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Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (Version 2.0, With a New Afterword) Paperback – October 24, 2017
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"[An] ambitious book . . . In a country torn by a divisive election, technological change and globalization, reconstructing social ties so that people feel respected and welcomed is more important than ever . . . Rather than build walls, [healthy communities] face their problems and solve them. In [Friedman's] telling, this is the way to make America great." ―Laura Vanderkam, The Wall Street Journal
"Engaging . . . in some senses Thank You For Being Late is an extension of [Friedman's] previous works, woven in with wonderful personal stories (including admirably honest discussions about the nature of being a columnist). What gives Friedman’s book a new twist is his belief that upheaval in 2016 is actually far more dramatic than earlier phases . . . Friedman also argues that Americans need to discover their sense of 'community,' and uses his home town of Minneapolis to demonstrate this." ―Gillian Tett, Financial Times
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Though I could have done without the plethora of folksy interjections, as a whole the argument made is compelling, well documented and (for me) fairly frightening. In the closing chapters of the book, Friedman offers several common sense, pragmatic solutions and manages to convey a sense of optimism that eventually, the world will be capable of adapting in a manner that improves global civilization. Given the facts and strong arguments made in preceding chapters however, the optimism seems unfounded;; particularly given the lack of political will for the heterodox approach that the author justifiably feels that circumstances require.
I've given this work five stars because it has helped me, more than any other source I've read, to develop a reasonably clear understanding of how we got to where we are. I do not share the author's optimism, but I appreciate the clarity of thought, the ability to synthesize what appear to be disparate trends, and finally, the insightful, cogent analyses.
People sense the dislocation occurring in this country and the reaction has caused the rise of Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right. According to Mr. Friedman, the wrong response is to try to keep things as they were. This is analogous to keeping your paddle in the water to try to slow down when whitewater kayaking. What you should do is paddle as fast or faster than the current to keep stability. How does one “paddle faster?” Turn AI into IA. Huh? Turn Artificial Intelligence into Intelligent Assistance. Internet tools will help people identify their interests and train them to be proficient in them e.g. the Khan Academy. Companies can also assist their employees in this process, identify employees with desired interests and skills and guide them into future jobs. AT&T is already doing this. Of course, not everyone will be able to succeed this way. Too many people will be dislocated and our current government is woefully unprepared to help people adjust to the new economy. Mr. Friedman suggests an 18 point plan that is a combination of right and left ideas e.g., eliminate the corporate tax which will eliminate corporate tax loopholes and allow corporations to repatriate offshore holdings, revisit Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley to facilitate rational risk taking, establish a Regulatory Review Commission to eliminate regulations that are strangling business development- but also, institute a single-payer health care system, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and expand free trade while providing wage insurance for those people affected by the loss of their jobs.
Mr. Friedman is optimistic but, as other reviewers have pointed out, his optimism doesn’t seem to follow from his narrative. Ultimately, he does not solve the problem posed by John Maynard Keynes in 1928 and reiterated by many recent authors- in a consumer driven economy what do we do when artificial intelligence and robots eliminate so many jobs that people can’t afford to purchase the goods and services produced? That is the most important question for today and tomorrow.
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Perhaps it was the frightening aspect. Friedman’s analysis is that the modern world is experiencing a host of “accelerations” – things are changing at an ever faster pace, and those things are now interacting with each other to cause further acceleration. Increases in computing power, economic globalisation and climate change are the primary drivers, but there are others: in a two-page spread he presents 24 graphs, most of which show “hockey stick” curves with the uptick starting in 1950. Not all are bad, but the overall message is that things are not sustainable. Even if you dispute some of the data – like the graphs of extreme weather events, which may owe as much to increased insurance and building in areas prone to hurricanes and flooding – the case is a strong one. Moreover, Friedman says, just at the point where we most need trust and collaboration to help meet these challenges, behaviours are waning. They have not existed in the Middle East, he says, at any time in his adult life, but now they don’t exist in the US either, having started to break down during Reagan’s presidency. This book was written before Trump won the election, but I am sure that Friedman found that that rather proved his point.
I found the two penultimate chapters of the book most engaging. Friedman tells the story of the Minnesota suburb where he grew up, and which seems to have achieved a particularly high level of community cohesion and activity, and a lower level of racism (and anti-semitism) than most of the rest of the US. Even now, although the area has not been immune to the slide towards antisocial tendencies that the author feels is global (and often the consequence of social media), some present-day stories from Minnesota are used to illustrate the way we might make things better. He also presents 18 specific recommendations (most fairly US-specific) for new policies based on what he feels “mother Earth” would do – a rather random collection of recommendations ranging from funding a universal US medical system through a hypothecated consumption tax to giving security agencies the (controlled) right to monitor communications in order to counter terrorism, cyber and otherwise.
If I have a complaint about this book is that it could easily have been two or three books, and quite apart from making it rather long it does, at times, seem a slightly jumbled collection – perhaps based on stories he has written for the press over the years. Although I felt that perhaps he overstates the extent of the problems, Friedman states the case and offers solutions, and examples of where some of them appear to be working. Whether he will succeed in getting the world to slow down, to allow itself to be late from time to time, remains to be seen.
Good purchase. R
If you've read "Coming Apart", seen Trump and Brexit triumph and wept then read this. Not enough data to keep the sociologists happy and all the better for it.