Thomas Friedman Despairs

From “Obama’s 1-2 Punch?,” Thomas Friedman, NYT:

“If election campaigns are supposed to be an exercise in coming to grips with our biggest problems, then the one we just went through was a dismal failure.  Our only real solution — a strategy to reignite consistent growth so we can narrow our income gaps and lift the middle class.  — never got a serious airing.  Instead, each side was focused on how to secure a bigger slice of a shrinking pie for its own base.

“On Sunday, The Times’s Annie Lowrey wrote a piece quoting [Harvard economist Benjamin] Friedman who wondered aloud whether we’re not now entering a reverse cycle, ‘in which our absence of growth is delivering political paralysis, and the political paralysis preserves the absence of growth.’

“I think he’s right and that the only way to break out of this deadly cycle is with extraordinary leadership.  Republicans and Democrats would have to govern is just the opposite way they ran their campaigns — by offering bold plans that not only challenge the other’s base but their own and thereby mobilize the center, a big majority, behind their agenda, to break the deadlock.

“[T]he mantra that if you ‘just work hard and play by the rules’ you should expect a middle-class lifestyle is no longer operable.  Today you need to work harder and smarter, learn and re-learn faster and longer to be in the middle class.  The high-wage, middle-skilled job is a thing of the past.  Today’s high-wage or decent-wage jobs all require higher skills, passion or curiosity.  Government’s job is to help provide citizens with as many lifelong learning opportunities as possible to hone such skills.

“I still believe that America’s rich and the middle classes would pay more taxes and trim entitlements if they thought it was for a plan that was fair, would truly address our long-term fiscal imbalances and set America on a journey of renewal that would ensure our kids have a crack at the American dream. … If only we had a second-term president, unencumbered by ever having to run again, who was ready to test what really bold leadership might produce.”  Emphasis added.


Friedman Links Messes in Europe and Mideast

From “Two Worlds Cracking Up,” Thomas Friedman, NYT:

“In Europe, the supranational project did not work, and now, to a degree, Europe is falling back into individual states.  In the Arab world, the national project did not work, so some of the Arab states are falling back onto sects, tribes, regions and clans.

“In Europe, the supranational project did not work because the European states were never ready to cede control over their budgets to a central authority that would ensure a common fiscal policy to back up a common currency.

“In the Arab world, the national project did not work — in many, but not all cases — because the tribes, sects, clans and regional groups that make up these Arab states, whose borders were drawn up by colonial powers, were unwilling or unable to meld genuine national communities.”  Italics in original.

And all timed to determine the outcome of America’s presidential election!


Our Afghan War Theater is Theater of the Absurd

From Thomas Friedman’s column, “A Festival of Lies,” in today’s NYT:

“In Afghanistan, I laugh out loud whenever I hear Obama administration officials explaining that we just need to train more Afghan soldiers to fight and then we can leave.  Is there anything funnier?  Afghan men need to be trained to fight?  They defeated the  British and the Soviets!”

“The problem is that we turned a blind eye as President Hamid Karzai stole the election and operated a corrupt regime. Then President Obama declared that our policy was to surge U. S. troops to clear out the Taliban so ‘good’ Afghan government could come in and take our place.  There is no such government.  Our problem is not that Afghans don’t know the way to fight.  It is that not enough have the will to fight for the government they have.  How many would fight for Karzai if we didn’t pay them?”  Italics in original.

He asks if there’s anything funnier.  How about believing that sanctions will stop the Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons?  That’s a knee-slapper too.

A Reminder of What The Election Should Be About

From “Capitalism Version 2012,” Thomas L. Friedman, NYT:

“America’s success for over 200 years was largely due to its healthy, balanced publicprivate partnership — where government provided the institutions, rules, safety nets, education, research and infrastructure to empower the private sector to innovate, invest and take the risks that promote growth and jobs.

“When the private sector overwhelms the public, you get the 2008 subprime crisis.  When the public overwhelms the private, you get choking regulations.

“[T]he ideal 2012 election would be one that offered the public competing conservative and liberal versions of the key grand bargains, the key balances, that America needs to forge to adapt its capitalism to this century.

“The first is a grand bargain to fix our long-term structural deficit by phasing in $1 in tax increases, via tax reform, for every $3 to $4 in cuts to entitlements and defense over the next decade.  If the Republican Party continues to take the view that there must be no tax increases, we’re stuck.

“As part of this, we will need an intergenerational grand bargain…. We need a proper balance between government spending on nursing homes and nursery schools….

“Another grand bargain we need is between the environmental community and the oil and gas industry….

“Another grand bargain we need is on infrastructure.  We have more than a $2 trillion deficit in bridges, roads, airports, ports and bandwidth….

“Within both education and health care, we need grand bargains that better allocate resources between remediation and prevention. … We waste too much money treating people for preventable diseases and reteaching students in college what they should have learned in high school.

“Capitalism and political systems — like companies — must constantly evolve to stay vital.”

The problem is too much willfulness and not enough will.   We limp along on last-minute, short-term, lowest-common-denominator bargains, but can’t manage the “grand bargains” that will get this country soaring again.





Quote of the Day

“The [Republican] party has let itself become the captive of conflicting ideological bases:  anti-abortion advocates, anti-immigration activists, social conservatives worried about the sanctity of marriage, libertarians who want to shrink government, and anti-tax advocates who want to drown government in a bathtub.

“Sorry, but you can’t address the great challenges America faces today with that incoherent mix of hardened positions.”

Thomas Friedman, “We Need a Second Party,” NYT

A Reality Check from Thomas Friedman

From “Average Is Over,” by Thomas Friedman, NYT:

“In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle.  But, today, average is officially over.  Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius.  Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra — their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment.  Average is over.”  Emphasis in original.