

But if we are now playing for time, that means allowing the instability in the middle east to unfold as it will. It means that we no longer need a president who focuses on those problems, but one who allows our response to do the work for him. The rise of Iran surely is a consequence of the take-down of Iraq, as is the push-back from Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Of course, it was dysfunction in the Sunni Arab world that led to 9/11. But Iran’s been deeply involved in the Sunni Arab system since 1980, at the latest. The Iranian government is just as much part of that violently dysfunctional systems as Iraq’s Saudi Arabia’s, or Syria’s. A “9/12” President would treat the middle east as just another part of the world, and if our two closest allies in any region are threatened by a rogue enemy, would he act as an ally does or think deeply about what that means for transformative, systemic, change?

The former, of course.

Improving Americans

Barnett, T.P.M. 2007. I like it! Numbre three on the list! Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog. May 24, 2007. Available online: http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/2007/05/i_like_it_number_three_on_the.html.

I like this idea a lot (whenever Tom Barnett and Tom Friedman are on the same page, good things happen):

Money quote:

I think any foreign student who gets a Ph.D. in our country — in any subject — should be offered citizenship.

Definitely add this one to the list, after civilians who work for the SysAdmin and those who join our armed forces.

I like it!

Besides the short term effects, the biggest effect of granting citizenship to Ph.D.s is long term: the improvement of the American Race.

Flag of the United States of America

Intelligence is highly heritable — something like 50% of variation in general intelligence is explained by genetics. While clearly countries in the Gap do not have social systems to give their citizens an equal chance, it’s also clearly that those who do make it to the United States and succeed in a doctoral program are both hard working and smart.

So having an immigration regime which focuses on attracting intellligent individuals has the lasting effect of increasing the intelligence of Americans generally. It allows the United States to continue her policy — taking the best, brightest, and hardest-working — from the rest of the world.

I like it!

One Man’s Descent Into Madness

Jonah Goldberg links to a New Yorker profile of Lou Dobbs.

An excerpt:

Dobbs’s rabidness provokes his critics. Not long ago, the Times columnist Thomas Friedman told a law-school audience, “And then you have a blithering idiot like Lou Dobbs, in my view, who’s using the platform of CNN in a news frame. . . . This is not news. And so we have a political class not making sense of the world for people and that’s why the public . . . is so agitated.” The Economist said that one might expect “CNN’s flagship business-news programme . . . to strive for economic literacy,” but, instead, Dobbs greets “every announcement of lost jobs as akin to a terrorist assault”; The Nation accused him of “hysteria and jingoism”; the Southern Poverty Law Center said that Dobbs “failed to present mounting and persistent evidence of anti-Hispanic racism” in his reports on anti-immigration groups like the Minutemen; one Hispanic group urged Time Warner to take Dobbs off the air.

In his new book, Dobbs says of Friedman, “His name calling would bother me more if he were anything more than a tool of international corporatism and a card-carrying member of his own Flat Earth Society.

Read the whole thing.

Bush’s Anti-Geogreen Gas Tax

“Dumb as We Wanna Be,” by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 20 September 2006, A27.

I’ve written before on the need for a geogreen gas tax. Raising the effective cost of petroleum to something like five-dollars-per-galloon. A geogreen gas tax supports freedom and frees us from propping up Middle East tyrants.

Stupidly, very stupidly, America taxes foreign sugar-ethanol. This hurts our New Core allies, props up Saudi terror-financiers, and takes in exactly the wrong direction.

Tom Friedman writes:

Thanks to pressure from Midwest farmers and agribusinesses, who want to protect the U.S. corn ethanol industry from competition from Brazilian sugar ethanol, we have imposed a stiff tariff to keep it out. We do this even though Brazilian sugar ethanol provides eight times the energy of the fossil fuel used to make it, while American corn ethanol provides only 1.3 times the energy of the fossil fuel used to make it. We do this even though sugar ethanol reduces greenhouse gases more than corn ethanol. And we do this even though sugar cane ethanol can easily be grown in poor tropical countries in Africa or the Caribbean, and could actually help alleviate their poverty.

Yes, you read all this right. We tax imported sugar ethanol, which could finance our poor friends, but we don’t tax imported crude oil, which definitely finances our rich enemies. We’d rather power anti-Americans with our energy purchases than promote anti-poverty.

Hopefully Bush will flip-flop on this soon. Otherwise, his second term will be as wasteful as the Republican House is harmful.

The Central Truth: The Bush Administration Tried to Appease Anti-Democracy Terrorists in Iraq (and Friedman Still Wants To)

The Central Truth,” by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 8 September 2006, http://select.nytimes.com/2006/09/08/opinion/08friedman.html (full text at Boca Guy, donkey o.d., Free Democracy, and Peking Duck).

Tom Friedman, who I generally like except for a reflexive social liberalism, has an almost perfect editorial

The short history of the Iraq war is that the Sunnis in Iraq, and in the nearby Arab states, refused to accept one man, one vote, because it meant bringing the Shiite majority to power in Iraq for the first time. The Sunni mainstream, not the minority, believes Shiites are lesser Muslims and must never be allowed to rule Sunnis. Early in the Iraq war a prominent Sunni Arab leader said to me privately, ‘Thomas, these Shiites, they are not real Muslims.’

For two years, the Shiite center in Iraq put up with the barbaric Sunni violence directed against its mosques and markets – violence the U.S. couldn’t stop because it didn’t have enough troops, and because the Sunni center inside and outside Iraq tacitly supported it.

Friedman makes to claims that are almost right

The Iraqi Sunni Arabs oppose democracy. This is a central realization that the Bush Administration has denied. The Sunni Arabs demand a centralized Iraq, because they hope for a return of their 15% minority government over the whole State. The Sunni Arabs reject democracy by supporting anti-democratic forces such as al Qaeda in Iraq and the Baath Party. However, he is wrong that this means Sunni Arabs in neighboring states oppose democracy, too. The Muslim Brothers, for instance, supported the Iraqi elections because they want to build momentum for elections in Egypt and Syria.

The Multinational Force in Iraq has not protected the Shia majority. Or rather, MFI has attempted to appease the Sunni Arabs by subverting democracy. The Bush Administration has calculated that, by stabbing Iraqi democrats in the back, we can stop Iraqi Sunni Arab terrorists from attacking civilians, policemen, infrastructure, and soldiers. Friedman is wrong that we “couldn’t” stop this — we often came close, such as putting the Fallujis in protective custody. We could achieve military victory. However, Bush does not have the spine to win.

Unfortunately, Friedman’s anti-dementia medicine wrote off while he was writing the last paragraph

Just staying the course will not contain it. But before we throw up our hands on Iraq, why not make one more big push to produce a more stable accord between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds over how to share power and oil revenues and demobilize militias. We still don’t have such an understanding at the center of Iraqi politics. It may not be possible, but without it, neither is a self-sustaining, unified Iraqi democracy.

Translation: Why not try to appease one more time, but this time, in a BIG way.

Neville Chamberlain, the Great Appeaser, originally chose Lord Halifax as the next Prime Minister of Britain. Halifax’s plan would have been to continue the policy of appeasement against Germany, accepting German domination of Europe in the wake of her invasion of Poland. Fortunately for history Halifax knew he was spineless and demurred, allowing Winston Churchill to lead the United Kingdom. Halifax knew his own policy would be disastrous.

Let’s hope Bush comes to the same realization, and leaves Iraq now. Let’s hope Friedman comes to the realization or, at least, lays off the crazy pills.

Update: Barnett sound like he agrees.

Best Globalization Pundits Agree

The Book Is Flatulent: A Brief Review of Thomas L. Friedman’s “The World Is Flat” Op-Ed,” by Thomas Barnett, The Newsletter from Thomas P.M. Barnett, 20 June 2005, http://www.newrulesets.com/journals/barnett_20jun2005.pdf.

Friedman’s excellent capture on why Iraq still matters–and still must be won,” by Thomas Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog, 26 May 2006, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/archives2/003299.html.

After ‘s scortched earth review of ‘s The World is Flat, I was defensive. I had enjoyed the book, and expected Barnett (whose work is obviously influenced by Friedman’s) to pen a positive review. Reading World was a wonderful vacation, and Tom Friedman and Tom Barnett are the two authors I advice my international relations students to read.


In particular, to this section:

Friedman is stupefying in his efforts to interpret everything in terms of flatness (Southwest lets you print your boarding tickets online? “Yet another brilliant example that the world is getting flat!”; You can eat sushi in a small Midwestern town? “OMYGOD the world is sooooo flat!”) that by the end of the book you have no idea what the terms means anymore. Flatness is a euphemism for everything from “cool” to “new” to “high-tech” to “competitive” to “innovative” to “globalization” to “flat” (no, wait a minute, that last one doesn’t work . . . or does it?) am not kidding you, as you read this book you’re so trained, almost in a Pavlovian sort of way, to see the word “flat” that when you go more than a paragraph or two without seeing it, you start to get anxious.

I responded by giving a detailed description, with charts, of what Tom Friedman means by flat. I found Barclay’s Bank using the term the same way.

Happily, things have changed. From a recent Barnett blog post:

Friedman remains one of our best analysts on the Middle East. It’s been so long since he was known for just that, thanks to “Lexus and the Olive Tree,” that you tend to forget that that is where he cut his teeth.

The killer line here: “Every major transformation since Napoleon in this part of the world has been the function of an external jolt,” Mr. Ibrahim said.”

That, in a nutshell, is why Bush’s Big Bang strategy was so visionary and so bold–and so dead-on.

Put Friedman’s op-ed on Iraq together with Ignatius’ (above) on Iran and you basically have why I still support the Big Bang strategy and favor the soft-kill option of connectivity with Iran. Taken together, you might it call it a blueprint for action in the GWOT (except I’d add strategic alliance with China and building an East Asian NATO on Kim Jong Il’s empty throne; then it’s on to Africa!).

These are seriously good signs: serious consensus emerging among the nation’s top opinion leaders (a strategy of connectivity and System Perturbations) and among the nation’s top military generals (the Long War and the “first war of globalization”).

This makes me extremely happy.

Maybe even… thrilled.

🙂

Embracing Defeat, Part I: Barnett’s Two Strategies

Note: This is part of a series of reviews for Blueprint for Action. The introduction and table of contents are also available.

Tom Barnett has been embracing losing.

Now it is time for him to embrace defeat.

barnett_embracing_defeat

The original , written by Dr. , is the story of Japan under the American Occupation. It argued that Japan recognized the destruction of the war as a result of an independent foreign policy, and so concluded that the way forward had to involve a dependent foreign policy. The rise of Japan since has proven the wisdom of this policy.

embracing_defeat

Japan, by embracing defeat, was applying a common military doctrine: don’t reinforce failure. Just as a wise general doesn’t lose more lives taking a hard pillbox, when there is an easier way to victory, a wise nation’s policy should flow like water, away from the tough high points and to the easy lowlands.

In Blueprint for Action, Dr. Thomas PM Barnett embraces strategic defeat, urging America to save her strengths by avoiding what is difficult. He specifically rejects ‘s vision of a “pagan ethos,” because it is too hard.

Just as Barnett says America won’t win in Iraq — globalization will win in Iraq, Barnett the solution for the Gap isn’t American occupation, but rather international cooperation.

barnett_kaplan_md

In this he is correct. However, Barnett’s defeatism, which has unfoled with his philosophy, has yet to rearrange some of his original concepts.

Tom Barnett‘s grand strategic vision is shrinking the Gap, expanding the Zone of Peace into the whole of the Zone of War.

barnett_core_gap_md

Dr. Barnett gives two strategies for shrinking the gap. The first is the “Reverse Domino Theory,” which is familiar to anyone who has read ‘s The Lexus and the Olive Tree, and its extended final chapter, The World is Flat. In the Reverse Domino Theory, the rising connectedness of one country spills over into others, such as Chinese investment in nations that supply raw materials to the Middle Kingdom.

barnett_china_reverse_md

The second strategy, “The A-Z Rule Set for Processing Politically Bankrupt States,” fleshes out one paragraph in Barnett’s previous book, The Pentagon’s New Map

Perhaps the most important institutional challenge we fave in shrinking the Gap is the lack of international mechanisms to encourage and manage much-needed regime change there. The Gap suffers numerous bad leaders who have greatly overstayed their welcome, and the Core needs a series of international institutions to guide this process, such as Sebastian Mallaby’s “International Reconstruction Fund” be created along the lines of the International Monetary Fund. This organization would focus on pooling expertise and resources, such as peacekeeping forces, to facilitate the professing of failed states once bad leadership has been removed, How to identify such leaders for removal? Here is the example of the joint UN-Sierra Leone war crime special court shows the way. Once the court indicated Liberia president Charles Taylor for his activities in Sierra Leone, his fall was predetermined. This is exactly the sort of approach we should use for the Castros, Mugabes, and Qaddafis of the Gap. Let their own regional neighbors hurl the first charges, and then let the Core step in and force their downfall

As outlined in Blueprint for Action, the Rule Set starts and ends with the United Nations (from Security Council to International Criminal Court), has a lot of room for Inter-Governmental Organizations in the middle (from the G20 “Star Chamber” to the International Reconstruction Fund), with the American invasion and hand-over smack in the middle.

Because of American weakness, Barnett cedes critical portions of shrinking the gap to non-Americans, subsuming much of American foreign policy under a “global test.”

barnett_az_ruleset_md

Barnett’s philosophy naturally tries to maximize gains with a minimum of expenditure. Yet he stops here, not taking his philosophy to its logical conclusion.

How should Dr. Barnett embrace defeat even more? Stay tuned, and find out!


This has been Embracing Defeat, part of a series of reviews for Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett’s Blueprint for Action. The posts in Embracing Defeat are:

I. Barnett’s Two Strategies
II. Blood and Will
III. The Born Gimp
IV. Embracing Victory