Recession Hits Home for Tom Friedman

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New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is one of free market capitalism’s loudest cheerleaders. The premise goes like this: Developing countries make consumer goods so inexpensively that people in rich countries can afford to buy them and have money left over. Because of all the extra dough, demand for consumer products shoots up and makes third world countries rich. What’s good for China is good for America and everyone wins, right? Not quite.

Yesterday morning, another crack appeared in Friedman’s the-consumer-always-wins model when one of America’s largest shopping mall companies, Chicago-based General Growth Properties, filed for bankruptcy.  Friedman’s pretty close to GGP’s malls; the Bucksbaum family owns them, and Ann Bucksbaum is Tom Friedman’s wife.

 

But despite his connection to one of America’s richest families, Friedman has always portrayed himself as a champion for the common man. Yes, high-paying manufacturing jobs were gone from the American Midwest, but look at all the things average Americans can afford with their newfound buying power, he would explain.

But that’s not what’s happening anymore. Retail stores are closing across the country and mall vacancies are at their highest point in almost a decade, forcing malls to make weird decisions about how to stay afloat, like offering radically inexpensive rents for desired tenants and converting malls into office space.

GGP, which owns prized properties like Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, Water Tower Place in Chicago, and the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian in Las Vegas, has been struggling for some time. Harper’s Magazine estimated that last year the Bucksbaum fortune shrank from $3.6 billion to $25 million. And Friedman’s brother-in-law, John Bucksbaum, was forced to resign as CEO after an internal audit revealed that the Bucksbaum family trust made private loans to company officers without informing the board of directors.

Friedman has always kept quiet about his relationship to GGP. This is understandable; he’s a journalist, after all, and plays no role in the management of the company. But GGP’s bankruptcy says something about the way the global economy really works. Friedman’s often accused of ignoring that there are both losers and winners in globalization, but now it looks like even his rich in-laws are hurting.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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