Thomas Friedman Worships Lifetime Learning but Refuses to Learn

(4th column in my series on Friedman advising Hillary to Move Hard Right)
William K. Black
August 10, 2016     Bloomington, MN

Thomas Friedman has written two columns advising Hillary Clinton to win the election by adopting traditional Republican economic dogmas.  Friedman despairs that Hillary Clinton refrains from:

[T]elling people the hardest truth: that to be in the middle class, just working hard and playing by the rules doesn’t cut it anymore. To have a lifelong job, you need to be a lifelong learner, constantly raising your game.

Friedman has two big pieces of economic advice for Hillary – financial deregulation and ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Friedman treats TPP as if the issue were “trade,” but as I explained earlier in this series, TPP is actually crafted by corporate elites to eviscerate effective financial, health, and safety regulation.  Trade is simply the pretext for TPP’s passage.

Friedman never lives up to either of his companion slogans about the key to success in life – “you need to be a lifelong learner” and “constantly raising your game.”  In a future column I’ll analyze how preposterous those slogans are as guides for policy.  It is not that Friedman is stuck in a Groundhog Day, for things are not simply repeating endlessly.  Friedman keeps lowering his game.  He keeps doubling down on deregulation.  Deregulation led to the fraud epidemic that drove the $150 billion savings and loan debacle, widely described then as the worst financial scandal in our history.  Friedman loved Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s deregulation and their financial regulatory race to the bottom with Tony Blair that led to the Enron-era fraud epidemics that led to a $7 trillion loss in stock market capitalization.  Friedman loved it when George W. Bush and Gordon Brown took over from Clinton and Blair and intensified their financial regulatory race to the bottom that produced the three most destructive epidemics of financial fraud in history.  Those fraud epidemics drove the financial crisis and the Great Recession, with an estimated lost GDP over the course of the Great Recession and the recovery of $24.3 trillion.  What is Friedman calling for today?  Financial deregulation is his paramount proposal.

I’ll focus on TPP and other faux “trade” deals in a future column in this series, but the pattern is very similar.  Each deal fails to deliver the purported surge in U.S. jobs and instead increases the ability of corporate elites to eviscerate effective financial, health, and safety rules.  Friedman has never learned anything useful from this dismal record of failed promises.

As with those who still support Trump, the obvious question to Friedman is: what would it take for you to learn something and “raise your game” and oppose financial deregulation?  How many record fraud epidemics, record bubbles, and economic crises must we suffer before Friedman will prove capable of even the briefest flash of “learning?”  Friedman is such an ideologue, such an apologist for our most corrupt elites, and so addicted to shallow slogans instead of reasoning that no one expects him to display “lifelong learning.”  Nevertheless, it is impressive that he has managed to avoid even a single moment of insight about deregulation in nearly four decades.  There are few people in the world who can match Friedman’s record of “lifetime [non] learning.”. It helps, of course, that Friedman is incapable of embarrassment.

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