Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A New New Deal?

Thomas Friedman was one The Daily Show tonight plugging his new book, The World Is Flat. The economic world today, Friedman says, is much like what people once thought the physical was: flat. We now live in a world where technology has linked in such a way that more people have a better chance at equal opportunity. Geniuses in Beijing can be just as useful as those in New York because they can bypass their poor economies and oppressive governments to contribute to the economy at large via Internet, satellite communication and other advanced tools.

This can only be a good thing. Once, brilliant people who could make the world better were shut out from it. Now they can enter the discourse and add their passion and intellect to society at large. With this extra help, we can hasten the discovery of a cure for cancer, enrich cultures across the board or build wonders far greater than anyone has ever dreamed.

And yet, Friedman insists there’s a dark cloud: the country needs to continue the pursuit of knowledge and technology. And we could be in danger of falling behind. He even says we need a “New New Deal” for these changing times. “When was the last time you met a twelve-year-old kid that wanted to be an engineer?” he asked anchorman Jon Stewart. It’s good rhetoric, but a pretty useless question when you think about it. Most people don’t know what they want to do when they’re twelve. (I wanted to be a magician that did real magic.) Most people don’t even know what they’ll do when they enter college. (I was originally going to major in English.) The strength of our economy is embodied by our ability to adapt and considering we are still the number one source for technological advancements across the board, we really have nothing to worry about.

But somehow, somehow, Friedman made a transition from this to energy independence. There’s a valid facet of concerning about where we get our energy (as in oil) from (because it comes from corrupt and oppressive governments). But that’s becoming less and less significant as we expand our definition of oil, new countries export it and we create and improve alternatives. This captures what’s wrong with Friedman’s vaguely nationalistic anxieties about the level playing field because it doesn’t really matter where we get the good from, just as long as we get it competitively. Who cares if we don’t create all the new technology in the world? We’ll still get it. Who cares if we’ll get most of our energy from abroad? We’ll still get it. Wanting a stable economy free from unstable and tyrannical governments is one thing—I’m on board with that. Trying to get it by encouraging self-sufficiently (in technology or energy) is quite another. It won’t make us wealthier, only busier.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I went out and got a copy of this book, because I thought it would be an interesting read. And so far it has been, Friedman has done a good job providing a narrative/expositional piece on the outsourcing phenomenon and the causes behind it. I have yet to get to the part where he talks about "no kid wants to be an engineer anymore" but I'll let you know when I do. Overall, not too bad.