Posted by: bmeverett | January 17, 2010

Tom Friedman Watch – January 17, 2010


I have noted before in this blog the tendency of Tom Friedman of Hot, Flat and Crowded fame to slip into his columns his admiration for the Chinese political system. Even though I pointed this error out in my post of September 9, 2009, Mr. Friedman still hasn’t stopped. This idea is so contemptible and dangerous, that I plan to blow the whistle every time he does it.

The latest expression of Friedman’s fundamentally anti-democratic view was his New York Times column on Saturday, January 16, when he argued for the US to pull out of the rest of the world and focus on competing with the Chinese, stating, “Am I going isolationist? No, but visiting the greater China region always leaves me envious of the leaders of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, who surely get to spend more of their time focusing on how to build their nations than my president, whose agenda can be derailed at any moment by a jihadist death cult using exploding underpants.”

Mr. Friedman clearly sees our democracy as messy and inefficient because it’s responding to the American people’s concerns instead of his. This is indeed annoying. After all, in China people who disagree with the government go to prison, which in Mr. Friedman’s view apparently facilitates the implementation of a benign and forward-looking agenda. China doesn’t have to worry about separation of Church and State, since religion is effectively forbidden, except as a state-sponsored activity. That keeps pesky Christians from objecting to the progressive one-child policy with its forced abortions.

Mr. Friedman applauds the ability of the Chinese and Taiwanese leaderships to find a “quiet rapprochement.” The fact that 1.3 billion poor Chinese under a brutal dictatorship claim sovereignty over 23 million Taiwanese who live in a prosperous democracy and would prefer to be independent must be the result of a simple meeting of the minds. The People’s Liberation Army with its hundreds of missiles pointed at Taiwan can’t be much of a factor in this equation. Furthermore, the current stalemate in the Taiwan Straits was accomplished “on their own” without US help. I guess the 60-year US defense commitment to Taiwan doesn’t mean much here.

What does Mr. Friedman want us to do? It’s obvious – increase central planning. The market economy is not developing the way Mr. Friedman wants. He wants the government to decide where to invest – education, infrastructure and, of course, the ever popular energy independence. If we would just give up on our freedom, everything would be better.

Back in the 1980s, Americans were terrified of the Japanese economy. The Japanese were not only growing fact, but they were taking all the manufacturing, especially cars. Americans were would be reduced to flipping burgers and making movies for the Japanese to enjoy. Why were they overtaking us? Central planning, of course, known then as Industrial Policy. The Japanese were able to support key industries through government policy, which means they would always kick our butts. Companies can’t compete against governments!

According to the World Bank, the Japanese economy in 1969 was about one-third the size of the US, but Japanese growth rates were consistently higher. By 1991, Japanese GDP was 45% of the US GDP. No wonder everyone was worried. It was only a matter of time before the Japanese overtook us. The Empire of the Rising Sun, however, hit a brick wall around that time. Japanese economic growth has averaged just around 1% per year since 1991, while the US has grown at 3% annually. The Japanese economy is back down to where it was in 1969 – about a third of the US.

Mr. Friedman is making the same mistake with China. China is growing rapidly, but I wouldn’t trade their prospects for ours. The Chinese have a billion very poor people, no rule of law, no private property rights, no intellectual property rights, horrendous pollution, widespread corruption, a massive system of inefficient state enterprise, a huge, labor-intensive military establishment and an overstretched banking system. Mr. Friedman has been dazzled by Shanghai, and doesn’t seem to see the real China.

The American Republic was founded in opposition to tyranny – a word which has unfortunately gone out of usage in our political debate. The real danger of tyranny is not the emergence of another Hitler – we always have those guys around. The danger is that ordinary people will repeat the mistake the Germans made in 1933. Germans thought their problems were so bad and so intractable that the only answer was to turn power over to people who have the will to cut to the chase and solve them. That seems to be what Mr. Friedman wants us to do. It’s certainly true that things were bad in Germany under the Weimar Republic with its hyperinflation, unemployment, street violence and humiliating war reparations. In retrospect, those problems probably didn’t look so bad to Germans sitting in the midst of the rubble of Berlin in 1945 surrounded by 7-8 million dead Germans, widespread starvation, an economy in ruins and the Red Army about to impose 44 years of Communist oppression on half the country.

I’ll trust the instincts and decisions of the American people any day, any time over rule by the “enlightened.” Really, Tom.

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