Tom Friedman on the List

Readers of this blog know for a while that good ol’ Tommy is one of my favorites. So when I stumbled upon a list of “50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2005” and found him listed at number 7 squeezed between number 6 (Michael Jackson) and number 8 (Judith Miller), I was thrilled. He’s in good company — Pat Robertson, Dick Cheney, and George W Bush come in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, respectively in the list.
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Flat Out Shocked!

Ron Somers, President, United States-India Business Council, writes a letter to NY Times on March 8th, 2006, titled “Thomas Friedman Is Flat Wrong” in response to the NY Times “Letting India in the Club” (Column by Thomas L. Friedman, March 8, 2006)

The Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) does not prohibit the sharing of civilian nuclear technology with India, contrary to Thomas Friedman’s insinuation.

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The World is Mad (followup)

In response to my mentioning Thomas Friedman in my post The World is Mad, Prashant Kothari posted a comment and included an article from the NY Press titled Flathead. He did not warn me to fasten my seat-belt before reading the article and I ended up rolling on the floor laughing my head off. I was tickled but also felt envy: wish I could write like that. Continue reading

Shifting Focus from Bharat to India

Thomas Friedman is a one-man factory churning out outsourcing stories by the dozens. He asks and answers the question below in his latest column.

How did India, in 15 years, go from being a synonym for massive poverty to the brainy country that is going to
take all our best jobs? Answer: good timing, hard work, talent and luck.

I would have asked a slightly different question:

How did India, in 15 years, go from being perceived as a country of massive poverty to being perceived as the brainy country that is going to take all our best jobs? Answer: Spin, racist zenophobia, and ignorance.

Let’s take the last one: ignorance. People are generally ignorant of the fact that there are two distinct Indias. Sharad Joshi distinguised them by calling the urban, rich, educated one India and the rural, poor, uneducated one Bharat. I will borrow that nomenclature. India is small, say about 100 million people at most. India has programmers and BPO call centers and cars and Baristas and McDonalds. Indians get educated at IITs and IIMs and travel abroad and talk to each other in Hindi sentences such as, “mera sleep bahut disturbed ho raha hai these days.”

In contrast to that, Bharat is a huge country of about 900 million, most of whom live in rural areas. They are largely illiterate, poor, have little education, don’t speak in English, do manual labor in farms, wouldn’t know what to do with a computer even if one came and bit them on their skinny behinds, have no illusions about anything shining and are generally ignorant about feeling good.

Ignorance about the existence of Bharat is widespread in India. Examine any magazine published in India and you would learn that the most pressing problems in India include what to do about a waist-line, which car to buy, where the hottest shopping spots are in the world, which movie star is sleeping with whom, and how India is shining.

How foreigners perceive India depends on what they have been fed by the news media. Sometimes the news media concentrates on Bharat and the focus is therefore on poverty and hunger. Then for some reason, Bharat is ignored and India comes into the limelight. The focus is then on the IT industry and all BPO and call center and job loss to brainy Indians. The reality is pretty much what it was before.

The other two factors — spin and racist zenophobia — I may take up later or leave it as an exercise for the interested reader.

Hasty Outsourcing Tales

Yesterday, it felt as if everyone and his mother was emailing me an op-ed in the New York Times by Thomas Friedman titled
What Goes Around …. I am sure that you have read it.

A nice chatty piece as usual from Tom. He argues against putting up protectionist walls with folk wisdom as his major tool. The bit of folk wisdom which goes what goes around, comes around. It boils down to argument by anecdotes, really.

Argument by anecdotes is great expect for the fact that your adversary could also use the same tactics and then it can only end in a shouting match with the winner being the one who can shout the loudest. Demagogues — that tribe which Tom has a special disdain for — use anecdotes all the time.

I am not saying that Friedman should have written an academic paper citing published sources on the costs and benefits of outsourcing for the US economy. It is just that he starts off by admitting that the matter of outsourcing is a complex issue and that it requires reference to reality for one to comprehend it. Then he descends into a trap that he himself cautions others about. My gripe is that his reference to reality is too selective, the sample size too small for the conclusion that he wishes to support.

For instance, many other commentators stand on the other side of the issue and support their position by re-telling heart-wrenching tales of yuppy programmers in the Silicon Valley being unable to make their SUV payments because their jobs have been stolen by Indian programmers making less than $3 an hour.

Folk wisdom: one swallow does not a summer make. Or as we sophisticated people like to call it: the logical fallacy of the hasty generalization.