Sunday, April 03, 2005

Basic Knowledge Shall Not Deter the March Of Progress! 

It's hard to take Thomas Friedman's magazine piece this week seriously when his lede contains this rather elementary misstatement of historical fact:
In 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail for India, going west. He had the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. He never did find India, but he called the people he met "Indians" and came home and reported to his king and queen: "The world is round."

Okay, Tom, are you ten years old???

Look, he does it again:
Here I was in Bangalore -- more than 500 years after Columbus sailed over the horizon, looking for a shorter route to India using the rudimentary navigational technologies of his day, and returned safely to prove definitively that the world was round....

All right, once is a rhetorical device. Twice is just fucking stupid. I thought people who went to school were, at this point, pretty clear on the fact that everyone in the 1490s knew the shape of the world, that it had been proven fairly definitively, and that all the other sailors were applying their knowledge of global roundness with much more accuracy than Chris, who was better at genocide than navigation anyway.

And the extended flat-earth metaphor never makes one lick of sense throughout the entire piece, which can be summed up as: "Americans will have to work super hard if they want to compete in the Global Marketplace!!!!!! You will work for free in information sweatshops because those superintelligent Indians will, in fact, pay your employer for the privilege of taking your job if you don't!!!! Low-cost hyper-efficiency!!!! Capitalism to the extreeeeeme!!!!!"

This was my favorite line:
"So parents, throw away the Game Boy, turn off the television and get your kids to work."

America, meet the New Economy, same as the Old Economy.

Thomas Friedman would've been a great read in the 19th century, actually.
The ways of the American trade unionists may have worked in the past, but in this new 'industrial' economy, the old rules are useless. Why should a garment factory owner hire an adult when a faster, more efficient, and sprightly young orphan can do the same amount of work at a fraction of the cost? I talked to Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York, which is quickly becoming the nexus of the fast-paced 'urbanization' trend in the national workforce:

"In the new economy, it just doesn't make sense to employ a full-grown man to do this kind of job, which is perfectly suited to the abilities of children and single women," Harris told me over tea. "Sure, there may be another blouse-manufacturing concern out there that can afford to give their 'men' princely 'wages' and provide them with such trivial luxuries as 'emergency exits,' but our product is going to be of a higher quality and sold for a lower price, and that's just the way the marketplace is heading. And the consumer is going to thank us, and, eventually, those folks who wish to earn enough to survive or work in 'safe conditions' are just going to have to catch up."

It was a stunning moment of clarity for me. Of course! I immediately sent a telegram to my wife: "HONEY STOP SELL THE CHILDREN STOP TOM"

And, of course, who can forget Friedman's landmark pop-economics bible,
The Sharecropping Economy: Why the 13th Amendment Will Reshape the Southern Workforce, and How Poor White Farmers Will Compete (From the Author of "The Other Side of Indentured Servitude" and "Eugenics! Building a More Efficient Toiler")

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