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NYTimes Op-Ed Columnist Thomas Friedman – Time to Reboot America…

…we’ve fallen into a trend of diverting and rewarding the best of our collective I.Q. to people doing financial engineering rather than real engineering. These rocket scientists and engineers were designing complex financial instruments to make money out of money — rather than designing cars, phones, computers, teaching tools, Internet programs and medical equipment that could improve the lives and productivity of millions.

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure — without building white elephants. Generally, I’d like to see fewer government dollars shoveled out and more creative tax incentives to stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets. If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us

Makers, post your thoughts in the comments!

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Since the New York Times is a financial joke, this is doubly funny. First, for getting an opinion from an organization that sold it’s journalistic integrity (as if it ever had any) and soul to Obama. This is an organization, like McClatchy’s, that has no readers and is insolvent. Second for using the phrase “bipartisan support.” A fascist takeover accomplished through fraud and the purchase of seats, including the one in the Oval Office, is not support of any kind.
    As for anything bipartisan from now on, forget it. One party controls the courts, the press and the government. We’re not going to help you. We’re not going to bail you out and be the adults anymore. We are opting out of this economy and will resist every effort coming from a Democrat. You will get less help, less cooperation and less respect than you gave the GOP and Bush. In other words, your hate is coming right back at you, a thousand-fold.

  2. DJFelix says:

    He hasn’t taken the office yet, but look at what he has done. It’s more of the same. He hasn’t changed much about the cabinet, has supported the fascist hostile takeover of our banks and now the auto industry, and can’t find a single person to be his intelligence chief! B. Hussein Obama isn’t going to bring much of any change to America. I hate to tell you this, but it was all a lie to put B. Hussein Obama into office. We all know he’s not American, and I would bet money that the CIA has proof. Obama’s now their lapdog … you’re welcome.

    There is little difference between the Democrats and the Republicans anymore. The Democrats are bringing socialism to America, and the Republicans aren’t doing anything to stop it. Obama will continue to expand the government’s fascist control of US business. He will buy it up, print more money, and push us deeper into recession. Obama will pay homage to those who put him into power, and it wasn’t makers. It wasn’t the inventors of this country, or any of the other countries that paid to help put him in office. Obama doesn’t care about you, you don’t matter. The people never matter in a socialist society.

    Ya know … it’s funny. I remember so many people being denigrated for warning that an Obama victory in November would bring a stock market crash and a deepened recession. I guess they weren’t so far off base after all.

  3. Phillip Torrone says:

    @Michael & @DJFelix — both comments don’t have any solutions, any ideas or anything productive – they sound bitter and divisive – is that the only thing left?

    how about using that energy for something good? or if you’re going to be negative, why comment at all? some of us haven’t given up quite yet.

    politics aside, the essay is about getting engineers to make real things, not fake money. i won’t delete your comments, but try to stick to that ok?

  4. Noah says:

    So, even though the “unAmerican” in the election was MCCAIN (where was he born? Panama? Look it up.) The best we can do as Republicans is name-calling? Are you serious?

    I AM A REPUBLICAN. YES A CARD-CARRYING PROUD REPUBLICAN.

    I am also (IMHO) a reasonably intelligent one. Obama isn’t the devil people, he beat us because the people we chose as leaders failed the nation. We’re Republicans people, we can do much much better.

    As Republicans we’re supposed to be about SMALLER government and RESPONSIBLE taxation. Reagan wasn’t the party’s or nation’s savior, he was the first in a long line of irresponsible people who manipulated us from day one. Reagan and Bush (jr. because Bush #1 was actually a pretty decent President) dug our nation into more debt than anyone else ever. Period. Not kidding, no exaggerating.

    REAL Republicans get REAL results. Obama says he wants to fix the economy? Let him have his shot. Give him every bit of help we can so nobody can complain the problem was us. Maybe he’ll get something right along the way (not holding my breath, but strange things have happened. Slick-Willy Clinton actually reduced the deficit a little…).

    And then after his 4 years are up, we show him that REAL Republicans can do it better.

  5. zof says:

    Until we make a law saying no lawyers or the so fourth can be politicians nothing will happen, so get over it or do something about it.

    Seriously the snippet of the article has a good point, American culture as a whole has fail and now rewards our sports players and other superficial people more then the people who make our lives and world better. Obama or no Obama its up to us to prove to everyone else that we need to rethink our future or prepare for our end.

  6. T says:

    I find it funny that Friedman think prosperity and a new path ahead will only come about through government action. I also think that’s antithetical to the idea of this magazine. Shouldn’t we be figuring out how to do all of this without the government? Clear some of the red tape, give us our money back, and get the hell out of the way and we can make the world a better place. I don’t need a new congress or any of the rest of the parasite class to change the world.

  7. Yorick says:

    Re commenters being “bitter and divisive”:
    It’s often the nature of political discussion.
    Especially political discussions themed around returning to a prior mode of operation (Conservative = “preserving the current or returning to the old”, for better or worse)
    “division” is the nature of analysis. Analysis is the nature of troubleshooting. And troubleshooting is what we’re about here, no?

    One major – *very* major – change that I’d like to see is a return to a pre-federalist organization of the states. This is an argument that you’ll often see from those folks who have Confederate flags hanging from their houses – that the Civil War is better interpreted as a second Revolutionary War, and that Lincoln’s actions in preventing the CSA’s secession ran directly counter to the Constitution and founding principles of the USA. Ideally it was meant to be much like a modern open-source project: people are free to come and go, with a new state being forked off every time someone wanted to try something new. Good luck trying that now. I’m in a poor position to present a solid argument, although I’ve read a very good book on the topic. Search around, it should be educational.

    Besides that:
    better education
    More support for homeschoolers
    Maybe some kind of incentives for private schooling
    School vouchers
    I keep hearing things about red tape choking small businesses. I don’t know anything about that – but Hong Kong is consistently cited as the pre-eminent free market state in the world, despite their, ah, security-conscious practices.
    In general, less federal legislation of all kinds.
    Banks were forced to give loans to insolvent people due to the Community Reinvestment Act, instated in the 70s. The CRA in turn was instituted to counteract a piece of 1930s legislation. The end result: minor economic collapse 30 years afterward. WTF.

    That’s about all my ideas. For the record: I would be a Republican, if only Congressional and Presidential Republicans were also conservatives. They are not, so I vote Libertarian or Constitution.

  8. gnomic says:

    Politics aside, if governments are going to spend money, they need to spend it on the right things. Sadly, our political system isn’t designed to do good, it is designed to do the least harm (and it seems to suck at that).

    We do need to invest on “green technology” wether it be private, government, or both. And it needs to be done on a massive scale. And we need to built a culture of innovation and invention rather than the “resuffle the deck chairs and argue” culture we have built in the last half-century that avoids responsibilty, accountability, and rewards graft.

    Otherwise, America goes down the tubes. We need to face our problems, make hard choices, and deal with the results.

    Do I think Obama is going to deliver? No. But I hope he tries. I haven’t seen that happen in the last half-century. And it is amazing what leadership can produce. American business reflects national leadership. ( I know this for a fact – I teach Org Theory). When you have no accountability at the top, you get no accountability by our companies.

  9. Dr. Improbable says:

    @Michael & @DJFelix, get back in the bunker and airgap your boxes. There’s nothing for you here for the next 4, probably 8, years. Your ranting isn’t helpful.

    @ Yorick, are you really defending the CSA? I hope your posting from your Libertarian Paradise on Earth, Somalia. If not, your just another mememe jerk without the guts to try and make their philosophy work.

    I think this article is dead on. Rewarding financial parasites and denigrating education and creativity has finally proven its value. The government has a role in getting this all straightened out, and I for one would love to see some of those funds made available to me to start some kind of project. The banks aren’t going to do it. They have stakeholders to satisfy. Well, that and their own bonuses to protect.

    If we had continued on with the current republican plans, most of us would end up as serfs working for 3rd world wages.

  10. Yorick says:

    Bleh, my earlier post lost all its pretty formatting. Ah well, hopefully it can be understood from context.

    @ Dr. Improbable: I was slamming Lincoln and some of his federalist works; how on earth did you get support for the CSA from that? As to being a mememe jerk: yeah, probably. As to failing to make a philosophy work: it’s a work in progress. http://freestateproject.org/ is who I’m working with. We’ll see how it goes. :)

    I think that we’re actually in agreement on more issues than not: greater individual resources, better education, fewer restrictions.

    I do wonder how the article author got from “government idiocy is bad” to “government needs to do more to encourage etc.” The logical jump is beyond me, I guess.

  11. flameproof says:

    I just think it’s inevitable that any form of monetary system based on imbued, imagined value is bound to fail. Our money hasn’t been backed up by anything but the willingness of honest, hardworking Americans to pretend that the government, by way of a bunch of private bankers (that would be the Fed), has the power to somehow magically make paper worth something. Without any standard of what the value of money is based on, how can anyone know what it is worth unless the very government making it tells you?

    Then, the money doesn’t have any intrinsic value itself, the government does. It’s like them telling us, “If we fail, everything you own fails also”.

    No ownership, no property, no ability to acquire; even the thought of these things scares the bejebuz out of the average American.

    Push the reboot on the monitary system: everything else will follow.

  12. Ron says:

    My fellow engineers and I are scrambling to get good work done despite the mess created by executives and politicians. For our labors, we are offered a choice: either remain the under paid technicals brains, or take money in exchange for becoming either management drones or sales drones. Some few of us are offered money to become financial ‘engineers’. It is true: The makers amongst us are being encouraged to stop being makers. Worse, when we do try to push ideas to help our employers/clients adapt, we are told the upfront costs are too high and/or the return on investment will take too long. They don’t care about the future beyond the end of the current quarter (or whatever), only about making as much money as possible right now. Without some rule imposed from outside, they won’t spend money on real change.

  13. Njmalhq says:

    “But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely. ”

    How on earth are we going to do that? As it is, we barely get to choose our leaders. After that there is no mechanism in place to make certain of anything.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Fiat money is an inevitability of a monetary based economy. If we could produce enough gold coins to support the trading practices of our whole economy, our economy would be nothing but producing gold coins. Think about it. How can gold be used as a currency to support an entire economy if producing gold coins is only part of the economy? It can, but only if the gold is valued at more than it’s actually worth to produce. How is that any different from numbers on a paper?

    The fiat money system works when the institutions that are responsible for lending it out are scrutinized through a system of checks and balances. Money is worth something if it is exchanged for something of value through contracts that ensure that it will create value. When it is given out to cronies as gifts, loaned to the unemployed for reasons not related to building a business, then money loses its value, and the system faces collapse.

    As much as the American government and press denigrate the new Russian government, Putin has one thing right. War mongering is bankrupting the United States just like Russia’s historic war mongering bankrupted it. We need to learn to stay out of other peoples’ businesses unless we want to see our businesses transform from creating value into creating bombs, the ultimate planned obsolescence product ever produced.

  15. SomeoneKnows says:

    Regarding Phillip Torrone’s comment: We can look toward the positive but it will be in vain if we don’t acknowledge the wrongs perpetuated recently.

    To address the positive, I am working to encourage kids and adults to get involved with robotics by developing courseware based on using the Arduino as well as Lego Mindstorm’s for robotics workshops. I am working to adapt to new social media techniques and learning how this new technology will help if we find our country being rebooted. I applaud Mr. Torrone’s efforts through Make Magazine and his collaboration with LadyAda through web sites like their http://www.CitizenEngineer.com. I want to encourage them to create more content while helping to promote the Maker ethos as I prepare my own contributions. I see positive results through groups like http://www.NYCResistor.com and I am active in getting the CCCKC hacker space started in Kansas City. We are developing study groups, workshops and a common workspace through http://www.CowtownComputerCongress.org.

    Over the last three years I volunteered as a mentor with FIRST Robotics in the North Kansas City (NKC) School District. The FIRST Robotics program in Kansas City received a generous grant through the Kauffman Foundation but that money ran out before this competition season started. The Kauffman grant amounted to $2.15 Million spread throughout a five county metropolitan Kansas City area. This grant was designed to encourage schools to support science, engineering, and technology by starting new robotics teams. At the same time the North Kansas City schools spent about the same amount of money to put artificial turf on three of the district’s football fields. The NKC high schools dropped out of FIRST robotics competition this year. I keep asking, who did the greater good for these students, the school district or Kauffman Foundation? More money for schools is not the answer unless it can be used more responsibly. I saw several students go on to study engineering at good universities. But I have a fear that encouraging students to consider engineering may be proposing a hollow promise if our country continues sanctioning the outsourcing of jobs.

    I am trying to reboot my own livelihood. I have been a software engineer for over 20 years. I have seen my clients go out of business one by one as market changes forced them to close up shop. I’ve seen opportunities I once had being shipped overseas where the labor is much cheaper. Engineering jobs are as vulnerable to disappearing from the USA just as the programming, data entry, and call center jobs we’ve already lost. I’m accused of being unpatriotic when asking for Made In America products. I am accused of being protectionist for wanting tariffs to compete with foreign competitors while at the same time our Federal Tax codes perform the reverse effect hampering our own goods and services. Our government has forced us into free trade agreements that are wiping out industries. As I read the original posting, Gov. Mike Huckabee was on TV talking about the Fair Tax Plan. This is one solution Makers should get behind.

    I agree with most of Mr. Freidman’s article and we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be”. But I believe his premise is flawed if we expect no more than hope to avoid white elephants. How can we expect anything good to come out of this if the very same people in Congress, responsible for these crises, remain to cause more harm? Mr. Freidman’s employer needs to accept responsibility for part of this problem too. Their journalistic practice where the “ends justify the means” is an enabler for our representatives to do as they wish. Where is the outrage toward those responsible for this financial meltdown? Why are they not being called out for their role, starting with Congress? Why aren’t we demanding that heads roll – figuratively if not literally? It’s time for the NY Times to step up and do some honest and serious journalism before more people call for their heads too. So what is the solution here? Seek the truth! It is our fault this happens if we aren’t diligent in searching for and demanding the truth. Too many news sources have failed us by pursuing their own special interests.

    The question is not simply Time to Reboot America but is it time for a Hard Reboot of America? Before anyone can overcome an addiction they first must admit their addiction and our Federal Government is not showing any signs of remorse or redress. Instead, huge amounts of bailout money are handed out to the same people who have harmed our country without accountability? Our government shows little interest in saving more than a select few. While these special friends of our representatives are rewarded, many of us are faced with National Bankruptcy Day, February 10, 2009, http://www.NationalBankruptcyDay.com as our government prepares to force untold numbers of manufacturers and retailers out of business through legislative heavy handedness.

    Government is not a Maker, it doesn’t make any products that contribute to the gross national product. Why don’t we hear of huge cuts in government jobs proportional to cuts affecting the real working people. Instead Mr. Freidman’s approach will grow the government even larger. Maybe it is time for a hard reboot just to purge this bloat we’re forced to support.

    My solution is to quit expecting government to be our savior and recognize its potential to do harm. Support our new President but the “change we need – won’t happen without a change indeed”. Speak out and be vigilant toward recovery but we must seek removal of the crisis enablers.

    As a Citizen, I recognize the need to rebuild and speak out to strengthen our manufacturing base contrary to views of government economists. Our government is capable and seems intent on turning America into a third world nation. Free enterprise works best when government doesn’t interfere. This crisis was caused and is perpetuated by government meddling.

    As a Maker, I am driven to learn, create, innovate, and invent. I need to build, show, and tell as a means of encouraging others.

    As a Person, I need to build online and physical communities for support. I need to prepare for the worst but hope for the best if our country collapses resulting in a hard reboot. I have to create my own form of employment. I recognize the need to become more globaly active and competitive.

    If Outsourcing Is Good For America, OUTSOURCE POLITICIANS.

    http://SomeoneKnows.Wordpress.com
    http://www.twitter.com/someoneknows

  16. ENGINEERWHAAAT? says:

    Word uuuup to all my engineeering homiez out there. SPECIAL PROPS to MECHANICAL. w00t. Seriously when I’m doin my homework in the compy lab, I vomit every time i hear operations research kids talking about the investing programs they’re writing. UGGGHHHHH. WHO CARES IF YOU CAN MAKE MONEY FROM other MONEY? VOmiT.

    TEll all the kids to bust out some micro-controllers and learn some C. Or teach them to CAD stuff. or whatever, just as long as it fixes something real.

    talk to me when you can REALLY innovate, sistah.

  17. TD says:

    I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

In the Maker Shed