Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Adventures In Awesome: New Thomas Frank Book!

It's Anger Week on the Intarnettz this week, according to my experiences jumping from site to site and message board to message board to see that the humidity of summer has made people go, "Bzzzt furious rage!" at just about anything. Seeing AICN melt down over something as innocuous as The Clone Wars and hearing that Latino Review was being targeted by Microsoft for posting a couple of pictures for a movie that isn't even being made was enough to disturb my equilibrium quite badly, without all of the other random snippiness and bullying that comprises about 56% of internet interaction over the past few days, so I shall attempt to make the online world a happier place with an inconsequential post filled with joy over the release of a new book by my intellectual mancrush Thomas Frank.

I'm all a-dither with excitement. In the past I have railed against the iniquities of The Market, and the peculiar popular belief in its impassive, emotionless benevolence, which is something that has irked me long enough that I can remember being very uncomfortable watching pretty much any movie or TV show from the 80s featuring Michael J. Fox in a shirt (i.e. almost all of them). Maybe that discomfort is why I have such a problem with money, and talking about money, and any kind of economic thinking. Or maybe it's the other way around. It's hard to say. What is obvious to me, though, is that my understanding of what money is and how to make it work is so embarrassingly immature that any kind of balance sheet or bill or bank statement looks to me like this.

In an attempt to get over this I read two books that I have mentioned before; The Lexus and The Olive Tree, by Thomas Friedman, and One Market Under God, by Thomas Frank. The utter worthlessness of the first book was obvious even to someone like myself who once thought that newspaper headlines about the IMF were referring to The Impossible Mission Force (I really really wish that was a joke). One of Friedman's arguments, that The Market is riddled with democracy-germs that rub off on countries that make out with it, is backed up with statements barely more substantial than, "this is what will happen because... because... just because, damn it!", not to mention conjuring up the image of goat-herders in the Middle East giving up on their traditional work in order to sit on a rock with a laptop and trying to eke out a few tiyin here and there by day-trading (an exaggeration, but not much of one).

There was a lot of other unconvincing stuff in there, but don't take my word for it. My man Paul Krugman dishes out an entertaining review of it here. My dislike of Friedman's populist drivel is such that recently I potentially alienated a friend of Canyon's after seeing a copy of The World Is Flat on her shelf, which triggered a ten minute rant from me that scared her cats and made her back away from me while reaching for a baseball bat. If you ever read this post, Friend of Canyon, I apologise profusely. The anger management classes are going well, you'll be glad to hear. The point I was trying to get across, behind all of the "GRAAAAR!" and "Noooooo!" and "Banish him to Uzbekistan!" statements, was that if Lexus was anything to go by, I wouldn't be surprised if Friedman was actually trying to argue that the world really was flat. That's how little I respect him.

One Market Under God, on the other hand, was a revelation; funny, angry, and filled with shocking examples of pro-Market propaganda hurled at we, the people, by those who would benefit most from our mute acceptance of the status quo. It was just the tonic I needed. His next book was called by two names What's The Matter With Kansas? in the US, and, rather uncharitably, What's The Matter With America? in the UK, because we Brits have never heard of Kansas and might think he is talking about some village in Greenland or something. It might be even better than One Market. I don't know. I tend to have internal debates about which book is better, like the comic fans who debate whether Superman or Thor would win in a fight (it's Thor, obviously). That said, while One Market made me angry, What's The Matter just made me depressed. Recently I read Matt Taibbi's disappointingly slender but undeniably hilarious The Great Derangement, and it conjured up similar feelings of desperate misery of a "Hell in a handbasket" kind of way.

The Wrecking Crew might make me feel just as bad, but I can't wait for it anyway. I thought it was coming out next week, but it's out now, and I've already ordered it, though my eagerness for it is so intense it's even made me crave a Kindle so I can immediately download it and read it instead of chunter on about it. Until then, check out Frank's homepage, and watch the interview with Stephen Colbert. As a big fan of both of men and their Amazing Powers of the Brain, it was a treat to see that last night (what? Our PVR is full of old Daily Shows and Dexters and we got behind with watching!).


Anonymous said...

This relates only to your comments on Friedman's book, "The world is flat." I disagree with Friedman's theory of "flat" world. It is anything but flat! There is a small, interesting book I came across, by Aronica and Ramdoo, which offers a counterperspective to Friedman's theory on globalization.

And Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel winner for economics and was Chief Economist at World Bank) said while on a trip to India, that 600 million people from India (out of the one billion!) have been left out of the “development” fold of globalization. So, obviously, all India is not going to migrate into middle class, if anything the inequality is far, far worse now, after the advent of globalization.

Similarly newspaper reports have pointed out how Chinese workers are working in apalling conditions, to churn out the low cost products, with poor pay, cramped rooms, no accident or health insurance benefits, no job security, no overtime, long working hours - so who is actaully benefiting from this sort of globalization? Corporates ofcourse, and the few privileged people of India nd China who have been able to get educated in engineering and technology! Not the vast majority of population.

The book by Aronica and Ramdoo is titled, "The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman's New York Times Bestseller." It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike. As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman's book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn't a single table or data footnote in Friedman's entire book.

"Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution," says Aronica. Aronica and Ramdoo conclude by listing over twenty action items that point the way forward, for understanding the critical issues of globalization.

You may want to see www.mkpress.com/flat
and watch www.mkpress.com/flatoverview.html
for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman's
"The World is Flat".

Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens! www.mkpress.com/ShiftExtreme.html

There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation

Admiral Neck said...

anonymous, thank you for that slew of information. I shall indeed check out the the links, though I'm afraid I'll have to read The World Is Flat to get the most out of them, and that's something I'm not sure I have the strength for. Nevertheless, I am grateful for your contribution. Good to know other people see through his nonsense.