An Open Letter to Tom Friedman

Dear Mr. Friedman: Just in case you are still reassuring yourself that you really care about ordinary workers and not just the CEOs you hobnob with, I wanted to present you with some facts.
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Mr. Thomas Friedman
The New York Times Washington Bureau
1627 I Street, N.W., 7th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20006

Dear Mr. Friedman,

I'm sure you are just giddy that your book, The World Is Flat, has been on the best seller list for weeks now. From what I can tell from thumbing through it (I only made it a few pages in before becoming nauseated), the work is a classic tribute to the corporate power structure you have so publicly fellated over the years not only in your books, but in your columns. It tells the tale not only of your desperate efforts to sugarcoat the Global Class War happening right under our noses, but also of your own personal journey from serious reporter covering serious issues, to Big Business shill and glorified press release writer for multinational companies who exploit low-wage labor, lax environmental rules, and human rights atrocities to pad their bottom line.

Hilariously, you sell this "free trade and globalization helps everyone" snake oil under the guise of reporting on it out of concern for Americans. You want us to believe you are merely warning us of what is coming, instead of admitting what you are really doing: dishonestly presenting the free trade orthodoxy you peddle as a law of nature and leaving that law of nature wholly unchallenged. In fact, you worship at its feet. Sadly, this snake oil continues to be roundly embraced by most high-profile politicians - Republicans and Democrats alike - no matter how many of their constituents lives are destroyed. In this day and age where politics is literally the art of legalized bribery, that embrace by politicians and the elite intellectual classes around them should be the ultimate proof of just how dishonest and bankrupt your arguments really are.

But just in case you are still reassuring yourself that no, you are right, that you really care about ordinary workers and not just the CEOs you hobnob with, and that your free trade orthodoxy will help America's economy for the better, I wanted to present you with some facts. These facts, mind you, don't come from some bleeding heart liberal outfit - they come, in fact, from former Reagan Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts, an economist who was also the Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review.

Mr. Roberts reports that government data shows that over the last five years - the years where all the major free trade pacts have been fully implemented - job growth in America has been "the weakest on record" with the U.S. economy coming up "more than 7 million jobs short of keeping up with population growth." Since you so ardently supported the Iraq War, we can put that into terms you understand: Roberts notes that the declines in key sectors "have more in common with a country undergoing saturation bombing during war than with a super-economy that is the envy of the world." Here are the details:

"Communications equipment lost 43% of its workforce. Semiconductors and electronic components lost 37% of its workforce. The workforce in computers and electronic products declined 30%. Electrical equipment and appliances lost 25% of its employees. The workforce in motor vehicles and parts declined 12%. Furniture and related products lost 17% of its jobs. Apparel manufacturers lost almost half of the work force. Employment in textile mills declined 43%. Paper and paper products lost one-fifth of its jobs. The work force in plastics and rubber products declined by 15%. Even manufacturers of beverages and tobacco products experienced a 7% shrinkage in jobs.The knowledge jobs that were supposed to take the place of lost manufacturing jobs in the globalized 'new economy' never appeared. The information sector lost 17% of its jobs, with the telecommunications work force declining by 25%. Even wholesale and retail trade lost jobs. Despite massive new accounting burdens imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley, accounting and bookkeeping employment shrank by 4%. Computer systems design and related lost 9% of its jobs. Today there are 209,000 fewer managerial and supervisory jobs than 5 years ago."

In one passage, Mr. Roberts seems to address you personally, Mr. Friedman, seeing as though you are the most high-profile economic spokesman in the media:

"At a time when America desperately needs the voices of educated people as a counterweight to the disinformation that emanates from the Bush administration and its supporters, economists have discredited themselves. This is especially true for 'free market economists' who foolishly assumed that international labor arbitrage was an example of free trade that was benefitting Americans. Where is the benefit when employment in US export industries and import-competitive industries is shrinking? After decades of struggle to regain credibility, free market economics is on the verge of another wipeout. The economics profession has failed America. It touts a meaningless number while joblessness soars. Lazy journalists at the New York Times [That's you, Tom] simply rewrite the Bush administration's press releases."

Now, I'm sure you are telling yourself right now that well, at least what you are preaching helps ordinary folks in countries like China and India. You are probably thinking back to one of those meals you had with a zillionaire Indian or Chinese CEO at the 4-star hotel you were staying at, and probably telling yourself that the fact that those zillionaires exist means that free trade orthodoxy has helped everyone in those countries.

But before you feel too much better, or actually go to the rural areas in these countries or the sweatshop factories where near-slave-labor is employed, just consider some statistics from Mexico. That country to our south provides the clearest and fullest example of what happens to our trade policies under the corporate-written trade policies you advocate, and we should use Mexico where we've had NAFTA for years. After all, it wouldn't be fair to only cite the persistent poverty and income stratification that plagues the Chinese and Indian economies you write so glowingly about, because our trade with these countries has only recently started to accelerate.

In Mexico, the Washington Post reports that the country has seen its ranks of those living in extreme poverty rise by 19 million since NAFTA. In total, "About 24 million -- nearly one in every four Mexicans -- are classified as extremely poor and unable to afford adequate food," with the country's president now calling poverty "the biggest problem confronting Mexico." This has happened, mind you, at the same time Mexico has technically "grown richer." Trade volume has nearly tripled since NAFTA. So while the trade policy you justify does make the kinds of CEOs and elites you surround yourself with very rich, for many ordinary people in the developing world, it has been a disaster (You might step back and think about that the next time there is a massive protest of this trade policy in a countries with whom our government is trying to force into signing a corporate-written trade pact).

Now it's true - from your well-paid perch at the New York Times and from your comfortable lifestyle in the posh D.C. suburbs, maybe no one should expect you to even think about anything other than advocating a trade policy that helps enrich your elite class and punishes everyone else. But because you and the rest of the elite media seem to bill you as an objective journalist, I'd ask that you at least consider some of these facts in the future, if not out of concern for the average people your free trade advocacy has helped crush, then at least out of a concern for your own credibility.


David Sirota

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