US can make the biggest mistake a country can make: Friedman

Written by Deepu Sebastian Edmond | Deepu Sebastian Edmond | New Delhi | Updated: Oct 21 2011, 05:16am hrs
Even as he declared himself an optimist, the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times newspaper, Thomas L Friedman, on Friday shared his great concern at the way the United States has lost its way.

Three-time Pulitzer winner Friedman was in conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of the Express Group Shekhar Gupta, at the third edition of the Express Adda, held at the Lap Gardens of the Samrat Hotel.

Right now, America has lost its way. The country is struggling not just because of the sub-prime crisis. It has been struggling for the last 20 years.... I think the United States can make the biggest mistake a country or species can make. We misread our environment. We thought the end of the Cold War was a victory. It was a victory; a triumph of free ideas, said Friedman, who was accompanied by his wife Ann.

Friedman then went on to connect the end of the cold war with the beginning of globalisation unleashed by America but during which the country let itself get bogged down by misplaced priorities: It was also a dream that blessedly unleashed and helped liberate two billion people: people with their own versions of the Indian Dream and the Brazil Dream. Just when we should have been lacing up to run a more competitive race, we put our feet up. Then we compounded that mistake in the first decade of the 21st century beginning 2001; we compounded that mistake by chasing the losers of globalisation, called the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban rather than the winners India, China, Brazil and the like.

Earlier, Gupta introduced the best-selling author of six books as someone who has done a lot for India, but not primarily because he is pro-India. Gupta explained Friedmans line of thinking, which is that the United States should have good relations with India as it is good for the former. Since Ive met him, the day he arrives in Delhi which is now once a year-and-a-half is always marked in my diary as a red-letter day.... In so many ways, hes done more for India than all the rest of them together in spite of the rest of us, that is, the Indian media, said Gupta.

After a brief interaction with the Express Group Editor-in-Chief, the floor was thrown open to the house, which comprised some of the most eminent thinkers. Among others, Friedman interacted with former RBI governor Bimal Jalan, former chief of New Delhi Bureau of the BBC Sir Mark Tully, former foreign secretary Jagat Mehta, Indian Express columnist and managing director of Oxus Research Surjit S Bhalla, and founder and managing partner of law firm Luthra & Luthra, Rajiv K Luthra.

Friedman talked extensively about his new book That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, co-authored with Michael Mandelbaum of the John Hopkins University and released this September.

What I am really about as an American is absolute decline. Where we really are not able to provide the kind of middle class lifestyle for the Great Middle Class of America. That would, I think, have enormous implications, he said.

Friedman, author of the hugely popular book The World Is Flat, told a rapt audience that he wrote his latest book in an attempt to re-focus America: We believe that America had a formula for success.... That formula was built on five pillars. The first was education, the second was infrastructure, the third was immigration, the fourth was capital formation, and the fifth, government-funded research.

He said that the decline of all five pillars was a source of great concern and then went on to give illustrations for each. I just flew from Hong Kong to Los Angeles Airport LAX. When you fly from Hong Kong to the LAX, it is like flying from the Jetsons to the Flintstones, Friedman said of the state of his countrys infrastructure.

Friedman was at ease discussing different issues with his audience, so much that he even used a cheeky unit of time coined in his name by a blogger. A Friedman is a unit of time equal to six months in the future, and the author himself used two Friedmans while answering a question.