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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thomas Friedman, "The Last Person": Facile Tripe

Thomas Friedman continues his journey across India and treats us to more marvels from the subcontinent.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Last Person" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/opinion/sunday/friedman-the-last-person.html?ref=opinion), Friedman tells us of an effort to build a stripped-down, Internet-enabled, wireless tablet, which, with government subsidies, even the poorest Indian families will be able to afford. He suggests that this is the tool that will enable India's 220 million students to escape poverty and contribute to global innovation. Yeah, right.

By the same logic, it can be argued that by providing all American youngsters with government-subsidized laptops, the US will ensure future prosperity and full employment. Unfortunately, this is a pipe dream. Regrettably, in today's brave new world, hardware is mere hardware, and the genius required to create these miracle machines or to use them productively cannot be instilled, wirelessly or otherwise, in the masses.

Sure, Friedman's notion of "hyperconnecting" the world is charming, but for the vast majority, it does not translate to food on the table. At the risk of being politically incorrect, if it was up to me, I would be seeking to provide India's farmers with subsidized, genetically improved seeds that can increase crop yields, withstand drought and other climatic changes, and reduce water consumption.

Friedman concludes by observing:

"India can’t wait for the world to solve India’s problems at India’s price points. It has to invent them. It now has tools to do so. This is about to get interesting."

This reminds me of how Friedman waxed eloquent concerning China's bullet trains and modern airports (see, for example: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/01/friedman-and-cohen-marvel-at-chinas.html), while ignoring the enslavement of much of its labor force. It's never so simple or benign.

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