Thomas Friedman is Full (Of It)

The Earth Is Full – NYTimes.com.

Next to Paul Krugman–also a New York Times columnist–Thomas L. Friedman (no relation to the other Friedman family of Milton, David, and Patri) may be one of the silliest columnists I have ever read.

He came up with the idea that the “Earth is flat”–an idea whose origin was appropriately ridiculed in the National Review Online–stated that he preferred a Chinese style dictatorship to good old-fashioned American democracy where people have the gall to disagree, and is now preaching his usual schtick that the world is going to change very dramatically very soon. This time, it’s because Earth has hit its carrying capacity of human beings.

Which might be believable, if Friedman had done some research and hadn’t completely lost his credibility.

Where does he get this idea (in part) as well as his silliness? From Yemen:

While in Yemen last year, I saw a tanker truck delivering water in the capital, Sana. Why? Because Sana could be the first big city in the world to run out of water, within a decade. That is what happens when one generation in one country lives at 150 percent of sustainable capacity.

No, that’s what happens when you live in a goddamn desert. The average rainfall in Sana is approximately 7 inches. How much does Washington, DC get? 39. When you live in a desert, there’s naturally a lack of water. That’s why i’ts called a desert. How this escapes Friedman, I am not sure. I’m not even sure if I want to be sure.

One of his other sources is China’s environmental minister. Excuse me, but are we really going to take the government official from a one-party, authoritarian state that continually represses its people at face value? He could be the Minister of Silly Walks for all I care, I’m going to take a very critical look at what he’s saying. Friedman gives no evidence that he does so.

He also blames increasing world population for driving up food prices. Apparently he forget about what the Federal Reserve was doing with its monetary diarrhea. There’s more than one aspect to everything.

The final thing that Friedman ignores is the massive leap in technological progress we’ve achieved over the past 20 years.

You could say it was a--oh never mind.

Let’s think back to 1990 and the end of the Cold War. Cellphones–still called “cellular phones” or “mobile phones” back then, before we had bit.ly shortening our language–were massive bricks that a judge could use if there was no book to throw. Laptops? Fougettaboudit. The Internet? What’s that? Being able to talk to someone for free across the world? That’s crazy! Knowing where a friend goes every day, what she’s doing, who she’s dating, and how she’s feeling? Now that’s just science fiction! (“And a bit creepy, too.” “No argument there.”)

And that’s just the past twenty years. We keep coming up with new stuff all the time. Read io9, Engadget, CNet, or this man’s fine blog, and you’ll see that “Holy Scott Bakula, Batman, we’re really chugging along!” In fact, if you go back and read the main source for Friedman’s piece:

We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies.

Emphasis is so obviously mine. The point is: what the hell is current? Things are changing on a daily basis. What is current today is nigh-obsolete tomorrow, and not just because manufacturers plan it that way. We are constantly developing new technologies that increase crop yields, better utilize natural resources, unleash new sources of energy, and increase material strength while decreasing mass and weight (which is very important if you’re building, oh, I dunno, an orbital habitat.)

Friedman seems to think that this will radically change our entire society, agreeing with the source of the above quote, Paul Gilding. He seems to think that we’re going to move to a “happiness-based economy,” ignoring that we’re already sort of (a hamburger brings me happiness, so I buy it and I’m happy; not a difficult concept to get your head around) have it. True, its not perfect, but it would be far better than any sense of top-down, artificial command/management. And yet, despite all these massive changes in the past twenty years–or heck, past fifty–have we really changed all that dramatically? Did we completely transform our economies? I would say no. There has been tremendous social change–the Civil Rights movement, the acceptance of gays and lesbians, and the simple demographic changes–but has the economy been transformed? No. Despite all the government mucking about, it has still remained a fairly free market system, based on hard work, individual choice, and voluntary agreements. If the past fifty years haven’t wrecked it–and with our ability to use resources and new forms of energy getting better all the time–I highly doubt that fears of global warming are going to do it.

In short, Friedman just didn’t do his research. He missed a ton of issues, from the laughably obvious (Yemen) to the not so obvious (Federal Reserve and technological growth, though the last one’s obviousness is debatable.) That’s an important thing, when you’re a writer, and I would say that I’m shocked that the Times employs a columnist who fails to do it, but then, I have done my research.