Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

That is the name of a book by Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist. I will get to it below.

But first, if any students are interested, Clemson University has an Institute for the Study the of Capitalism. They have a seminar in the summer for students. For more information click here (Hat tip to Ann Zerkle from the Heroes of Capitalism blog.

Back to Friedman's book. A few weeks ago a student mentioned that she saw him on TV. His new book seems like some sort of sequel to his earlier book The World is Flat. He is concerned about global warming, energy and population and how to keep a disaster from happening. It was well reviewed in the New York Times but it god a bad review in the Wall Street Journal. That is not surprising. So you can click on the links to see the reviews.

Here are the first and last paragraphs from the Times review followed by the last 3 paragraphs from the WSJ review:

"The environmental movement reserves a hallowed place for those books or films that have stirred people from their slumber and awoken them to the fragility of the planet: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” Bill McKibben’s “End of Nature” and, most recently, Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Thomas L. Friedman’s new book, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” may lack the soaring, elegiac qualities of those others. But it conceivably just might goad America’s wealthiest to face the threat of climate change and do something about it.

But these are minor infelicities when set against a book that will be accessible outside the eco-converted, is grounded in detailed research and repeatedly hits its target. It contains some killer facts — the American pet food industry spends more on research and development than the country’s power companies; Ronald Reagan stripped from the White House the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed as a symbolic step toward energy independence. Above all, it is fundamentally right on the biggest question of our age. If Friedman’s profile and verve take his message where it needs to be heard, into the boardrooms of America and beyond, that can only be good — for all our sakes."
Now from the WSJ:

"Toward the end of "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," Mr. Friedman wonders why we can't just implement the sort of policies he prefers. "What is our problem? If the right things to do are so obvious to the people who know the most about the energy business, why can't we put them in place?" Maybe the reason is that most people recognize a bad deal when they see one.

He cynically seems to suggest that it would help "if a few more Hurricane Katrinas hit a few more cities." Incredibly, he even flirts with the need for a dictatorship: "If only America could be China for a day," where we could cut through special interests, bureaucratic obstacles and worries of a voter backlash and simply "order top-down, the sweeping changes" needed.

I'm sure that such longing is testimony to his deep frustration with the debate. But, more important, it points to the failure of his book to make a well-reasoned case for his proposals. While occasionally interesting, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" remains a one-sided plea for an incorrect analysis."


Cliff Perez said...

The reviews were very different. I think Mr. Friedman is too idealistic in his approach. CEO's won't change products unless there's a financial benefit in terms of sales. Currently, "green" products have been used in company's goods being produced or sold. I think it's very clear that these "green" products are produced more for the bottom line, not for the environment.

Cyril Morong said...

Our assumption in economics is that firms are out to maximize profits, so sellng "green" is just another marketing ploy. If customers are willing to pay for it, they will make more environmentally friendly products. But that is a big if and who can tell which products are that way?