Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Plumber Parable Proliferates


Yesterday much ado was generated by Thomas Friedman; the NYT econ-astrology (trying that out, feonix; thanx...) columnist.   Friedman has gotten lots of attention in the past year or so by advocating that we can, basically "grow" our way out of our economic maelstrom by investing in "green" technologies.  He's even written a book about it, the title of which is sometimes parodied as "Flat, Overheated, and Vacuous".  Some of his first toutings were in the NYT, and I responded to what was being called "muscular green" way back then, in some detail.

Reception by environmental thinkers of his book, and his basic "green industrialization" concept, has not been all that great.  Pretty clearly, he still was not "getting" the basic need for some limits here, somewhere.  Like all neo-classical economists, buried in his essential assumptions is the one about "perpetual growth" (it's "good", and "necessary", in order to make the models work.)

Yesterday he printed a column that many folks greeted enthusiastically - it looked, indeed, as if Friedman had "gotten religion".   And it did kinda look that way-

"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"

Golly jeepers!  His eyes have opened!  Hope!  Sharon, over at Casubon's Book, was downright enthusiastic.  In her special way.  :-)  

I however, wound up focusing on his later paragraphs; where- he lapsed into:

"We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. ... Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks."

Semantics should not be the problem here- to an econ-astrologer, "growth" means- my factory will get bigger each year- forever.  More employees.  More profits.  More customers.

Friedman is playing with changing that definition; but I don't think he's managed, really.  I'm just not buying what he's selling.  Crank that I am.
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So; today- he's got another column out.  Announcing to the world that, officially! - we have a real, serious problem with the economy.  "This is not a test.  This is not a test."  He says.

Yay!  He noticed.  That's good.

Alas... and hooray... he goes on to illustrate that my Parable Of The Poor Plumber has broad applicability.

Here is his answer to all our problems:

"All this will require leadership of the highest order — bold decisions, persistence and persuasion. There is a huge amount of money on the sidelines eager to bet again on America. But right now, there is too much uncertainty; no one knows what will be the new rules governing investments in our biggest financial institutions. If President Obama can produce and sell that plan, private investors, big and small, will give us a stimulus like you’ve never seen.

Which is why I wake up every morning hoping to read this story: 'President Obama announced today that he had invited the country’s 20 leading bankers, 20 leading industrialists, 20 top market economists and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate to join him and his team at Camp David. ‘We will not come down from the mountain until we have forged a common, transparent strategy for getting us out of this banking crisis,’ the president said, as he boarded his helicopter.' "

The Answer- will come from... hold your breath, now...

#1- Leading Bankers!!
#2- Leading Industrialists! 
#3- Top! Market! Econ-Astrologers!
#4- Leading Politicians!

 Are we all rolling on the floor in helpless laughter?  Um.  Aren't these exactly the same plumbers that busted the sink in the first place- and have had no idea how to fix it?

Way to think outside the box!!   Sorry, Charlie; we need tuna that - isn't rotten?  Knee-jerks are just not going to get us out of this whirlpool.

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Not to mention Friedman apparently hasn't heard of that (apocryphal) study by the Rand Corporation on the most effective size of committees.

He wants 20 Bankers.  20 Industrialists.  20 Econ-astrologers.  And leading donkeys and elephants from both houses of Congress- not sure how you decide how many, but obviously parity is needed - so at least another 20.  Hopefully not 20 each...

So now you have a good decision making body of at least - 80 Leading! individuals.  Who are not coming down off the mountain until they have it ALL figured out.

Hm.  On second thought.  Maybe that's a good idea.  We could put all those Leading! people up there- and never have to listen to them again.  They ain't never coming down.
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According to the story.  After years of acquiring data.  Data analysis.  Theorizing.  Etc.

The Rand Corporation put together a well-tested equation, for the optimum function of a "committee".

Optimum number of members in a committee for best decision making?  

"Less than one."  Says so, right on the graph.


oh, yeah, and CitiBank was up- another 9¢ today!  

I'm thinking about painting the gallows in polka-dots.

1 comment:

Anne said...

Oh GreenPa, you go, boy!