Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Tom Friedman in NYTimes

Last week Friedman had a doom and gloom op-ed in the Times, rather surprising given his past optimism.  He argues three trends have made the world more fragile:
Over the past 20 years, we’ve been steadily removing man-made and natural buffers, redundancies, regulations and norms that provide resilience and protection when big systems — be they ecological, geopolitical or financial — get stressed. We’ve been recklessly removing these buffers out of an obsession with short-term efficiency and growth, or without thinking at all.

At the same time, we’ve been behaving in extreme ways — pushing against, and breaching, common-sense political, financial and planetary boundaries.

And, all the while, we’ve taken the world technologically from connected to interconnected to interdependent — by removing more friction and installing more grease in global markets, telecommunications systems, the internet and travel. In doing so, we’ve made globalization faster, deeper, cheaper and tighter than ever before. Who knew that there were regular direct flights from Wuhan, China, to America?
Today he returns with an even more gloomy one, at least by title:
"I am not at all certain we will be able to conduct a free and fair election in November or have a peaceful transition of presidential power in January. We are edging toward a cultural civil war, only this time we are not lucky: Abraham Lincoln is not the president.
He goes on to segue into praise of local leaders, since he's given up on national leadership/Republicans.

The "doom and gloom" phrase dates back to the 1950's, when Ike attacked Democrats for spreading doom and gloom.  It's a hint that I think Friedman is unreasonable in his fears.   For example, the current pandemic will, I think, kill many fewer people than the 1918-20 one.  Why? Mostly because of our advanced science and communications.  The world is fighting it together, not as together as it could be, but much more so than in 1918.

Another example: the current riots are much less serious than in 1964-68--they don't reflect a racial division nearly as serious as then, mostly because conditions have improved greatly since then. 

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