Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tom Friedman's "Neighborhoods" Analogy

Sherman Oaks, California

As we batten down for the Category Five gales of publicity supporting another globe-gobbling Tom Friedman book launch, let's remember the famous "neighborhoods" passage from his The World Is Flat.

Accurate? Glib? Memorable? Condescending?

You decide!

What if regions of the world were like the neighborhoods of a city? What would the world look like? I'd describe it like this: Western Europe would be an assisted-living facility, with an aging population lavishly attended to by Turkish nurses. The United States would be a gated community, with a metal detector at the front gate and a lot of people sitting in their front yards complaining about how lazy everyone else was, even though out back there was a small opening in the fence for Mexican labor and other energetic immigrants who helped to make the gated community function. Latin America would be the fun part of town, the club district, where the workday doesn't begin until ten p.m. and everyone sleeps until midmorning. It's definitely the place to hang out, but in between the clubs, you don't see a lot of new businesses opening up, except on the street where the Chileans live. The landlords in this neighborhood almost never reinvest their profits here, but keep them in a bank across town. The Arab street would be a dark alley where outsiders fear to tread, except for a few side streets called Dubai, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and Morocco. The only new businesses are gas stations, whose owners, like the elites in the Latin neighborhood, rarely reinvest their funds in the neighborhood. Many people on the Arab street have their curtains closed, their shutters drawn, and signs on their front lawns that say, "No Trespassing. Beware of Dog." India, China, and East Asia would be "the other side of the tracks." Their neighborhood is a big teeming market, made up of small shops and one-room factories, interspersed with Stanley Kaplan SAT prep schools and engineering colleges. Nobody ever sleeps in this neighborhood, everyone lives in extended families, and everyone is working and saving to get to "the right side of the tracks." On the Chinese streets, there's no rule of law, but the roads are all well paved; there are no potholes, and the streetlights all work. On the Indian streets, by contrast, no one ever repairs the streetlights, the roads are full of ruts, but the police are sticklers for the rules. You need a license to open a lemonade stand on the Indian streets. Luckily, the local cops can be bribed, and the successful entrepreneurs all have their own generators to run their factories and the latest cell phones to get around the fact that the local telephone polls are down. Africa, sadly, is that part of town where the businesses are boarded up, life expectancy is declining, and the only new buildings are health-care clinics.
Paragraph breaks, Tom, paragraph breaks.


Blogger Michael said...

I've never understood why anyone cares what Friedman says. I find it impossible to make it through shorter pieces of his writing, so I've never picked up any of his books. Can someone please explain to me why he should be taken seriously?

9:59 AM  
Blogger Paul Karl Lukacs said...

He's an excellent writer, lively and informative. He makes so many points that, by sheer dint of numbers, some are correct. Yes, many people consider him a pompous windbag, but three Pulitzers and an unlimited expense account would do that to anybody.

Someone had a good line the other day: "Tom Friedman is howling as loud as he can about global warming to make everyone forget he was in favor of the war in Iraq."

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What if regions of the world were like the neighborhoods of a city? "

Then it would look like block wars from "Judge Dredd".

11:08 AM  

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