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David Rothkopf counsels Thomas Friedman

October 10, 2011

I’m not a particularly big fan of David Rothkopf but the contrast in maturity between his article and Thomas Friedman’s right next to it in Sunday’s New York Times is quite stark.  It’s as if Rothkopf the teacher is counseling his very disturbed and delinquent student.

Rothkopf’s article, “Redefining the Meaning of No. 1”, questions the drive and goal of competitiveness.  Why do we want to be No. 1 and what do we want to be No. 1 in?  The United States, he notes, is a developed country and is unlikely to grow anywhere near as fast as the poorer countries of the world.  But there are more important things in life, like “the products of rich educational and cultural resources, capable institutions, stability and prosperity”.  He points to many studies that show the US falling far short in global quality of life measures and observes that the nations which do well focus on “social outcomes” –”on policies that enhance contentment and security as well as enriching both human capabilities and opportunities”.  Such a focus is a “sign of maturity” and “an important antidote to both the rhetoric of decline and mindless boosterism: the recognition that whether we are falling behind or achieving new heights is greatly determined both by what goals we set and how we measure our performance”.

From the wise words of Rothkopf we descend to the domain of Thomas Friedman.  Is there anyone on the pages of the NYT more grating and immature?  His title tells us almost all we need to know about what will follow: “Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?”.  It’s all a game and the US better up its play if it wants to be Number 1.  Whereas Rothkopf essentially argues that we’ve already developed sufficient resources and technologies to live very well and what we really need is the maturity to realize it, Friedman glories in the game of the entrepreneur.  To live well now, we need ever newer and better products.  This despite the fact we already have far more products than we know what to do with.  The future of a country of 300 million is literally in the hands of just “thousands” of entrepreneurs who, “thank God“, are ready to “go out and invent stuff and make stuff and export stuff”.  Damn it, if we only had more stuff we could finally live well!  We can’t be a nation that focuses on “social outcomes”, we need to be “the place where everyone everywhere should want to come to start up and make something — something that makes people’s lives more productive, healthy, comfortable, entertained, educated or secure”.  One’s breath is taken away by such crap!  And how do we make people’s lives more “productive, healthy, comfortable, entertained, educated or secure”?  The standard Freidman recipe:  “Quality education and infrastructure, open immigration, the right rules to incentivize risk-taking, government-financed scientific research”, a “this-really-hurts fiscal plan”, and higher taxes.

If it weren’t for Friedman’s prominence and connections among the monied elites in this country, we could have a great laugh at Friedman’s crazy world view.  Bringing humor into it, Friedman even sites the Onion to make his case, completely oblivious to the tremendous pile of comic material he provides that paper almost every day.

In sum, typical nonsense by Friedman and a very good piece by Rothkopf.

  1. Andrew permalink

    But we so buy into the Friedman ideal. Witness the adulation of Steve Jobs, who did what, exactly? Even if we do extend to Jobs the total creation of iPhone, iPad, iPod, etc., is the world clearly a better place thanks to these inventions? What the heck is the purpose of our “work”?

    Maybe I shouldn’t comment as I don’t own a single product produced by Apple Computer, nor have I read The World Is Flat. I guess I just have a shabby life.

  2. I know. I’ve been feeling the same way about Jobs and Apple. No doubt a smart man but are Apple products anything more than a fancier toaster? It’s so obvious that the things that are important to humanity are not going to come from a fancier computer or ever more “stuff”. What is the purpose is the key question and I give Rothkopf credit for addressing it. Rothkopf, though, excels at the game of pointing out critical defects in the world and then offering amazingly inadequate and laughably silly solutions for them.

    I don’t own any apple “stuff” either and I haven’t read The World is Flat (although I have browsed through it at a book store). Rest assured, you know what’s in it. WIthout more “stuff”, all our lives are shabby.

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