Friedman Looks to Flatten Problems in Flat World

November 30, 2009 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Perhaps Friedman could use Gallagher's "Sledge-O-Matic?"

Thomas Friedman, author of recent book Hot, Flat, and Crowded and New York Times columnist, combines a multi-discipline framework in analyzing some of the most complex issues facing our country, from both an economic and political perspective. Friedman’s distinctive lens he uses to assimilate the world, coupled with his exceptional ability of breaking down and articulating these thorny challenges into bite-sized stories and analogies, makes him a one-of-a-kind journalist. Whether it’s explaining the history of war through McDonald’s hamburgers, or using the Virgin Guadalupe to explain the rise of China, Friedman brings highbrow issues down to the eye-level of most Americans.

In his seminal book, The World is Flat, Friedman explains how technology has flattened the global economy to a point where U.S. workers are fighting to keep their domestic tax preparation and software engineering jobs, as new emerging middle classes from developing countries, like China and India, steal work.

The Flat World

In boiling down the recent financial crisis, Friedman used Iceland to explain the “flattening” of the globe:

“Fifteen British police departments lost all their money in Icelandic online savings accounts. Like who knew? I knew the world was flat – I didn’t know it was that flat…that Iceland would become a hedge fund with glaciers.”

The left-leaning journalist hasn’t been afraid to bounce over to the “right” when it comes to foreign affairs and certain fiscally conservative issues. For example, he initially full-heartedly supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. And on global trade, he has a stronger appreciation of the economic benefits of free trade as compared to traditionally Democratic protectionist views.

Calling All Better Citizens

In a recent Charlie Rose interview, Friedman’s patience with our country’s citizenry has worn thin – he believes government leaders cannot be relied on to solve our problems.

When it comes to the massive deficits and foreign affair issues, Friedman comes to the conclusion we need to cut expenses or raise taxes. By creating a $1 per gallon gasoline tax, Friedman sees a “win-win-win-win” solution. Not only could the country wean itself off foreign oil addiction from authoritarian governments and create scores of new jobs with E.T. (Energy Technologies), the tax could also raise money to reduce our fiscal deficit, and pay for expanded healthcare coverage.

It’s fairly clear to me that government can’t show the leadership in cutting expenses.  Since cutting benefits for voters won’t get you re-elected, taxes most certainly will have to go up. Wishful thinking that a recovering economy will do the dirty, debt-cutting work is probably naïve.  If forced to pick a poison, the gas tax is Friedman’s choice.  I’m not so sure the energy lobby would feel the same?

Political gridlock has always been an obstacle for getting things done in Washington. Technology, scientific polling, 24/7 news cycles, and deep-pocketed lobbyists are only making it tougher for our country to deal with our difficult challenges. Regardless of whether Friedman’s gasoline tax is the silver bullet, I welcome the clear, passionate voice from somebody that understands the challenges of living in a flat world.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) owns certain exchange traded funds (BKF, FXI) and has a short position in MCD at the time this article was originally posted. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

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