Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thomas Friedman's Stubbed Toe

I must admit that every time I read one of Thomas Friedman's columns, I usually bust out laughing. This latest one takes the cake, however. He posts a friend's letter to the editor of The Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina, which he precedes by saying "It is the best reaction I’ve seen to the BP oil spill — and also the best advice to President Obama on exactly whom to kick you know where":
I’d like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it; if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle. ‘Citizen’ is the key word. It’s what we do as individuals that count. For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government’s role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you’ll give up and what you’ll contribute. Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something. So again, the oil spill is my fault. I’m sorry. I haven’t done my part. Now I have to convince my wife to give up her S.U.V. Mark Mykleby.
What's truly laughable is not the content of the letter, but Friedman's analysis of it:
I think Mykleby’s letter gets at something very important: We cannot fix what ails America unless we look honestly at our own roles in creating our own problems. We — both parties — created an awful set of incentives that encouraged our best students to go to Wall Street to create crazy financial instruments instead of to Silicon Valley to create new products that improve people’s lives. We — both parties — created massive tax incentives and cheap money to make home mortgages available to people who really didn’t have the means to sustain them. And we — both parties — sent BP out in the gulf to get us as much oil as possible at the cheapest price. (Of course, we expected them to take care, but when you’re drilling for oil beneath 5,000 feet of water, stuff happens.)
What cracks me up is his use of the word "we". He assigns blame by saying that "we" are merely identified by party affiliation, Republican or Democrat. He never talks about "we" in the context of working Americans, far removed from the excesses of Wall Street or the crony-capitalism that defines Washington.

Thomas Friedman is so far out of touch with mainstream America that he can only imagine that the solutions must come from the same quarters as those that created the problem: Washington and Wall Street. He goes on to say:
That is why we have to solve the big problems in our control, not postpone them or pretend that more lobby-driven, lowest-common-denominator solutions are still satisfactory. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, but a reprieve and a breathing spell — which is what we’re having right now — is a really terrible thing to waste. We don’t want to look back on this moment and say: How could we have gone back to business as usual and petty political gridlocks with all those black swans circling around us? Then we will really kick ourselves.
I have a simple solution. Why not get Washington and Wall Street out of the way of the real propellants of our economy: small business. Silicon Valley started out just that way, so why should we not expect something that might transcend it? How about ushering in a little recovery through tax cuts and spending freezes? Our economy might just find an answer to Friedman's "crisis" that makes today seem like a stubbed toe.

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