Monday, September 15, 2008

Thomas Friedman

I just came out of a meeting in which we talked about Thomas Friedman. I did not share my colleagues' enthusiasm for the guy.

I first heard of Thomas Friedman when I was about to move to Lebanon and my Lebanese wife gave me a copy of From Beirut to Jerusalem. I thought that the book had some interesting points hidden into pile of junk (actually, I liked the book more than my friend Pask who also has a Lebanese wife but is much smarter than me). More annoyingly, the book has a strong us versus them tone (which became much worse in Friedman's later writings in the NYT).

Then I started reading the Lexus and the Olive Tree and thought that if the guy had something to say about international affairs, he really had no clue about economics. This was proven by the masterpiece the World is Flat. A funny review of the book is here. It ends like this: How the *$#! do you open a window in a fallen wall? More to the point, why would you open a window in a fallen wall? Or did the walls somehow fall in such a way that they left the windows floating in place to be opened?

Here is a more serious (bus still funny) and academic review by Ed Leamer (one of the world's top trade economists).

What about Friedman's McDonald's theory of war (countries that have McDonald's restaurants don't go to war against each other)? Didn't he ever have a Big Mac in Ain el Mreisseh or a kosher burger in Givat Ram? Yet, he lived in Beirut and Jerusalem.
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Raja said...

You should have known better by now, that Friedman knows something about everything,but as you say he has a clue about nothing,from economics to naional (US) politics to international relations. His rapidly retreating positions on US intervention in Iraq and the prospects for democratisation" of the Middle East are some of the best examples of the wide-eyed enthusiasm which masks his actual blindness.

Anonymous said...

If you are talking about Matt Taibbi's article on Freidman's book, well, it is the funniest I have read, and I simply loved it!

I would much rather hear what Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel winner for economics and was Chief Economist at World Bank) has to say on globalization, not a NYT columnist, who is ignorant of the big picture. Stiglitz said while on a trip to India, that 600 million people from India (out of the one billion!) have been left out of the “development” fold of globalization. So, obviously, all India is not going to migrate into middle class, if anything the inequality is far, far worse now, after the advent of globalization.

There is also a small, but interesting book I would love to recommend, by Aronica and Ramdoo, "The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman's New York Times Bestseller," which offers a counterperspective to Friedman's theory on globalization.

It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike. As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman's book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn't a single table or data footnote in Friedman's entire book.

"Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution," says Aronica.

Interestingly enough, the book written about two years back, discusses in the chapter, "Debt and Financialization of America," the debt ridden American society, deregulated financial institutions, mortgage crisis and other related issues, with clear pointers to the economic crisis gripping US today.

You may want to see
and watch
for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman's
"The World is Flat".

Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens!

There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation