One Economy, Ready or Not: Thomas Friedman's Jaunt Through Globalization

At a time when terms like "global glut" and "commodity-price deflation" are on the tip of every tongue, competent economic journalism may be the one commodity still in short supply. All too often, journalists are assigned to the economics desk even if their only experience lies in domestic politics or foreign policy. The top journalism schools claim to be turning out graduates literate in economics, but a semester or two of instruction is hardly adequate for grasping the complexity of modern markets. For their part, economists writing for a broad audience tend to get bogged down in technicalities and lose sight of the big picture.

Thomas L. Friedman is the exception. With a background in foreign affairs, two Pulitzer Prizes, and a National Book Award-winning book on the Middle East under his belt, he redefined the "Foreign Affairs" column of The New York Times by covering the intersection of economics and foreign policy. "Sure, I'm honored to be asked to serve as foreign affairs columnist for The Times," we can imagine him saying upon being given the beat. "But what exactly am I supposed to write about? For my predecessors, the answer was the Cold War. If it mattered for the Cold War, it mattered for their readers, and their task was to explain how and why. Now that the Cold War is history, everything is fair game. What is my technique for finding order in this chaotic world?"

The metastory, Friedman quickly came to see, was globalization. It may now be obvious that historians will look back on the 1990s as the decade of globalization, but this was less than apparent, even to "informed opinion," only a few years ago. Friedman's columns have done much to transform this state of affairs. Through strategic use of the anecdote and the medium of the travelogue, he has brought home the sweeping impact of globalization on the most remote corners of the world. If it's Monday, Friedman must be in Albania; if it's Tuesday, he must be in Zambia. One envies his frequent flyer account and his battery life.

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