Thomas Friedman: The game is up, the ‘Great Disruption’ is at hand
Who would have believed it? Two days ago in Saturday’s (March 7) edition of The New York Times, Mr. Economic Globalization himself — Thomas Friedman, author of the monumentally influential tome The World Is Flat, which argues that individuals and nations must recognize and adapt to the reality of a level global economic “playing field” — said the consumerism-based model of economic growth that we have developed over the past half century is now dead in the water as its epic greed and wastefulness collide with unyielding realities of natural ecological limits and physical laws.
Who knew? (About Friedman, I mean.)
He says (in “The Inflection Is Near?“),
What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”
We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …
We can’t do this anymore.
Then he talks about the massive and growing problems of water scarcity, deforestation, and maxed-out fisheries, and borrows a term from Australian environmental business expert Paul Gilding to describe the history-changing event that officially kicked off with the 2008 economic meltdown: The Great Disruption.
He also offers a panoply of quotes from scientists and conservationists that are bracingly frank:
[Joe Romm, physicist and climate expert:] We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children. . . . You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior. . . . But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, “This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate.”
[Glen Prickett, senior vice president at conservation international:] Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets. . . . [But] Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.
[Paul Gilding:] When we look back, 2008 will be a momentous year in human history. Our children and grandchildren will ask us, “What was it like? What were you doing when it started to fall apart? What did you think? What did you do?”
I think it’s fantastic — both in the sense of “unbelievable” and the sense of “great” — that Friedman wrote this piece. I wouldn’t have expected it from the Cheerleader in Chief of economic globalization, a man who has been preaching for years that nations really need to get behind the globalism juggernaut and adapt to the necessities of reorienting workers and whole populations to survive in a world of outsourcing, massive international currency flows, constant job retraining, infinite ongoing high-technological evolution, and so on.
Hordes of economists and investment gurus have been pointing out periodically for three years now — ever since the opening act of our crisis began with the exploding of the housing bubble and the birth of the subprime mortgage crisis in mid-2006 — that the “capitulation point,” when people widely begin to accept and believe that things suck at or beyond a level that corresponds to reality, is usually pinpointable in retrospect as the moment when an economic crisis bottoms out and recovery begins. Given that the current crisis is a profound game changer, and that “recovery” from it won’t mean a return to the previous state of normal, I’m thinking the capitulation point will consist of the moment when a critical mass of people begins to accept and understand that the old game is over and a new game has begun.
And the fact that somebody like Friedman has already reached that moment is a most interesting development indeed. A lot of people listen to him. I hope they’re listening now.