Thomas Friedman calls himself a frustrated optimist.
There are three major problems facing America today, Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, said as part of the George S. Hunter Lecture series at the Tivoli Theatre on Tuesday -- budget deficit, energy and globalization.
Globalization, he said, is the most applicable to Chattanooga.
"This thing we call the American Dream, our ability to pass it on to another generation, is not just a domestic issue -- it's a foreign policy issue," he said. "Because if we grow weak as a country, your kids won't just grow up in a different country, they'll grow up in a fundamentally different world."
The world is becoming more and more hyperconnected, and this is changing the education and economic landscape.
"Average is officially over," Friedman said, calling this is biggest socioeconomic issue of the time. "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, you will no longer get all you ever got. You will get less."
But, this is a good thing, because it focuses people to not only strive to do more, but to invent new ways of doing things.
"If a student graduates from UTC with the ability to learn and relearn, if a student is able to apply what they know when what they know constantly changes, then they will be just fine," Friedman said.
Friedman skirted talking about the election, only offering that he thought the government would be able to get America where it needs to be, though it will take some time to work out.
Corinne Allen, executive director of the Benwood Foundation which co-sponsored the lecture with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said that the Hunter Lecture series tries to recruit speakers who will encourage thought.
"The whole point is Benwood wants to elevate the thinking on different kinds of issues in the community," Allen said. "We hope that creates continuous conversation across the city. It's not intended to be static."
Weston Wamp, former congressional candidate, said it is exciting to have a speaker like Friedman in Chattanooga, even if he doesn't always agree with Friedman.
"I figured I'd give him a chance," he joked.
Contact staff writer Rachel Bunn at rbunn@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6592.