Tom Friedman, uber columnist with the New York Times and best selling author has long been considered the most influential global thinker of his generation.
However, a new article in Foreign Policy magazine points out how Friedman got it disastrously wrong on Ireland and the European Union.
The article was written by Sean Kay professor of politics and government at Ohio Wesleyan University who is also an Irish expert who also points out Friedman’s blunders such as agreeing early on with the strategy to invade Iraq and not to mention his absurd claim that countries which have McDonalds don’t fight each other -- that was before U.S. Vs Yugolslavia, Russia Vs Georgia etc.
Kay points out that Freidman wrote in The World Is Flat (2005) that, "I do get a little lump in my throat when I see countries like China, India, or Ireland adopting a basically pro-globalization strategy, adopting it to their own political, social, and economic conditions, and reaping the benefits," he wrote.
Friedman cites Ireland as his favorite example calling it "One of the best examples of a country that has made a huge leap forward by choosing development and reform retail of its governance, infrastructure, and education."
Kay points out much of Friedman’s enthusiasm for Ireland came apparently through an email exchange with Dell founder Michael Dell.
Kay writes “Dell, the founder of Dell Computer, had set up shop in Limerick and said in his note to Tom Friedman: "What attracted us? A well-educated workforce -- and good universities close by. Also, Ireland has an industrial and tax policy which is consistently very supportive of business, independent of which political party is in power." Friedman reported that Dell said, "The talent in Ireland has proven to be a wonderful resource for us."
But as Kay points out two years later, Dell “began the process of closing up shop in Limerick and moving major operations to Poland. In January 2009, Dell announced it would lay off nearly 2,000 of its 3,000 employees doing manufacturing work at Limerick, citing high labor costs.
Kay then points out that “Writing in the New York Times on 1 July 2005, Tom Friedman argued that the rest of the world should "Follow the Leapin' Leprechaun." He argued one of the best things Ireland had done was to "make it easier to fire people, without having to pay years of severance. Sounds brutal, I know. But the easier it is to fire people, the more willing companies are to hire people."
In a wildly inaccurate statement, he wrote that: "And by the way, because of all the tax revenue and employment the global companies are generating in Ireland, Dublin has been able to increase spending on health care, schools and infrastructure."
Not true as Kay points out. “In reality, the government at the time was not only not generating revenue, its investment in education was declining and it was beginning to accumulate massive debt. Today, Ireland's debt is at 32% of GDP -- the highest in the Eurozone.
One of Friedman’s key assertions was that Ireland had gotten its leadership right. Friedman was an apostle of then prime minister, Bertie Ahern who boasted to Friedman in 2005 of having "met the premier of China five times in the last two years."
Today there are few figures more reviled than Bertie Ahern and his party seems certain to suffer a major wipe out in the next election. Opposition leader Eamon Gilmore recently accused them of “economic treason”.
Kay says that Friedman “owes it to both the people of Ireland and his readers to correct the record. His conclusions about Ireland were deeply flawed and yet they were embraced and celebrated by an Irish government that was reveling in excess and deeply entangled with corrupt bankers.”