Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria: Author One-to-One

With both party conventions behind us, we are now in the thick of the election year, the world around us crackling with dialogue, debate, and diatribe as the issues and headlines heat up. On those issues--particularly the future of our economy and the heady questions around America's rank and influence as a global power--there are few authors more knowledgeable or passionate than Thomas Friedman (his newest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded challenges us to lead the green revolution) and Fareed Zakaria, whose Post-American World poses salient questions about America's future that everybody (and perhaps especially our Democratic candidate) wants to answer. In the spirit of the season, we invited Friedman and Zakaria to strike up a conversation, which we're pleased to share with you here exclusively. --Anne

Fareed Zakaria: Your book is about two things, the climate crisis and also about an American crisis. Why do you link the two? 

Thomas Friedman: You're absolutely right--it is about two things. The book says, America has a problemFriedman_3 and the world has a problem. The world's problem is that it's getting hot, flat and crowded and that convergence--that perfect storm--is driving a lot of negative trends. America's problem is that we've lost our way--we've lost our groove as a country. And the basic argument of the book is that we can solve our problem by taking the lead in solving the world's problem.

Zakaria: Explain what you mean by "hot, flat and crowded."

Friedman: There is a convergence of basically three large forces: one is global warming, which has been going on at a very slow pace since the industrial revolution; the second--what I call the flattening of the world--is a metaphor for the rise of middle-class citizens, from China to India to Brazil to Russia to Eastern Europe, who are beginning to consume like Americans. That's a blessing in so many ways--it's a blessing for global stability and for global growth. But it has enormous resource complications, if all these people--whom you've written about in your book, The Post American World--begin to consume like Americans. And lastly, global population growth simply refers to the steady growth of population in general, but at the same time the growth of more and more people able to live this middle-class lifestyle. Between now and 2020, the world's going to add another billion people. And their resource demands--at every level--are going to be enormous. I tell the story in the book how, if we give each one of the next billion people on the planet just one sixty-watt incandescent light bulb, what it will mean: the answer is that it will require about 20 new 500-megawatt coal-burning power plants. That's so they can each turn on just one light bulb!

Zakaria_2 Zakaria: In my book I talk about the "rise of the rest" and about the reality of how this rise of new powerful economic nations is completely changing the way the world works. Most everyone's efforts have been devoted to Kyoto-like solutions, with the idea of getting western countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. But I grew to realize that the West was a sideshow. India and China will build hundreds of coal-fire power plants in the next ten years and the combined carbon dioxide emissions of those new plants alone are five times larger than the savings mandated by the Kyoto accords. What do you do with the Indias and Chinas of the world?

Friedman: I think there are two approaches. There has to be more understanding of the basic unfairness they feel. They feel like we sat down, had the hors d'oeuvres, ate the entrée, pretty much finished off the dessert, invited them for tea and coffee and then said, "Let's split the bill." So I understand the big sense of unfairness--they feel that now that they have a chance to grow and reach with large numbers a whole new standard of living, we're basically telling them, "Your growth, and all the emissions it would add, is threatening the world's climate." At the same time, what I say to them--what I said to young Chinese most recently when I was just in China is this: Every time I come to China, young Chinese say to me, "Mr. Friedman, your country grew dirty for 150 years. Now it's our turn." And I say to them, "Yes, you're absolutely right, it's your turn. Grow as dirty as you want. Take your time. Because I think we probably just need about five years to invent all the new clean power technologies you're going to need as you choke to death, and we're going to come and sell them to you. And we're going to clean your clock in the next great global industry. So please, take your time. If you want to give us a five-year lead in the next great global industry, I will take five. If you want to give us ten, that would be even better. In other words, I know this is unfair, but I am here to tell you that in a world that's hot, flat and crowded, ET--energy technology--is going to be as big an industry as IT--information technology. Maybe even bigger. And who claims that industry--whose country and whose companies dominate that industry--I think is going to enjoy more national security, more economic security, more economic growth, a healthier population, and greater global respect, for that matter, as well. So you can sit back and say, it's not fair that we have to compete in this new industry, that we should get to grow dirty for a while, or you can do what you did in telecommunications, and that is try to leap-frog us. And that's really what I'm saying to them: this is a great economic opportunity. The game is still open. I want my country to win it--I'm not sure it will.

Zakaria: I'm struck by the point you make about energy technology. In my book I'm pretty optimistic about the United States. But the one area where I'm worried is actually ET. We do fantastically in biotech, we're doing fantastically in nanotechnology. But none of these new technologies have the kind of system-wide effect that information technology did. Energy does. If you want to find the next technological revolution you need to find an industry that transforms everything you do. Biotechnology affects one critical aspect of your day-to-day life, health, but not all of it. But energy--the consumption of energy--affects every human activity in the modern world. Now, my fear is that, of all the industries in the future, that's the one where we're not ahead of the pack. Are we going to run second in this race?

Friedman: Well, I want to ask you that, Fareed. Why do you think we haven't led this industry, which itself has huge technological implications? We have all the secret sauce, all the technological prowess, to lead this industry. Why do you think this is the one area--and it's enormous, it's actually going to dwarf all the others--where we haven't been at the real cutting edge?

Zakaria: I think it's not about our economic system but our political system. The rhetoric we hear is that the market should produce new energy technologies. But the problem is, the use of current forms of energy has an existing infrastructure with very powerful interests that has ensured that the government tilt the playing field in their favor, with subsidies, tax breaks, infrastructure spending, etc. This is one area where the Europeans have actually been very far-sighted and have pushed their economies toward the future.


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Comments (29)

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Posted by: naz | Saturday December 27, 2008 at 5:15 AM

Has any top top goverment economist given him/herself the trouble of calculating what would happen if Paulson's 700 billion instead of being poured down the sink of "rescue of the banking system" (read rescue of bankers necks) were poured in tax exemptions/incentives for solar power, in whatever form ? Has anyone with a pocket calculator ever brought up what would cost one kW of solar cell energy if the trillions wasted in Irak to secure cheap oil forever were used as tax rebates for clean energy production and insulation?

Posted by: professor Pardal | Monday November 17, 2008 at 12:42 PM

The global collapse of world economies and or global war with Russia over energy is occuring right before our eyes-when will you wake to what is the foundation of any civilized industrialized country- ENERGY- I HAVE SOLVED IT- pressure Princeton university to replicate my experiment to verify- over 17 months i still wait- Lets see how long it takes to uncover---my name is Solomon Sami Azar-born on the 13th January-1965. I have combined the century old ideas of Tesla and Einstein to produce safe nuclear fusion of heavy water in order to end the energy crisis- When the scientific community has found this and understands -the energy crisis will be over along with talks of greenhouse gases-I have been guided to this discovery by the heavens- by a force in this universe we are all connected to in spirit and pray to in the name of god- I have put together many signs and connections to form the big picture- I am a messenger of GOD---I have been sent by heaven to declare An Age of Unity has begun- world war 2 was Armageddon signified by two atomic bombs-An age of unity has begun---

Posted by: SOLOMON AZAR | Friday October 31, 2008 at 5:52 AM

Clean energy technology has been around for 100 years. Unfortunately, there are entities within our own government that have suppressed them. It goes beyond greed and military secrecy. It's about control. Inventors are patent-suppressed, surveilled, harassed and murdered. It is going on to this very day. Some of these completely clean, over-unity "Free Energy" or "New Energy" technologies have made it to the light of day, and are in the process of commercialization or pre-commercialization. But most of it is still being squashed.

Political lobbying and initiatives have made little difference - politicians are controlled as well. Hopefully, the current global financial crisis and voices like Mr. Friedman will bring enough attention to this problem to inspire mainstream disclosure of the cover-up, and funding of the most promising technologies. This would take far less money than a Manhattan-size project. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will cure it.

Posted by: Steve | Tuesday October 21, 2008 at 12:15 PM

It is amazing there are still so many nay sayers; it is no wonder Magellan had to sail around the world. Sadly, the stakes this time are much higher.

Posted by: jim | Monday October 20, 2008 at 4:43 PM

Does anyone remember the SciFi movies of 50 years ago, where by the year 2000 (or so) the entire world was powered by a clean and limitless power source (of unspecified origin, of course). If the U.S. wants to amount to anything in the world of 100 years from now, it now needs to make that SciFi vision a reality.

We live in a country (yes, this United States of America) that the Federal Reserve reports has been bankrupt for over 10 years now (that is: has no hope of EVER being able to repay its debts owed), and that last week has just assumed a further 1,350,000,000,000 of dollars of additional unpayable debt to "save" its economy (with doubtful effectiveness, and likely tragic collateral unintended consequences), that has now has had far too many generations of corrupt and inept (except at serving themselves from the tax trough) politicians in a system of government that has proven to be increasingly unworkable in practice, and is now generally well along down the road to its eventual self-destruction.

The USA "democracy" experiment sure didn't last very long among the world's civilizations; it's coming apart at every seam after only 250 years of existance.

Solving the world's problems (of which clean and efficient energy production is probably the current largest) appears to be just about the USA's only chance at survival, at least to survive as anything more than a third class, dead-beat, debtor nation living in poverty.

Posted by: Larry | Sunday September 21, 2008 at 9:05 PM

We aren't funding bullet trains like Japan, Europe, and now China which could be hooked up to large solar plants built in Texas and Arizona. We aren't funding wind and solar power at the same levels as Germany and Japan. Each of them being less than 1/2 the size of our economy have 3 times the amount of alternative energy (wind/solar).

What happens if there is a run on the dollar and OPEC switches to the EURO? Could that happen? With each day its more likely - the only question is when? Then what happens. Simple: - game's over - either WWIII - we grab the oil and duke it out with China or we live without oil imports. We couldn't afford the oil. 100s of millions die in war or millions starve. Why go there just because we are afraid of change?

Posted by: Jack | Wednesday September 17, 2008 at 8:47 AM

Why is it that we who have rich natural resources have a trade deficit and Japan and Europe with little if any raw materials have huge trade surpluses. People get out of your hats and think! We won WWII because we implemented technology smarter than Germany or Japan. Women did most of the work and we used TWI Training Within Industry sponsored by the Federal government to outproduce our enemies. We did once - we can do it again!

Posted by: Jack | Wednesday September 17, 2008 at 8:37 AM

I could accept that 5th graders would instinctively think this conversation between Friedman and Zakaria is all about global warming because they use the term 'green' throughout, but if you're an adult and you though (and reacted to) this, you should feel embarrassed.

This conversation is about finding new ways to power an increasingly technological world. Which would be better for America, for instance: a nation spending billions in oil, the vast percentage of profit of which goes to the Middle-East and Russia, or a nation that is not only self-sufficient in their own energy, but is selling it to the rest of the world as well. Come on guys, read the fucking article and quit allowing your rabid anti-global warming stupor to cast a haze over your intelligence. (this is the part where I could easily crack a joke about how, maybe there's no intelligence there to fog up, but I think you majority of you are smart, certainly smart enough to grasp what's going on here)

Posted by: Em | Wednesday September 17, 2008 at 3:12 AM


Two issues:

1. Those 2 analogies (mentioned by Friedman) are imperfect in that they were both well-defined (if difficult) engineering problems. This is very dissimilar to clean-energy research, and enough to make those analogies meaningless.
2. I agree that the long-term economic impact of the projects was positive. IF a governmental green-energy project was successful, the economic impacts would likewise be positive (though not necessarily as positive as successful private projects). Do remember, however, that much of the indirect profit you mention went to private parties. It is quite possible to argue that the situation is such that thegovernment should spend a 13-digit-number of our dollars on a project whose main financial benefits will go to private corporations. Just so long as we all understand that.

My own view is that since, as you say, the profit motive is not necessarily enough (and is open to various distortions), there is probably a role for government. That role (in my view) should NOT be to run the whole show, but to apply the "profit-modifiers" mentioned in Dillinger's first paragraph.

Posted by: Dillinger's twin | Friday September 12, 2008 at 2:12 AM

@Dillinger -- It's true that the two projects you mentioned -- The Apollo Program and the Manhattan Project generated no profit directly (at least not for the government -- I'll bet the contractors profited handsomely), but look at all of the things that have grown out of the massive investment government made in those two projects.

Here are just a few:

Nuclear power plants
Telecommunications Satellites
Innumerable new materials from Velcro to Kevlar
And on and on and on...

The reason people (often liberals) turn to government to fund these sorts of things (as well as things like healthcare and education) is that they're TOO IMPORTANT to be under the boot of a profit motive and all the reductions in service in the name of efficiency that motive brings.

Milton Friedman was WRONG -- Ethical corporations can and SHOULD be tied to a "triple bottom line" where social and environmental impacts are equal to profits in importance. When they don't, taxpayers are stuck with the bill to clean up the messes they leave behind. Unless we abolish government (as some of the Ron Paul acolytes at the top seem to advocate), in which case it won't matter what the corporations do, because we'll all be too busy being dead from pollution to really care.

Posted by: Pete Wann | Thursday September 11, 2008 at 2:57 PM

You might want much more green energy. You might want the government to invest in basic research or in X prizes. You might want the government to re-examine to what extent it subsidizes the petrochemical industry. You might want the government to set a floor price for oil (through _revenue neutral_ taxes).

If that's what you want, I'm right with you. Where we part is if you advocate a huge, trillion(s)-dollar government directed program(s).

To quote Scott Adams:

The people who think the government can help a lot with this sort of thing often cite two examples:
1. Kennedy's race to the moon
2. The Manhattan Project to build a nuclear bomb
What do those two efforts have in common? Answer: no profit.
That's entirely different from the energy situation. Whoever figures out a way to cheaply turn seawater into fuel is going to be very rich. I would be surprised if there are any good ideas in the energy field going unfunded at the moment.

Posted by: Dillinger | Thursday September 11, 2008 at 6:38 AM

In my community - developers, startups, microISVs - money gets made on the edges where changing needs create opportunities. Tom Friedman's overarching theory of where our world is rapidly heading unlocks a great deal of value - a way to look at huge trends and identify real, seizeable opportunities.

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Which do you want to be?

Posted by: Bob | Wednesday September 10, 2008 at 3:53 PM

Seems like the typical response by the contrarians is an ad hominem attack. The first contrarian response invoked Micheal Crichton as a model of logic. However, as one reviewer of his State of Fear book noted: "... Unfortunately, Crichton presents an error-filled and distorted version of the Global Warming science, favoring views of the handful of contrarians that attack the consensus science of the IPCC. I list a few of the errors and distortions below:" (for the partial list of Crichton's errors see

Posted by: MK | Wednesday September 10, 2008 at 1:41 PM

Tom Friedman apparently struck a nerve with the FEAR OF CHANGE crowd who want to stay with oil and coal energy along with dirty skies and a declining American economy. They may never be convinced, but the rest of us can lobby for support for new energy technology and perhaps get a jump on Europe and Japan who are, at this point, way ahead of us.

We have led the world for a long time when it comes to innovation. For God's sake (and ours) can't we now get busy and catch up with other countries who have bought our limping-along energy technologies only to turn them into great profit for themselves? YES WE CAN! And in the process, we'll create thousands of new jobs and perhaps rescue those laid off workers from the old gasoline-engine car industry. What part of solar and wind investment, more jobs, cleaner skies, a greater US economy and leadership in the world, don't you understand ?

Posted by: Thompson | Wednesday September 10, 2008 at 10:49 AM

Spot on!

Have a look at, a new web-based International Clean Energy Development platform for qualified individuals to accelerate the "greening" of our economy...

Time to Climate Change.

Posted by: dq11 | Wednesday September 10, 2008 at 6:37 AM

I love the Fairtax. What does that have to do with solar and wind you might ask?

I want to get the IRS out of my life. I have no problem paying a high national sales tax to make that happen. I GET TO DECIDE.

For the same reason, solar and wind will finally get ALL of those other people out of my pocket. I can not pick up the phone today and get a monthly price on a solar system. If I lived in California or New Mexico perhaps, but I am on the other side of the country.

So what I have to do is continue to pay the electric company. I have to continue to pay the natural gas company. Even if an electric car were an option, I would still have to pay the electric company on a monthly basis. I WANT THEM ALL OUT OF MY POCKET.

Everyone needs to buy energy. Not everyone needs to buy whatever widget or service I sell. Today I have no choice but to continue to pay the electric company. The electric company that gets subsidized and has been getting subsidized since they opened their door many many decades ago.

The war in Iraq was needed. But, I do not like the fact that my taxes are used to fund wars that almost always have an element of oil flow security protection. Oil and natural gas is greatly subsidized. I want to get the politicians that support oil interests out of my pocket as well. But, that is just about impossible to do since most of the rest are Democrats.

I totally disagree with the Al Gore's of the world. All they care about is themselves and their perception in the world.

What I do care about is the future financial position of my great-grandkids. And, I believe they will be far better off if I can leave them a world where FREE solar energy is available to them because all homes built from here on out were constructed with solar capture components. They can KEEP THE ELECTRIC COMPANY HANDS OUT OF THEIR POCKETS!

It's all about money. I used to sell gas at 27-cents a gallon at my grandfather's old country store. We had never heard of solar back then. But ever since I got a calculator that had no batteries, I've been anxiously awaiting the day when I no longer needed the electric company's hands in my pocket.

It is absolutely shameful that we have allowed our politicians to be bought by oil interests. Do you think that that great inventor Ben Franklin would have allowed Congress to disfavor his inventions? Hell no! But, all we have are a bunch of lawyers in Congress. Lawyers will argue that black is white and red is green if you pay them enough money. Lawyers have no balls.

We need to have better candidates. We need to have candidates that understand we need revolutions. We need an energy revolution. We need a tax revolution. We need a science revolution. We need a space revolution. We can't even get the sorry asses in Congress to fix Social Security for decades.

We have become a Wal-Mart economy. We need to become an economy, again, where a fifty-year old can once again burn the mortgage. This great nation, our wonderful United States of America, the nation that came together for a short few days on a dark September 11th day, can do better. We need to do better. We must do better.

We need to lead the world in science. We need to lead the world economically. We need to lead the world in IT. We need to lead the world in space. We need to lead the world in stem cells. And, we need to lead the world BACK to our former all-important energy source - the Sun. We need to ship the religious fanatics, like my sister, to another country. The oil industry WAS a wonderful blip in time that provided lessons. I just hope we learned that FREE energy from the Sun is far far better than paying others to labor, and even die in war, to give us an increasingly expensive and ultimately unaffordable alternative to the Sun.

Posted by: Jeff | Tuesday September 9, 2008 at 10:25 PM

Mr. Friedman is a talented writer and an even more gifted speaker, glibly delivering platitude after glorious platitude. The suit may be Brooks Brothers, but it remains empty.

Posted by: C. Pruett | Monday September 8, 2008 at 9:10 PM

What idiots like mrbill don't realize is that this is not about Friedman. This is not about those scientists who *might* have gotten this whole global warming thingy wrong. But, what if they are right, and we don't have a chance to correct a thing when it's too late? Where do you get your science lessons from, mrbill? Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh? You are full of that stuff that stuffs the Christmas Turkey.

Posted by: Seenu Subbu | Monday September 8, 2008 at 8:27 PM

Freidman is...and has always been full of shit as a Christmas Turkey.

Pay him no mind.

Posted by: mrbill | Monday September 8, 2008 at 5:48 PM

Freidman is...and has always been full of shit as a Christmas Turkey.

Pay him no mind.

Posted by: mrbill | Monday September 8, 2008 at 5:46 PM

Friedman jumps from trend to trend hoping that no one will notice he was flat out wrong about the one he just left. He recently flamed out on the Middle East where, as soon as he made a call, the opposite occurred. So he looked out over the horizon and saw that "global warming" and "green" were the latest new things, quickly took a leave of absence, and churned out his latest trendy tome. If past is prologue, this signals the end of the climate change problem and the beginning of perpetually perfect weather on planet Earth.

Posted by: Dan Friedman (no relation, TG) | Monday September 8, 2008 at 2:16 PM

Gee, how do we get the sun to go green? I guess it doesn't matter because warming (when it happens) couldn't be the sun's fault, could it?

Posted by: freddy | Monday September 8, 2008 at 1:57 PM

"India and China will build hundreds of coal-fire power plants in the next ten years and the combined carbon dioxide emissions of those new plants alone are five times larger than the savings mandated by the Kyoto accords."

And, Friedman's flaccid response: "There has to be more understanding of the basic unfairness they feel". How silly.

There is no hard cold gotcha definative science to support man made global warming. The fossil record tells us that warming cycles occured when there were less than a million people on the earth. Friedman's gravitas has been dimming for years. He's truly out of fresh ideas. I guess time spent at the NYT's rots the brain.

Kyoto is a transfer of wealth scheme. China has the money and the responsibility to clean up their filty air.

Posted by: Amy | Monday September 8, 2008 at 1:54 PM

What is the wisdom behind believing someone needs to get hurt for the green revolution to be valid. How many have to be hurt and how badly before it's a "positive" thing? Did some have to be hurt for the revolution that was mass inoculation and widespread disease control. Revolution is just a dramatic way of describing change. There will be losers like GM and Ford and many others, but that is not the objective and proves nothing about how well the change is going. It's either happening or it's not and we all can see it is, at least in the developed world including the US. I guess there will always be people saying it's going too fast or too slow especially when they get paid for saying something and don't when they don't.

Posted by: bagoh20 | Monday September 8, 2008 at 1:09 PM

Suggest reading Michael Crichton's 'State of Fear' for a lesson in critical thinking before signing on to the 'climate change' band wagon.

Posted by: John Snyder | Sunday September 7, 2008 at 2:06 PM

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