Thursday, December 07, 2006

What is Tom Friedman Thinking?

I'm not sure what to make of Tom Friedman. It seems as though he is well-respected in some circles. (I saw him on the Daily Show and Jon Stewart was fawning all over him). But when I read what he has to say about economic matters, I'm never very impressed. And I'm not alone. If I recall correctly, the Economist savaged his book The World is Flat in their review.

In this vein, today I came across an article he wrote on a Chinese solar panel company. In it, he said two things that floored me. First, he says:
As an American, I worry that if we don't start doing everything we can to develop our own clean power, we're going to miss out on the green industrial revolution. Today, most of our hybrid cars are imported from Japan. Tomorrow, if Mr. Shi has his way, most of our solar panels will come from China.

Now, if this were a piece by Lou Dobbs, I could understand the concern. But isn't Tom Friedman supposed to be a free trader?? If he is, then why does he care who makes hybrid cars and solar panels? They should be made by the most efficient producer -- end of story. There's no reason to complain that Americans are not making them. So, his statements suggest to me that perhaps he is not completely familiar with the theory behind free trade.

Second, he says:
Congress' idiotic decision not to impose higher mileage standards on U.S. carmakers helped Detroit miss the market and almost go bankrupt.

Let me get this straight: The absence of government action caused U.S. companies to miss the market? What, was the market somehow invisible and could not be seen except with special government-issued glasses? Again, I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding here, this time of the term "market." Furthermore, there has been plenty of government intervention in green industries already, much of it for dead-end projects long-since forgotten, so it's not completely clear that government action is the solution here.

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