Washington Post Book Club: Friedman, Ehrenreich, Singletary on the Financial Crisis

Many months ago, before there was a scintilla of evidence that the global economy would take the nosedive that it did, we at Book World decided to invite Thomas Friedman (The World Is Flat), Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) and Michelle Singletary (Spend Well, Live Rich) to The Washington Post Book Club to talk about the financial state of the world.

Little did we know.

Thomas L. Friedman (Rich Lipski/The Washington Post)

Three months ago (still no evidence of the current money rout) Ehrenreich stopped by to see us after taping a podcast about her new book and declared, "I've got a thing or two to say to Tom Friedman!," giving us a feisty look that told us we might get more than we'd bargained for.

And so, last week, when we finally gathered in The Post auditorium's green room, we feared we were in for a mud fight. Would Ehrenreich (This Land Is Their Land), who is famous for her working class defense, go up against Tom Friedman, who is famous for his "let's get beyond the class thing," and run full tilt into financial columnist Michelle Singletary, who just wants us to pay our bills and listen to Big Mama?

Barbara Ehrenreich (Jay Paul/For The Washington Post)

Minutes before the proceedings began, we suggested to our panelists that they might follow their presentations by asking each other pertinent and provocative questions. One of them said: "Okay, so we ask each other stuff until we work ourselves up into a fight, right?" It sounded dangerous, and kind of thrilling.

And yet, once the microphones were on, Barbara Ehrenreich spoke movingly about America's infuriating blindness to our poor. Tom Friedman (Hot, Flat, and Crowded) spoke rousingly about our crucial need to be as imaginative about ET (environmental technology) as we've been about IT (information technology). And Michelle Singletary implored us to do the three basic things every responsible citizen should do: pay what's owed, save the rest, and avoid credit like a bad disease.

So. There was no fight. There was not even a hint of conflict or hostility.

Michelle Singletary (Julia Ewan/TWP)

We heard from Ehrenreich about our urgent problems of class. We heard from Friedman about our urgent problems of the environment. We heard from Singletary about our urgent problems of personal responsibility. And the big news was: These are far more interconnected than we thought.

If such different thinkers and authors can agree that we're all in this financial thing together -- that there is much we can work cooperatively to fix, much we can still build -- why can't Wall Street? Why can't our legislators? Why can't our presidential candidates?

You tell me.

-- Marie Arana

By Marie Arana |  October 13, 2008; 7:45 AM ET Marie Arana
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Hold on. Judging by today, it looks as if the world IS going to get together to save this one.
This time.

Posted by: dc | October 13, 2008 5:18 PM

Your "take away" from the event was that all three of the speakers agreed, so why can't others. However, I didn't seen any evidence (from your post, at least) that the three speakers agreed on anything. Ehrenreich spoke on class, Friedman spoke on the environment, and Singletary spoke on personal responsibility for personal finances. Either you misrepresented their talks (and Ehrenreich's comments at the beginning seem to indicate that) or else they just gave three separate and unrelated speeches and went home.

Posted by: Stan Duncan | October 14, 2008 11:46 AM

I saw a rerun of this program today and post the following reaction.

I read "Your money or your life" years ago and followed its advice as best I could. It was a precursor to Ms. Singletary. We paid off all credit cards and mortgage. We pay any credit card charges monthly. I invested in tax-free municipal bonds over the years. The last one will mature when I'm 91. They cannot be sold right now for par value but if I hold them until maturity, I get all my money back plus the interest collected tax-free over the years. Few municipal bonds default and usually they are insured. They are liquid if the need for money arises. I recommend municipal bonds.

Ms. Ehrenreich made the point that credit keeps wages low because people live on future wages. If we stopped much of our frivolous consuming and refused to use credit, as Ms. Singletary suggests, employers will have to raise wages to create a cash consumer.

Mr. Friedman points toward the pain of change necessary to develop the true Green Revolution he endorses. Governments are slow to change laws to encourage innovation in alternative energy, etc. Can consumer action buying the limited green products available in most industries make a difference? Again, it's the consumers choice.

Ms. Singletary's eloquent summation of how much we already have available to us even with low incomes if we buy necessities first is a stab at defining "Enough." News of multimillion dollar CEO annual salaries discourage limiting one's own concept of "enough." But financial freedom must come from individual commitment to escape the work & spend treadmill.

Posted by: Charles McCardell | October 18, 2008 4:57 PM

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