The G-File

Friedman’s Folly

Dear Reader (and those of you who won 10,000 quatloos betting you could guess the contents of this e-mail and another 50,000 quatloos you could disembowel the Andorian Thrall),

This has been a very rough week for me, so I’m just going to race through this like the IPCC through the facts (Bam! Wonk humor!).

I’m writing this from my new office at the American Enterprise Institute, which is very weird. Being back here as a recently minted 40-something is very odd. The closest thing I can compare it to is returning to your college as a professor. Everything is recognizable except your own role.

My favorite moment so far was when I had my Human Resources orientation. The head H.R. guy was out of the office that day, so I dealt with a perfectly nice, attractive young woman. She explained how to make long-distance calls, how to fill out various forms, this, that, and the other thing. Then she got to the sexual-harassment policy. She grew serious. We have a strict zero-tolerance-for-sexual-harassment policy, she explained. I nodded with grave understanding (while I thought back somewhat wistfully to my bachelor days here, 15 years and 60 pounds ago). Then she said to me very earnestly: “So you should contact me immediately if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable.”

Cue record scratch.

My internal monologue then went something like this:

Uh . . . wha? So you’re worried that someone here is going to want to get with this (I looked down at the deformed trunk of my body) so badly that they won’t take “No” for an answer?

Interesting!

Would it perhaps be the cast of Ninja Cheerleaders? Or perhaps the female market analysts at the Fox Business Network?

Alas, all I offered as an audible response was a loud, inexplicable guffaw.

Speaking of Inexplicable and Guffaws . . .

I can only assume you’ve seen the Andrew Sullivan robot? I try not to write about Sullivan, because he’s such a shameless whore for attention (and that’s just the first reason on a long list), but I think his avatar doppelganger is okay to mention.

Friedman’s Folly

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I was working on a piece on Tom Friedman.

I just finished it. It was supposed to be short but got long (gimme a Michael Scott “that’s what she said!”).

It’s pretty G-File-ish for an NRODeadtree piece. There’s just something about that guy that makes the inside of my skull feel like sandpaper.

Hey, here’s an idea. The suits could bequeath subscribers of the G-File access to my dead-tree magazine pieces. Frankly I think this is the most brilliant idea I’ve had since I came up with the idea of heat-bottomed hover-cars to melt all of the snow on the streets, or even my paradigm-breaking insight that there’s no such thing as “too much” cheese in onion soup. All I ask, if you agree with me, is that you don’t e-mail me about it. Because it’s not my call. Hey, wait a second, that gives me another brilliant idea. We should have an e-mail address like TheSuits@nationalreview.com so whenever I have one of these brilliant ideas — “Give Goldberg a raise! Give Goldberg Lowry’s office! Give Goldberg the heat-bottomed hover-car we all know Ponnuru is building in his garage! Bring back the National Review Archives! And other Crazy Ideas!” – I can Jedi mind-trick you good people into harassing the suits!

Okay, what was I talking about?

“How you’re a giant dufus phoning it in yet again?” – The Couch.

Right . . . no, wait a second, that wasn’t it.

Oh right. Friedman.

As I note in my piece, the single best takedown of Friedman’s writing style was by Matt Taibbi in the New York Press a few years ago. I cover similar turf, but to make a different point.

Still, space didn’t permit me to dwell on the substance of Friedman’s jihad for a “Green Revolution” as much as I’d hoped. But there’s one point I think is worth making, so I’ll make it here. Or, to be more accurate, in the space below the word “here.”

It’s all crap!

Sorry, that’s too lowbrow. It’s all broken windows.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you stop interrupting, I’ll tell you.

During the “cash for clunkers” debate, a lot of writers, including this guy (yes, I’m pointing at myself with both of my thumbs), pointed out that the Democrats’ plan was just a variant of the parable of the broken window. As superwonks know, the broken-window fallacy is not to be confused with James Q. Wilson’s and George Keller’s justly vindicated broken windows theory.

Here’s how I explained it back then:

Bastiat’s essay is most famous for the “parable of the broken window,” in which a young boy shatters a shopkeeper’s window and, after some initial outrage, the villagers conclude that the rascal helped the local economy. Why?

Because if no one broke windows, window makers would be out of business, and if window makers were out of business, they wouldn’t buy any more bread or shoes, hurting the bakers and cobblers. So the six francs the shopkeeper must spend for a new window is really a boon to the community.

The problem with this argument can be gleaned from the title of Bastiat’s essay. By counting the money the shopkeeper spends to replace a perfectly good window (that which is seen), we ignore the money he might have spent on something else (that which is unseen). The shopkeeper might have instead dropped six francs on new shoes, a book, or a bonus for his assistant. Those who celebrate the broken window as a generator of growth take “no account of that which is not seen.”

Breaking a window doesn’t “create wealth,” it steals wealth from the owner of the window and redistributes it to window makers. (“Steals” is the right word, because the difference for the shopkeeper between having a vandal steal the window and having him break it is close to zero. Indeed, breaking the window is worse because it creates clean-up costs.)

Window makers might be great and good people, but it is a political, not an economic, decision to transfer wealth from shopkeepers to window makers. If I smash your hand with a ball-peen hammer, don’t get angry. I’m just doing it to transfer some of your wealth to emergency-room doctors and hand surgeons. Likewise, paying people to buy cars earlier than they need to doesn’t create wealth, it takes wealth from taxpayers and launders it as a voucher for automakers and dealers. That’s pure politics.

The same applies to much of Tom Friedman’s insipid quest to “green” the American economy. (When I am czar, using “green” as a verb will earn you six months clearing road kill from the highways in the outer southern provinces or three months cleaning bathrooms in Penn State fraternities.) Yes, yes, energy efficiency is good because energy is valuable. But yanking excess carbon molecules out of the air will not create wealth any more than announcing we’re going to start removing grains of sand from beaches will. Sand haulers might get richer, but society won’t. Now, carbon-scrubbing may or may not be necessary to fight global warming, but that makes it a cost, not a windfall.

Meanwhile, creating new green jobs to replace “dirty” jobs is just as silly. First of all, who says “green” is the opposite of “dirty”? Green stuff grows in dirt. Many things that turn green aren’t “clean”: gangrenous limbs, nauseous children on a bus trip to the world’s largest ball of twine, shrimp fried rice that you put in the fridge last June and then forgot about, teenage girls bitten by zombies — these things turn green, too, but I wouldn’t call them clean. And anyone who’s been near a Grateful Dead show knows that those damn dirty hippies are green, but they ain’t clean.

Anyway, to create a green job you need to eliminate a “dirty” job. Not dirty as in intern-wrangler-at-the-Clinton-ranch dirty, but dirty as in coal mining or oil-rig, uh, rigging. According to Friedman & Co. these jobs will be better paying and more high-tech. Well, a lot of green jobs so far tend to be light-bulb switchers and insulation installers. Not only are these one-time jobs, they don’t — and shouldn’t — pay very well. Meanwhile, the oil industry is one of the highest-paid professions in America. The average oil worker makes double the national salary.

Then there’s the fact that most “green” energy — wind, solar, etc. — is less efficient than coal or oil. Friedman wants “green” to be synonymous with “efficient.” Again, a dirty hippie on a bike is more efficient than a hippie on a unicycle. But he can’t hold a macrobiotic beeswax candle to someone in a car when it comes to moving efficiently from point A to point B.

I could go on, but I need to keep moving before the sleep deprivation kicks in and that naked Indian finds me again.

Bits and Pieces

I do need to go, but I have a few announcements. I’m going to start including recent editions of Debby’s Odd Links at the end of the G-File because people sometimes miss them and I’m trying desperately to add some value to this thing.

I’m speaking at two events at C-PAC. Alas, you’ll have to look up the details as I don’t have them handy.

I will be Twittering again soon. I find that if you stop tweeting, the people in neighboring seats on the bus are deeply relieved. Oh, wait, that’s something else. I’ve found that if I stop tweeting for any extended period of time, I forget why I ever twittered in the first place (I can’t say tweet ever again).

Thanks to all the folks who sent me nice notes about my entirely mediocre appearance on Special Report (particularly the folks who emailed FNC to have me on more).

Peter Beinart and I just recorded a new Bloggingheads session. By popular demand, it’s a bit more animated than usual. As is always the case, you think of the smartest things to say after the conversation ends.

Last night I participated in a panel for the invaluable America’s Future Foundation on movements vs. parties. It was interesting to see how alienated a lot of young conservatives are from the GOP and the conservative movement alike. More on that later. But, if I’m allowed to brag, I had a good one-liner. James Poulos, the moderator, explained that he didn’t want to get too deep in the weeds on the topic of Evan Bayh because it just isn’t that fruitful or interesting a topic. I interjected: “What? You’re not Bayh-Curious?”

Lastly, I invite readers to start offering suggestions for “Dear Reader (and . . .” salutations. I’d like to keep this as a Goldberg File tradition — like kitten juggling — but I know I’m going to start running out of ideas eventually. So send ‘em along.

And now, Debby’s Links:

Leonardo da Vinci’s Resume.

Macro Photography: The World’s Deadliest Insects.

Implantable permanent bras.

Spray-on liquid glass is about to revolutionize almost everything. Also,Japanese Scientists Create Elastic Water.

Kids who like candy are future alcoholics?

Demon monster bunny.

How to Survive a 35,000-Foot Fall – Plane Crash Survival Guide.

Human-powered ferris wheels.

Unusual and Fascinating Currency.

Why Does Time Fly By as You Get Older?

Japanese machine turns used office paper into toilet paper.

Hearing Aid Uses Your Tooth To Transmit Sound.

Warning Sign Generator.

Compare Aerial Images of World War II Destruction With Today in Google Earth.

Somewhat related: Viking frogmen vs the Google streetmobile.

Caring for Pets Left Behind by the Rapture.

Everything I Need to Know about Winter I Learned from Sci-Fi Movies.

Pakistani President Zardari sacrifices goats to ‘ward off evil’.

Scientist: Aliens Already May Be on Earth.

Lock Picking for Beginners.

A short history of the search for perpetual motion.

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