NBR editor Nevil Gibson’s list of the “best business books of 2008” includes just two that might help understand the crisis that in future histories will define 2008 –- The Great Crash: How the Stock Market Crash of 1929 Plunged the World into Depression (“a fresh look back at world’s most serious financial crisis – what caused it and what can be learned from it”) and Currency Wars: How Forged Money is the New Weapon of Mass Destruction a “fascinating history of counterfeiting” and how it has been used to destabilise enemies’ economies in time of war -- which pretty much describes the Fed’s role in the current crisis, except that its abuse of the monetary printing presses destroyed in a time of domestic peace the economy it was supposed to be defending.
These two books only make nine and ten on Gibson’s list. At three, for some reason only Gibson could explain, is a green paean by NY Times neocon Thomas Friedman – an anti-consumerist tract called Hot, Flat and Crowded -- a synthesis of the worst of neo-conservatism and green Gaia worship by a writer the Financial Times labels a “zeitgeist thermometer” (“even Friedman, one of the original cheerleaders for the spread of liberal, western democracy, is having authoritarian day-dreams” says the FT, apparently unaware that the neocon’s support for liberal, western democracy is only a thin veneer over their actual authoritarianism) and who the NY Press calls more colourfully a “porn-stached resident of a positively obscene 11,400 square foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.” In other words, an idiot with an M.O. not dissimilar to Al Gore.
Many people [says Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi in his review in the Press] have rightly seen this new greenish pseudo-progressive tract as an ideological departure from Friedman’s previous works... Approach-and-rhetoric wise, however, it’s the same old Friedman, a tireless social scientist whose research methods mainly include lunching, reading road signs, and watching people board airplanes.
Like The World is Flat, a book borne of Friedman’s stirring experience of seeing IBM sign in the distance while golfing in Bangalore, Hot,Flat and Crowded is a book whose great insights come when Friedman golfs (on global warming allowing him more winter golf days:“I will still take advantage of it—but I no longer think of it as something I got for free”), looks at Burger King signs (upon seeing a “nightmarish neon blur” of KFC, BK and McDonald’s signs in Texas, he realizes: “We’re on a fool’s errand”), and reads bumper stickers (the “Osama Loves your SUV” sticker he read turns into the thesis of his “Fill ‘er up with Dictators” chapter). This is Friedman’s life: He flies around the world, eats pricey lunches with other rich people and draws conclusions about the future of humanity by looking out his hotel window and counting the Applebee’s signs.
Christ only knows what Gibson sees in this apologist blather, described by Iain Murray in The American Spectator as
a grand unifying theory for combating existential threats. The left worries about global warming and 14 inches of sea level rise extinguishing modern civilization and the right to choose. Neocons worry about evil Muslims lurking behind the bushes ready to set off one of their millions of dirty bombs in suburban malls… Friedman has a solution to both, which he calls Code Green. In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, he suggests that by the one simple, affordable step of, err, completely re-engineering the way we power America, we will stop global warming, destroy Islamic fundamentalism, and reinvigorate America’s position in the world at a stroke. Oh, and he can completely reform China too. This is, in short, the biggest conflation of wishful thinking, confused priorities, and megalomania that I have ever seen.
Friedman’s brand of Green scaremongering no doubt appeals intensely to the inner authoritarian as well as to the wistful Military-Keynesian*, but I’d thought much better of Gibson.
So by all means take the rest of NBR’s book list seriously (though if you want to understand the causes of the crash of 1929 and everything that was done to deepen the depression thereafter Murray Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression might be a better read than his recommendation) but don’t waste your money on Friedman’s book-length baloney.
He’s just another demonstration of the ongoing demise of American conservatism.
UPDATE: "Zeitgeist thermometer" he may have been, but as the global economy collapses the born-again Gaian zeitgeist might just be moving under Mr Friedman. Victor Davis Hanson for example says:
I'm very puzzled by the nexus between the current downturn and concern about global warming. Given that we were told we had to immediately cut back on carbon emissions (even before sustainable alternative energies are in place), largely by curbing our lavish energy-dependent lifestyles, why then all the concern about stimuli and global depression? Surely, the world right now is sort of what the radical Gorists wanted to see, since the current cutback in gasoline usage, and general economic slowdown are radically restricting the burning of fossil fuels in a manner that even the most optimistic green utopian could hardly have envisioned just few years ago? In other words, in the booming 2004-6 years, radical suggested scale-backs would have probably led to something akin to what we are experiencing now? So why the gloom instead of headlines blaring—"The Planet Continues to Green—as Archaic Consumption Practices Erode Further!"
Now that the counterfeiters have inadvertently done to the global economy what the likes of Ralph Nader and Russel Norman wanted the politicians to do on purpose, it'd sure be nice to think so, wouldn't it?
Now that money is tight, will environmentalism turn out to have been just a passing trend—the political equivalent of the pet rock?