Saturday, January 24, 2004

NYT, Tom Friedman: War of Ideas -- Why we must sacrifice American jobs to avert more 911s

Op-Ed Columnist: War of Ideas, Part 6
...Just read the numbers and weep: of the 90 million Arab youth today (between the ages of 15 and 24), 14 million are unemployed, many of them among the 15 to 20 million Muslims now living in Europe. "There's not enough jobs and not enough hope," Jordan's King Abdullah told the Davos economic forum. According to the 2003 Arab Human Development Report, between 1980 and 1999 the nine leading Arab economies registered 370 patents (in the U.S.) for new inventions. Patents are a good measure of a society's education quality, entrepreneurship, rule of law and innovation. During that same 20-year period, South Korea alone registered 16,328 patents for inventions. You don't run into a lot of South Koreans who want to be martyrs.

I was at Google's headquarters in Silicon Valley a few days ago, and they have this really amazing electronic global map that shows, with lights, how many people are using Google to search for knowledge. The region stretching from Morocco to the border of India had almost no lights. I attended a breakfast at Davos on the outsourcing of high-tech jobs from the U.S. and Europe to the developing world. There were Indian and Mexican businessmen there, and much talk about China. But not a word was spoken about outsourcing jobs to the Arab world. The context — infrastructure, productivity, education — just isn't there yet.

So what to do? A lot of help can and should come from Europe. Although America is often the target, Europe has been the real factory of Arab-Muslim rage. Europe has done an extremely poor job of integrating and employing its growing Muslim minorities, many of which have a deep feeling of alienation. And Europe has done a very poor job of investing in North Africa and the Middle East — its natural backyard.

America is far from perfect in this regard, but by forging the Nafta free trade agreement with Mexico, the U.S. helped create a political and economic context there that not only spurred jobs and the modernization of Mexico, but created the environment for its democratization. Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo remarked to me: "I don't think I would have been successful in political reform without the decent economic growth we had [spurred by Nafta] from 1996 to 2000. Those five years, we had average growth of 5 percent." It was in that optimistic environment that Mexico had its first democratic transition from the ruling party to the opposition.

So if you take anything away from this series, I hope it's this: The war of ideas among Arabs and Muslims can only be fought and won by their own forces of moderation, and those forces can only emerge from a growing middle class with a sense of dignity and hope for the future. Young people who grow up in a context of real economic opportunity, basic rule of law and the right to speak and write what they please don't usually want to blow up the world. They want to be part of it.  

Friedman is simplifying, and he knows it. Looking at the whole picture modernization is very disturbing and disruptive; it will promote serious short term violent response. It's also irrelevant that Europe is not helping matters; the US will still be the lightning rod.

In general though, I agree with him. To avoid 9/11 reenacted many times by many parties, with far better weapons and technologies, we need the developed world to have hope. The only way we've found to do that is globalization and trade. That means we create great pain in this country; pain in blue collar workers, knowledge workers, an front line managers (Directors and below.)

There are things to do to alleviate that pain; so that reducing poverty abroad can also improve the lives of everyone in America. I've outlined them in earlier posts. Not all that hard, easier than travel to Mars. All it takes is some smart political leadersh .... Ok, easier than traveling to Alpha Centauri.

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