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Thomas Friedman, For One, Welcomes Our New Chinese Creditor Overlords:

Because not only does China finance our deficit, it sets an Example of Governance and Shows Our Decadent Democracy the Enlightened Autocratic Way. In Friedman's hands, China is, dare one say it, nearly a City on a Hill. This is quite an op-ed, even for Thomas Friedman and even by the historical apologetics of the New York Times:

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.

Friedman does not mean this merely (merely?) in the sense that there are better and worse autocrats and dictators. That point was forcefully and correctly made by Jeane Kirkpatrick back in Dictators and Double-Standards in the 1980s. No, lest anyone misunderstand him, Friedman is at pains to emphasize that he is not doing a Double-Standards Dictators, Least Worst Alternative analysis here. That would be important, as assessing tradeoffs usually is. On the contrary, he is deliberately comparing autocracy and democracy, and specifically China and the United States, and finding the latter wanting by the admirably robust standards of the former.

There is the dismaying whiff here of the 1930s and the loss of faith in those years by political elites and the chattering classes in the future of parliamentary democracy as measured against the robust and healthy decision-making processes of those, uh, non-parliamentary systems; a loss of faith in the ideal of parliamentary democracy when what, in fact, was warranted was a loss of faith in a particular cadre of corrupt and cynical political elites themselves. There is decadence here, but it is not the decadence of democracy. (Update: To be clear, before chattering classes get all chattery ... it is just a whiff, of decadence, and no, not the F-word.) The impasse of the American political class over reaching Friedman's elite-preferences on everything from health care to climate change, and his dismissal of the processes of democracy in favor of China's autocratic rule, lead him to this remarkable thought:

There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today ... Our one-party democracy is worse.

It is characteristic of Thomas Friedman's thought to move from particular issues of policy to sweeping conclusions about the Nature of Man and God and the Universe, typically based around some attractively packaged metaphor - flat earth, hot earth, etc. Rarely, however, has he been quite so clear about the directness of the connections he sees between his preferred set of substantive outcomes; his contempt for American democratic processes that have, despite all, managed to hang in there for, I don't know, a few times the length of time between the Cultural Revolution and today; and his schoolgirl crush on autocratic elites because they are able to impose from above.

Let me just say for the record that this is a monstrous column. When faced with American public defection from elite-preferred outcomes on certain policy issues that involve many difficult tradeoffs of the kind that democracies, with much jostling and argument, are supposed to work out among many different groups, Friedman extols the example of ... China's political system, because it's both enlightened and autocratic? Who among us knew?

(Update: Thanks, Instapundit, for the link; likewise Jonah Goldberg. I'm gradually cleaning up some grammar and poor wording.)

(show)

CJColucci:
Wow! Take a few deep breaths. Lie down for a few minutes. Maybe put a cold towel on your forehead.
9.9.2009 11:23am
SuperSkeptic:
After first reading the post, I thought: "How sadly symptomatic of top-down thinking" - then I read Friedman's words.

China's leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.(emphasis added)

Unapologetic he is, and it's disgusting. Anathema.
9.9.2009 11:31am
mic deniro (mail):
Paraphrasing Gandhi's response to the question (and paraphrasing the question as well) "What do you think about democracy in the United States?" -- "I think it would be a good idea."

I find it almost touching that intelligent people such as Prof. Anderson and Mr. Friedman maintain we have a democracy. Until there is a constitutional amendment prohibiting corporations and unions from engaging in political speech and funding, we live in an oligarchy.
9.9.2009 11:34am
Inquiring Mind:
If he was a Chinese columnist saying that the American democratic system was superior to the Chinese system of governance, I rather doubt his column would appear in a leading newspaper....
9.9.2009 11:35am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
There is, however, something attractive in being able to say "Okay, here's what you are going to do". And that has been true since at least the time of the pyramids. Why mess around with that nasty business of convincing people you are right if you don't have to?
9.9.2009 11:35am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I happen to think, persuaded by Sandy Levinson's arguments, that the US democratic system has deep structural flaws.
I remain convinced that Sandy Levinson's purported structural arguments are -- like Friedman's, though obviously there's no comparison -- really just cover for substantive disagreements. I've been following SL's project for quite a while, and I've never seen anything to disabuse me of the notion that his staunch advocacy for reform is based solely on the fact that his preferred policies haven't been enacted under the current system.
9.9.2009 11:35am
Kenneth Anderson (www):
OT, but I admit I'm curious how a spambot responds to the above post ...
9.9.2009 11:38am
juanita:
I get the impression that Friedman has never ventured beyond the Shanghai Hilton. China has a few well-to-do city dwellers and a whole lot of deeply, deeply impoverished country folk.

The commentary at the end about the Chinese law students is characteristic of Chinese students in general. They believe the autocratic system is superior. I'm sure that Krugman's article will be liberally reprinted in every state-run newspaper in China.

I love China, I've lived there, I've studied there, I've worked there. Many have a level of nationalism and unquestioning love for their own country that would make the "cross wrapped in a flag" crowd jealous.

Make no mistake, China is dangerous.
9.9.2009 11:40am
BT:
"There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, ...Our one-party democracy is worse."

The irony being, of course, that the one party Mr. Friedman laments is in power, is the one that he and his cronies at the NYT want in power, The Democrat Party.
9.9.2009 11:45am
Matt_T:
Is Friedman just carrying water for the "permanent Democratic majority", a meme that's gained some currency among my peers as shorthand for "Ethical violations don't matter"?
9.9.2009 11:45am
ichthyophagous (mail):
Friedman's nonsense is really a reflection of the fact that Obama is not as persuasive as Friedman and his class had hoped. The Great Leader is supposed to sweep away all objections in a wave of hero-worship. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the inherently fascistic tendency of liberalism than Friedman's column.
9.9.2009 11:48am
Stevie Miller (mail):
Who among us knew?

Not I.
But then looking backward, perhaps all along he was dropping clues? (meaning, Everything is Compromisable.)
9.9.2009 11:48am
rickster:

Who among us knew?


Anyone who read his book Hot, Flat and Crowded, where he waxes rhapsodic about how wonderful it would be "if we could be China for a day" (assuming, of course, the right people are in charge calling the shots).
9.9.2009 11:49am
alkali (mail):
I am inclined to consider the column as less monstrous than extremely clumsy. On the one hand, Friedman is clearly not genuinely proposing the superiority of autocracy. On the other hand, if you cannot squeeze out an 800 word column twice a week without putting your foot in it this badly, then perhaps you are not well suited to the profession of op-ed columnist. (Also: where was the editor on this one?)

There are sound reasons why people like, well, me should not be in charge of too much government.

True to a point, but is the problem at the moment really that elites and experts get too much control? The last administration was filled with Regent University graduates and horse show directors who didn't know very much about anything at all, except that judges, taxes, and administrative agencies are bad.
9.9.2009 11:50am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
BT,

Except it doesn't matter whether they label themselves as Democrat or Republican at this point. The two might as well merge and call themselves Republicrats or Demopublicans. Looking at most of them actual policy is far less important than preservation and when possible expansion of personal power.

I do think it would be interesting to see what the result of alternative forms of power distribution would be, however just because it would be interesting to find out doesn't mean it would be a good idea to mess around in this area.
9.9.2009 11:52am
gab:
We were saying the same thing about Japan back in the 80's and look how that turned out. Take a deep breath KA and go write about something worthwhile.
9.9.2009 11:53am
Fub:
Apologists for tyranny, and I include Kirkpatrick in that, always believe but seldom admit the belief, that under their favorite tyrannies they would be among the "enlightened" elite who rule.

Let Thomas Friedman spend a day working for a cup of rice as Comrade Peasant on a collective farm, or Kirkpatrick spend a day as a campesino dodging a tinpot dictator's death squads just to raise food for her family, and their tunes would change.
9.9.2009 11:56am
MarkField (mail):
The only thing I can't understand is why you read something once you noticed the name "Thomas Friedman" on it.
9.9.2009 11:57am
MadHatChemist:

There is, however, something attractive in being able to say "Okay, here's what you are going to do". And that has been true since at least the time of the pyramids.


It's attractive when you are the one being able to say "Okay, here's what you are going to do"... or doing so by proxy by agreeing with the enlightened elite (and thus allow one to fancy oneself as an elite).
9.9.2009 11:58am
zywotkowitz (mail):
We were saying the same thing about Japan back in the 80's and look how that turned out.

Exactly. Anyone remember their gov't and mega-industy sponsored project for "fifth-generation computing" and the reverence it received in the US media?
9.9.2009 12:00pm
rick.felt:
it is time to have some serious discussions with respect to each political party and its model of elites and public.

The autocratic impulse is common to the elites of both parties. Back in 2005 and probably a few times since, John Derbyshire (look, I know) wrote that America's political systems appear to be a conspiracy of the smart against the dumb. I don't think he ever really fleshed out the idea, but there is some intuitive power to the assertion. Where the two parties agree, the agreement typically involves punching the less intelligent in the face.

There's broad agreement that, we can't do anything about illegal immigration, so let's get a path to citizenship going. GWB wanted it. The corporate wing of the GOP wanted it. The Democrats want it. Who gets screwed? Anyone in an unskilled job. Climate change? Okay, cap and trade is bad, but GOP elites will sign up for a carbon tax. As for the lumpenproles who work in the manufacturing industry, well, they should have gone to law school.
9.9.2009 12:03pm
PLR:
Let me just say for the record that this is a monstrous column.
Duly noted.

But for those keeping score, I suspect Charles Krauthammer has an insurmountable lead in the monstrous columns category (career and year-to-date), and Friedman should stick to his policy of being inconsequential.
9.9.2009 12:07pm
Hadur:
Looks like Friedman finally went completely bonkers.
9.9.2009 12:09pm
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
Before I return back to work, I just want to briefly echo how strongly I agree with the sentiments KA expressed here. I know many people of Chinese ancestry personally, and mostly I find them an intelligent and pleasant people. But I am quite ambivalent of contemplating a future where China enjoys sole superpower status. This is really hard to quantify, something I could properly be persuaded out of, but I deeply feel like the Chinese system of government looks out for its own interests to the exclusion of all others. Now I am not saying that there are not valuable lessons they can teach us -- I think we should be far more frequently asking ourselves, "What are the interests of American citizens here?", as they do for themselvees, but China's actions on the world stage do not inspire the same sense of noble feeling that I garner from the West's. I still sense a strong ethnic chauvinism even in this modern era that helped inspire the Han to term themselves and their system of government "The Middle Kingdom", to think of themselves as those at the center of the civilized world.
9.9.2009 12:12pm
Seamus (mail):
This puts me in mind of the Great Thinkers who, during the 20s and 30s, used to compare democracy unfavorably to the regimes in places like Italy and the Soviet Union.
9.9.2009 12:16pm
wm13:
This appears to be the day, which comes about once every six months, when I agree completely and unequivocally with Mark Field. Thomas Friedman is the epitome of CW hackery, and I cannot imagine why anyone with a real education would bother reading him.
9.9.2009 12:17pm
rick.felt:
The only thing I can't understand is why you read something once you noticed the name "Thomas Friedman" on it.

Friedman is a doofus who loves to construct ludicrous metaphors and pops wood every time he calls customer service and reaches someone in Bangalore. His writing is, as Matt Taibbi put it, "the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit." It's always the same. Technology will save us all if we give everyone access to it and we get smart people to tell them how they can and can't use it. There's no analysis, no research. Every column is the result of Friedman jetting off to have lunch with an entrepreneur in the developing work or turning on CNN International and seeing a trend in two data points. It's uncritical Conventional Wisdom of the BoBos layered upon impossibly optimistic technology-will-save-us Kurtzweilian bullshit.

Alas, Friedman has a perch at the Times and the ear of poseurs who want to appear thoughtful. For those reasons, his columns cannot go unchallenged.
9.9.2009 12:18pm
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
By the way, liberal pundit Matt Yglesias seems to share much rapport with the Friedmanesque viewpoint from what I gather in his blog postings. To him and to many of his compatriots, the Senate and other republican institutions have become an instrument of tyranny, not a check.
9.9.2009 12:19pm
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
1. The "blog" he promotes is run by this group that's closely linked to the Obama admin. That's a bit of a smoking gun.

2. Apparently he thinks the U.S. victims of globalization should just rot and the GOP should turn their backs on them even more than they (and the Dems) already have.

3. One of his "concerns" for the GOP would give even more power inside the U.S. to foreign governments.
9.9.2009 12:26pm
Suzy (mail):
I don't know if it qualifies as "monstrous"--it just seems more like the childish fantasy of "here's what I'd do if I was dictator of the world!" Great. So if your policies are so obviously great, use the power of your big public voice to give us all the terrific arguments for them. There's still some hope for good ideas in this nation, despite one-party dominance.
9.9.2009 12:27pm
Jonathan Rubinstein (mail) (www):
You know we are in serious trouble when Thomas Friedman gets anything right. He was a boob as a foreign correspondent in Beirut when he missed the civil war, amazing really, and he has been a consistent, and extremely successful, boob ever since. We are a one party oligarchy, the National Treasury Party, and have been since we accepted OPEC for our sins with Nixon/Kissenger. When LBJ institutionalized the New Deal with the Great Society, he set us on the course to the nationalization of Everything with Medicare and Medicaid. These Trojan Horses have accomplished their work and now we are faced with the logical consequences of these bipartisan monstrosities. I do not demonize Obama, who seeks to enact the statist program pursued for decades, sustained by a dreadful foreign policy that coddles real enemies of our way of life-- remember The American Way, which is in need of serious drycleaning in case you have failed to notice. The New Politics we need to really get the possibility of change going has not really begun. It will have to get much worse before that happens. But do not fret, it will. Yes, it will.
9.9.2009 12:30pm
mrcausality:
Chalking up thousands of years of horrors that have accompanied autocratic rule to "One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks." is lazy at best and empirically absurd at worst. Nevertheless, Friedman's point that autocratic elites can more effectively and efficiently impose their will to do "what's needed" is all but self-evident. However, even granting him this would do little to explain the massive problems that exist in China today. Sweeping all the trivialities of authoritarian rule aside, all it would do is suggest that: A) They can drive in one direction quickly and B) They can drive off a cliff equally as quickly. To point to our struggle with climate change policy is beyond ironic when one considers the Chinese State's recent performance. That their autocratic system requires subsidized labor and industry, thereby creating numerous social and economic problems, does Friedman's argument no favors. No doubt this exists in the US as well (albeit by different mechanisms), but I'm happy to debate for the "one-party" democracy over autocracy any day of the week.
9.9.2009 12:31pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
The original post is both right on and dead wrong at the same time.

After carefully challenging my biases, I have concluded that developing countries usually develop faster and build stronger economic engines under dictatorships than under democracies. Democracy is a great tool for protection from brutal dictatorships, but it is not a very EFFECTIVE form of government. Nor is democracy a good method to guarantee minority rights in the absence of clear Constitutional protections-- compare human rights records of democratic Indonesia with more dictatorial Malaysia for example.

The question is how things go once a country outgrows the need for a dictator.

Dictators do some things very well, like building roads, making the trains run on time, and other infrastructure development projects. They do other things very poorly, like handling political opposition.....
9.9.2009 12:33pm
ChrisatOffice (mail):
I never read Friedman, but I did read the column in question after seeing KA's post.

I think he makes his case badly, but the case seems to be that we need a real 2-party system in which both parties actively engage in reasonable efforts.

In other words, what he is lamenting is the 'just say no' attitude of many Republicans. I don't think he is recommending autocracy.
9.9.2009 12:36pm
c.gray (mail):

We were saying the same thing about Japan back in the 80's and look how that turned out.


Huh?

The Japan of the 1980s was not run by men who maintained power via repression, censorship and an occasional flurry of mass executions. It was not a society where a farmer was expected to pay the local school headmaster a bribe if he wanted his son to receive a diploma. It was not a society where it's fairly routine for a pregnant women to be strapped down on a table and given a forced abortion. It was not a society where the executives of a company that got into a pricing dispute. It was not a society where being on the losing side of a

The issue is not whether Friedman is right or wrong about China developing better battery technology than the USA over the next ten years. The issue is the price he's willing to pay get a better battery. Apparently, better battery technology is well worth mass murder of the political opposition, jail time for party members who can't get with the program and fabulous corruption that permeates all the way down to the local traffic cop.

But remember, the VFW member who shows up at a Town Hall to complain about paying for Obamacare with Medicare funding cuts is a dangerous radical.
9.9.2009 12:36pm
SGD (mail):
I agreed with a lot of the points in the original post, so it must be brilliant! ;)

As some above have expressed, I agree that China will probably not emerge to be the existential threat that it wants to be. But that is not really the point of Mr. Anderson's post.

I have not read Sany Levinson's book, but I really don't agree with his conclusions from what I have read in summaries and reviews. We should be very hesitant to fundamentally change a stable system of government that has enabled relative peace and prosperity for 220 years. No other major country has been so fortunate. I do agree with Mr. Anderson that a dysfunctional Congress is the most pressing problem with our system, but don't think more democracy will solve this problem. In my opinion only one thing will get us a strong and effective Congress: desperation.
9.9.2009 12:41pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

Democracy is a great tool for protection from brutal dictatorships, but it is not a very EFFECTIVE form of government.


And that is not a bug, it is a feature.

We're effective enough. It wasn't American-made glycerin that was actually diethylene glycol, that was mixed into the children's cough syrup in Panama and elsewhere and killed all those kids; it wasn't American-made pet food and then milk, for God's sake, that was contaminated with melamine. Yes, I remember the heptachlor-contaminated milk in Arkansas in the 1980's (did a lot of lab work related to that) but we didn't hold off on telling people about it so as to interfere with our international image, as the Chinese did the melamine until after the Olympics.

I think some people are just really uncomfortable with dissent. It's OK for people to disagree, even vigorously. Having a structure for this seems insecure if you take the micro view and see the power swing from one side to the other; but if you take the macro view and realize that for over 200 years the reins of power have moved in an orderly fashion from one administration to the next, and the legislative and judicial branches are still set up the way they are described in the Constitution, you see the stability that we really enjoy here. Can't have that without the loyal opposition keeping the people (temporarily) on top straight.

If Friedman thinks that we have a one-party system, I invite him to contemplate the fact that even though both houses of Congress are controlled by the Democrats, Sarah Palin's facebook entry about death panels forced changes in the proposals for health care reform. Whatever you think about her, death panels, or facebook, you have to admit that the Democrats do not have unobstructed free rein.
9.9.2009 12:45pm
c.gray (mail):

It was not a society where the executives of a company that got into a pricing dispute. It was not a society where being on the losing side of a


Meant to say "[Japan] was not a society where being on the losing side of a normal business or policy dispute meant arrest, a 15 minute trial, and prison time."
9.9.2009 12:46pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

In other words, what he is lamenting is the 'just say no' attitude of many Republicans.


The "just say no" attitude, while not my favorite, is understandable in light of some things that have happened. Obama said, for instance, that we can now stop fighting about abortion and find some common ground. Well, the only way that can happen is if pro-lifers get totally ground under the wheels of the Democratic pro-choicers now in power, because let's face it, the common ground he's talking about won't even save babies accidentally born alive during an abortion, let alone give us pro-lifers anything else we want. "Now y'all can lie down and quit, and we can have peace about this" deserves "oh, hell no."
9.9.2009 12:48pm
Suzy (mail):
mrcausality: exactly. I can't help but think he was going for comedic effect, and failing, it's such an unserious statement. Assuming Mr. Friedman is very concerned about climate change, how's that issue working out thanks to China? I mean, come on. He's not even trying to think.
9.9.2009 12:48pm
Harry Schell (mail):
I suspect Mr. Friedman's views are shared by a number of people in the White House and Congress.

That China has disposed of more than 50M of its citizens at times due to the power of the central government to make it so, and that this is not an unusual feature such poltical systems apparently isn't of much concern to Mr. Friedman. Which indifference is quite appalling.

He should walk through the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, or something similar. Perhaps he would understand better that the messiness of a decentralized free market system insulates indviduals from leaders less enlightened than his friends in China.
9.9.2009 12:55pm
therut (mail):
He is too typical of a lefty in the USA. I wish the socialist revolution would come soon enough that I could see the mansion he lives taken from him for the good of the STATE. Maybe he could become a paid piper of the STATE in order to save himself from being lined up aganist the wall. Maybe. I despise people like him.
9.9.2009 12:56pm
gab:
My comment, "We were saying the same thing about Japan back in the 80's and look how that turned out" was in reference to China's economic ascendancy, ownership of a mega-asston of treasuries and assumed ongoing and growing economic superiority. What I was trying to say, clumsily as it turns out, is that one day you can be rolling in money and on top of the world, and the next day you can be looking at an entirely different picture, as Japan is now.

Perhaps I should have been more clear so that the C. Gray's of the world didn't confuse my remarks with the forced abortion issue...
9.9.2009 12:57pm
troll_dc2 (mail):
@ Cato the Elder:

Before I return back to work, I just want to briefly echo how strongly I agree with the sentiments KA expressed here. I know many people of Chinese ancestry personally, and mostly I find them an intelligent and pleasant people. But I am quite ambivalent of contemplating a future where China enjoys sole superpower status. This is really hard to quantify, something I could properly be persuaded out of, but I deeply feel like the Chinese system of government looks out for its own interests to the exclusion of all others. Now I am not saying that there are not valuable lessons they can teach us -- I think we should be far more frequently asking ourselves, "What are the interests of American citizens here?", as they do for themselvees, but China's actions on the world stage do not inspire the same sense of noble feeling that I garner from the West's. I still sense a strong ethnic chauvinism even in this modern era that helped inspire the Han to term themselves and their system of government "The Middle Kingdom", to think of themselves as those at the center of the civilized world.


Friedman has a point up to a point, but he gets it wrong in the end. The problem is so does everyone else to some degree or another.

Cato is right to warn us about China. But how did we get this way, and what can we do about it? China would be stronger and more assertive even if we had done everthing right. But they would have had less control over our economic policies and our foreign policy if we had not been so short-term stupid and had not conspired to help them at out expense. By "we," I mean the corporations that pushed their manufacturing over to China, the sales outlets (Walmart especially) that coerced American companies into weakening the American economy by moving their jobs to China by insisting that they not charge more than X dollas for their product and having the market power to get their way (think monopsony), and turning to China for help to finance our trade deficits.

As a result, China owns a great deal of the American economy, so much in fact that they are a hostage to our failings! They HAVE to help us, or else they lose out; they invested too much here, and now they are putting their fresh money elsewhere. We are scared that they will pull out too much, and so we accommodate, we appease, we make nice, and we don't do anything. Because of the stupid war in Iraq and other misadventures, we do not have the ability to do much in the world becuse we just do not have the resources.

China certainly has made a lot of mistakes, but they are stronger than they ought to be vis-a-vis the U.S. Meanwhile, we are weakened more every day. Our deficits are out of control (which eventually will mean higher interest rates to keep that foreign money from China and other countries invested here), and no one is serious about doing anything about them. The balance of payments is a joke.

What will it take to turn things around? Anybody have an idea?
9.9.2009 12:58pm
second history:

[Japan] was not a society where being on the losing side of a normal business or policy dispute meant arrest, a 15 minute trial, and prison time.


I must say I do admire the liberal use of the death penalty in China for economic crimes. I think the level of corporate mendacity would decline sharply if a few corporate executives received the same treatment.
9.9.2009 1:02pm
MarkField (mail):

He is too typical of a lefty in the USA.


The left -- at least the blogging left -- can't stand Friedman. The criticisms here are mild compared to what you'd read at Atrios, digby, Greenwald, etc.

For once, left and right can agree: Friedman is just an idiot.
9.9.2009 1:07pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
In other words, what he is lamenting is the 'just say no' attitude of many Republicans. I don't think he is recommending autocracy.
In other words, what he is lamenting is democracy. Or, in other other words, recommending autocracy.

Do you know how ridiculous it is to claim that one isn't praising autocracy while at the same time lamenting the fact that there's actual policy disagreement, and arguing that anybody who disagrees should just shut up and sit in the corner?
9.9.2009 1:09pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):

And that is not a bug, it is a feature.


Agreed, but a good crescent wrench does not make a good hammer.
9.9.2009 1:10pm
ys:

gab:
We were saying the same thing about Japan back in the 80's and look how that turned out. Take a deep breath KA and go write about something worthwhile.


Seamus:
This puts me in mind of the Great Thinkers who, during the 20s and 30s, used to compare democracy unfavorably to the regimes in places like Italy and the Soviet Union.


And to split the time difference, this is what many were saying in the 60s, when China was on the cusp of cultural revolution, looking forward to the Gang of Four, Tiananmen massacre and the like. By the 60s, China was already sexier than Russia.


einhverfr
Dictators do some things very well, like building roads, making the trains run on time, and other infrastructure development projects. They do other things very poorly, like handling political opposition.....


Are you serious? Have you driven those roads and taken those trains? I have. I assume you are just repeating this ancient meme about trains on time. Yes, they could handle some very limited and pointed projects, although extremely inefficiently by beggaring the rest of the economy. Space and military equipment are two examples. "Upper Volta with missiles" was the saying that brought chuckles in a trustworthy company.
9.9.2009 1:11pm
guy in a veal calf office (mail) (www):
Jeebus, I thought ever teenager left behind the "Enlightened Despotism" nonsense by the time they started dealing with University bureaucracies.
9.9.2009 1:12pm
Constantin:

Friedman's nonsense is really a reflection of the fact that Obama is not as persuasive as Friedman and his class had hoped. The Great Leader is supposed to sweep away all objections in a wave of hero-worship. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the inherently fascistic tendency of liberalism than Friedman's column.

This is right on. The investment in Barack-as-Messiah is so complete that a guy like Friedman is now resorting to cognitive dissonance to explain his failure. I have other theories.
9.9.2009 1:14pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
Interesting fact: there are science fiction magazines in China that have higher circulation numbers than all US (and maybe even all Anglophone) sci-fi magazines combined. Sci-fi has been withering in the US for decades, with popularity shifting to its sister genre, fantasy, but it's thriving in China. This has led many SF authors to joke that they need to learn Chinese, but I think it also suggests something about the outlooks of the two nations.
9.9.2009 1:14pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
If you have something you need to whap and you don't have a hammer at hand, a crescent wrench will do.

The "good hammer" in this case would be a perfect form of government. Let me know when you come up with one that could be run by flawed human beings.
9.9.2009 1:15pm
GaryC (mail):
Harry Schell:

That China has disposed of more than 50M of its citizens at times due to the power of the central government to make it so, and that this is not an unusual feature such poltical systems apparently isn't of much concern to Mr. Friedman. Which indifference is quite appalling.


R.J. Rummel's current estimate of the democide by the Communist Chinese government is 76.7 million, including 38 million in famines caused directly and intentionally by the government. That does not include over 10 million killed by the KMT before 1949, and another 3.5 million killed by Mao's forces before they seized control of China in 1949.
9.9.2009 1:17pm
Daniel San:
einhverfr: Dictators do some things very well, like building roads, making the trains run on time, and other infrastructure development projects. They do other things very poorly, like handling political opposition.....

In theory, it seems that it should be true that dictators can make the trains run on time. In practice, it doesn't seem to work that way (at least, not very often). Some amazing development projects have been accomplished under dictators, but democratic republics have had some amazing development accomplishments. Our system is messy and inefficient and I will gladly criticize the pork involved, but the interstate highway system and our urban road systems are very impressive.

"...but he made the trains run on time" was a great slogan, but it wan't true.
9.9.2009 1:19pm
JPG:
YS: Have you driven those roads and taken those trains? I have. I assume you are just repeating this ancient meme about trains on time. Yes, they could handle some very limited and pointed projects, although extremely inefficiently by beggaring the rest of the economy.

All things considered, Chinese roads and railroads are very, very effective. For one who has lived and worked in China, I can tell you, their trains do not suffer the comparison with ours and are, by many standards, the most efficient way to travel in Chinese country. Not just some limited and pointed projects. But to say the credit goes to their autocratic governement is another thing, demographics, geography and economic necessity may have more to say than the governance in itself.
9.9.2009 1:25pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Troll_dc2:

China certainly has made a lot of mistakes, but they are stronger than they ought to be vis-a-vis the U.S. Meanwhile, we are weakened more every day. Our deficits are out of control (which eventually will mean higher interest rates to keep that foreign money from China and other countries invested here), and no one is serious about doing anything about them. The balance of payments is a joke.

What will it take to turn things around? Anybody have an idea?


Well, some of the same policies that have created this problem are also helping to turn it around. The market economy in China is booming and this is a start. I have a friend who was a protester at Tienanmen Square who says if you go to China now, nobody cares if you say bad things about the government anymore.

The exposure to the US market has done wonders for the Chinese economy. It has also come at a price for the Communists, who now are having increasing trouble maintaining cultural control over urban Chinese.

On one hand, Chinese communists want to modernize. On the other they want to maintain control. The balancing act between these two elements is becoming more difficult. Back when modernization meant building steel mills, that wouldn't be a difficult issue, but when modernization means cell phones and internet access, the problems become more profound, especially when China wants to participate in a global economy and this means sending Chinese to foreign countries, outside the reach of the Great Firewall.

My own sense is that the dialectic here is going to force structural changes to occur in China's government and that these changes will lead towards democracy. The contradiction is economic openness vs cultural and political control. In the end, one cannot have both.

China is a country which has benefited immensely from totalitarian rule-- rule which made politically difficult choices like simplifying the ideogram system or building a major telecom/data network system rivalling any Western country. However, with that growth has come greater degrees of personal empowerment and this will force changes to occur. I personally expect those changes to be gradual and to take another 20-30 years.

My own suspicion is that one will see factionalization of the Chinese Communist Party which will eventually cause either an official or a de facto multi-party system. This will take some time to develop however. We can hope that in the end we get a system less autocratic than we did with Russia ;-).
9.9.2009 1:27pm
mikelivingston (mail) (www):
I think Friedman is the last in a long line of people who have become convinced that China (perhaps Asia generally) are somehow outside the normal rules of economics, politics, and so forth: that what appears to be dictatorship is for some reason really not. There's a wonderful book from the 1970s called "Chinese Shadows" about this. I'm especially impressed by the number of people who don't speak Chinese that are "experts" on the subject . . . imagine writing about the U.S. using only French sources.
9.9.2009 1:27pm
Steve:
I would like to agree with MLK that the moral arc always bends towards justice, just as I would like to agree with Fukuyama that the historical arc always bends towards freedom. But are they necessarily correct? Is it monstrous to believe otherwise?

To the extent Prof. Anderson is simply disapproving of Americans who are pleased by the prospect of China's ascendancy relative to us, I can get on board with that sentiment. But he seems to be assuming away the underlying question as well.

I suspect that few people on either side of the political aisle would fight with such passion if they believed that America is always guaranteed to be #1, that liberty will always carry the day, and so on and so forth.
9.9.2009 1:31pm
RowerinVa (mail):
This line made me reread twice:

"to compete and win in a globalized world, no one needs the burden of health insurance shifted from business to government more than American business."

Does anyone believe that "business" wouldn't have the "burden" either way? Either business pays directly, or government pays directly while business pays indirectly (and usually more) to fund the government through higher taxes. The money has to come from somewhere. Either it comes from taxes on the businesses or from taxes on the productive people who own and run businesses.

Friedman's line reveals that he is engaged is some highly disturbing magical thinking.

Moreover, Friedman completely misunderstands business-provided health care. It's a tax-advangtaged type of compensation that businesses WANT to offer. They aren't obligated to offer it. If they didn't want to offer it -- meaning, they didn't think it was more advantageous to offer health benefits than not to -- they wouldn't offer it, and would just pay higher salaries instead. There are many problematic distortions caused by employer-provided health care, true, but claiming that businesses don't want to offer these benefits is nuts, unless he just means "businesses would rather have no employee expenses of any kind, including salary."
9.9.2009 1:43pm
A Law Dawg:
KA once again shows why, even though he is new around here, he is among the best and most compelling of Conspirators.
9.9.2009 1:45pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Friedman writes:

"It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power."

China is so committed to alternative energy that it builds one new coal-fired power plant a week.

"The only way for us to match them is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech. Hard to do with a one-party democracy."

Does Friedman realize that China is exempted (unless that has changed very recently) from carbon emission limitations-- along with India?

Friedman thinks that taxing carbon emissions in the US will lead to new highly efficient "green" energy industry. He say this because he has no knowledge at all about energy generation. Windmills are about as efficient as they will ever be because they operate close to the theoretical limit determined by Betz' law. But more fundamentally he fails to realize that the cost of energy is more dependent on capital cost than feedstock cost. A coal fired power plant makes use of the cheap and abundant coal China has and has minimal capital costs. That's why they are building so many of them. If China went "green" in the Friedman sense it would kill off it's industrial expansion. The Chinese know this, but Friedman does not. Of course he could be a paid mouthpiece for the Chinese. I don't know that, but it would explain a lot.

The best thing for US is to deport Friedman to China and let him advise them on how to run their energy industry. Of course he would end up in jail for "wrecking" to use an old Soviet era phrase.
9.9.2009 1:50pm
ArthurKirkland:
Yes, Professor Anderson obviously knows these waters well. Perhaps the only way to intensify this feeding frenzy would be to toss some Cuba-Castro chum into the water.
9.9.2009 1:52pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
RowerinVa:

"Friedman's line reveals that he is engaged is some highly disturbing magical thinking."

Of course he thinks magically-- he's a liberal. Liberals tend to glorify the primitive, and primitives are big on magical thinking. Perhaps it's contagious.
9.9.2009 1:54pm
MarkJ (mail):
Take a look at Thomas Friedman's house:

http://www.mnftiu.cc/2009/01/16/thomas-friedmans-house/

I think this photo alone goes a long way toward explaining Thomas Friedman's twisted Weltanschauung.
9.9.2009 1:54pm
yankee (mail):
China's government isn't autocratic! Modern-day China is an authoritarian oligarchy controlled by a complex set of interlocking relationships between an ever-shifting set of elites. Hu Jintao is not merely a figurehead, but he has nothing remotely like dictatorial authority. Comparisons to autocratic regimes are thus completely beside the point. Of course, there are also better and worse oligarchies.

Of course, China was a totalitarian dictatorship in the mid-20th century, but it is not nearly as bad today.
9.9.2009 1:58pm
Californio (mail):
Citizens/Companeros:

Perhaps the greatest horror would be to give Friedman what he hints at wanting. A "robust" authoritarian America....ah think of it! All the blood-chilling nationalism of the Chi-Coms - but with American efficiency and dedication (why just think of what a Marine Corps of such an entity could achieve - and not a tiny force like todays 178,000 - think of 1.78 Million - nay, every CITIZEN a rifleman....). Of course, all in the cause of benevolence and correct thinking. Opposing viewpoints would naturally be manifestations of mental illness and be "treated" accordingly - per a cost-benefit analysis, of course.
9.9.2009 1:59pm
Recovering Law Grad:
1) Referring to the deficit as being "Obama's" requires a willful ignorance of the facts that bespeaks either blind partisanship or a disconnect with reality too great to comprehend.

2) Referring to Friedman's policy views as "elite-preferences" (unclear why that would be hyphenated) is similarly absurd. What is the point of this formulation (referring to the substance, not the bizarre punctuation)? Is KA really endorsing the outright dismissal of ideas based on the social class of the speaker? If so, what social class is the "right" social class to be giving ideas?

3) I largely agree with the basic thrust of KA's post. Referring to the Chinese leadership as "reasonable enlightened" is insane.
9.9.2009 1:59pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
This is so much like First Samuel chapter 8, it is sooo ironic!

After a couple centuries of being run by Judges (an early democracy?), they people demanded: "Nay; but we will have a king over us;"
9.9.2009 2:00pm
Kenneth Anderson (www):
Tracy Johnson: You do realize one of my favorite college classes was David Rapoport's political theory of the Hebrew Bible.
9.9.2009 2:12pm
Carlos Aguilar (mail):
I love it that leftists always state as an established fact that "green jobs" and "clean energy" are the thing of the future. Why is it so obviously the thing of the future yet the market is not buying it? Look at ethanol, supposedly the greatest idea since corn flakes, burning food for transportation, now an industry in shambles despite billions in subsidies. Even if these seers know something that the market does not and Green becomes the motor of the 21st century economy, why would the Chinese "own" the industry just because they are investing more in it in the present? If "clean energy" ever becomes efficient, Im sure the U.S. can compete, just like Asian countries are today very competitive car and consumer-electronics makers, even though the U.S. used to "own" these industries. Friedman's column is a real embarrasment.
9.9.2009 2:13pm
yankev (mail):

I assume you are just repeating this ancient meme about trains on time.
Which Mussolini accomplished not by changing the way the trains operated, but by revising the schedules to reflect actual experience. Or to put it another way, managing expectations to make people content with substandard performance.

Because one of the other things dicatorships do better than democracies is manage the distribution of information.

"He who controls the past controls the future."

For all the cute sophomoric bleating about the US being a corporate oligarchy, what remains of our republic is still vastly preferable to China, Cuba or Venezuela, as witness the fact that the bleaters have not picked up and left for greener (redder?) shores.
9.9.2009 2:13pm
egd:

In other words, what he is lamenting is the 'just say no' attitude of many Republicans. I don't think he is recommending autocracy.

Not to distract too much from Friedman's idiocy (also, thanks to rick.felt for the link to the "Flathead" article), but the "just say no" stance of Republicans is half a construct of the 'news' media and half a response to the President's unwillingness to work with Republicans.

I had the chance to watch a news show "debate" the other night which resulted in the Democrat pundit yelling at the Republican pundit that "there's no Republican plan on health care" while the GOP-er tried to outline the Republican plan on health care reform. While I'm sure the program got good ratings, the host did nothing to allow the Republican pundit to have her say.

On the other hand, when the President makes statements like "I won" to shut off debate and allows super-partisans like Nanci Pelosi to write congressional bills, it is no surprise that Republicans feel left out of the debate.

When your input is not sought, or uniformly dismissed or rejected, it is not unreasonable to turn into the "party of no."

Bipartisanship requires more than Republicans bowing to Democrat ideas.
9.9.2009 2:21pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Kenneth, thanks for the reply. I did not want to turn it into a religious debate, so I kept it short. But verse 3, I Samuel, Ch 8 is just like Congress and the Courts! Verse 14 is Kelo reform! Pick a verse and find your own parallelism.

(Of course you should massage the theory save it for another post.)
9.9.2009 2:21pm
EcoLawyer:
If you believe what Friedman (and a vast consensus of the international scientific community) believes with respect to global warming and the need to control carbon, not to mention the critical strategic security consequences of continuing to rely on foreign sources of oil, our republic's failure to address these issues meaningfully is a bitter pill. If you believe what Friedman believes, we risk the collapse of the American system by our failure to act on these issues. A benevolent dictator starts to look incredibly appealing.

But if you all would stop your ranting for one moment you would realize that Friedman is NOT advocating for totalitarianism per se (and yes, I've read Hot, Flat, and Crowded). He's bemoaning the failure of our political system to act and exhorting it to do something besides bicker.

In short order China will exceed our efforts toward sustainability. Already, they have higher CAFE standards than the U.S. It is a necessity, belatedly recognized, for China to green up as quickly as possible. We are ceding our political, economic, and moral leadership on this issue. Friedman does not want the U.S. to be China, but he rightly cannot understand why America cannot do at least as well in addressing climate change--the issue he considers the defining issue of our time.
9.9.2009 2:22pm
SuperSkeptic:
@ Mark Field,

The only thing I can't understand is why you read something once you noticed the name "Thomas Friedman" on it.

To diagnose the patient, as Ichthyopaulos wrote,

Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the inherently fascistic tendency of liberalism than Friedman's column.
9.9.2009 2:22pm
Bryan C (mail):

That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.


The Chinese government certainly does have experience moving society forward. Great Leaps Forward, in fact. Or maybe that was the previous totalitarian autocracy, so that's all just water under the bridge.

As such enlightened leaders demonstrate so often, "society" is the omelet, and people are just the eggs.
9.9.2009 2:24pm
Pedant:
OK, it was a silly statement. But overlooked in all this is the fact that it was only a single paragraph in an article about the US. It wasn't intended as a serious comparison of two political systems, and so I think doesn't really qualify as "monstrous."
9.9.2009 2:26pm
c.gray (mail):

In short order China will exceed our efforts toward sustainability. Already, they have higher CAFE standards than the U.S.


I'm quite certain this provision of China's written laws will be just as strictly adhered to by the regime as all the rest...
9.9.2009 2:28pm
Pedant:
Oops - forgot to add: And what is meant by 'historical apologetics of the New York Times'? Whatever the NYT's problems, I don't think it can be fairly accused on being soft on China. This can be easily confirmed by a quick review of its China coverage.
9.9.2009 2:32pm
Bob Dole:
And now the "progressive"/fascist takeover of the left is complete. :-( Just as Hayek predicted happens.
9.9.2009 2:33pm
DiversityHire (mail):
Relax, Pedant, the NY Times assures you that Hitler means no harm.
9.9.2009 2:35pm
bandit (mail):
But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.

Nothing says enlightened like massacreing protesters.
9.9.2009 2:35pm
Cornet of Horse:
KA,

You had the bovine gender correct in the first version. Friedman isn't the butch.
9.9.2009 2:35pm
dmayes (mail):
The "F-word"?

According to wordnetwebprinceton.edu/perl/webwn, fascism refers to, "...a political theory advocating an authoritarian hierarchical government (as opposed to democracy or liberalism)".

According to wiktionary, fascism refers to, "...a political regime, usually totalitarian, ideologically based on centralized government, government control of business, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult and exalting the state and/or religion above individual rights".

Which part of either of these definitions do not apply to the Chinese state Friedman is extolling?

Do not be afraid to use the word when it applies. There is more than a whiff of fascism in this Friedman column.
9.9.2009 2:38pm
Dana H.:
There is nothing in China's form of government worth emulating. Yet democracy is simply a different form of autocracy. The majority should vote on who gets to play Congressman. But it should not have the power to tell me which doctor I can see, whether or not I can take a given drug, or what I can say and where I can say it (see McCain-Feingold).

What we need is less democracy and more freedom.
9.9.2009 2:38pm
Bruce:
Surely he jests.
9.9.2009 2:44pm
egd:
dmayes:

The "F-word"?

According to wordnetwebprinceton.edu/perl/webwn, fascism refers to, "...a political theory advocating an authoritarian hierarchical government (as opposed to democracy or liberalism)".

According to wiktionary, fascism refers to, "...a political regime, usually totalitarian, ideologically based on centralized government, government control of business, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult and exalting the state and/or religion above individual rights".

Which part of either of these definitions do not apply to the Chinese state Friedman is extolling?

Do not be afraid to use the word when it applies. There is more than a whiff of fascism in this Friedman column.

Fascists came to power as anti-Communists. The Chinese are Communist. Therefore, the Chinese can't be Fascist.

Furthermore, Republicans don't like China. Republicans are also right wing. The right wing is associated with Fascism. Therefore, Republicans are Fascist and China isn't.

...Holy cow, arguing is so much easier from the liberal side of things. No wonder it is so appealing. Never mind that the arguments would make a 5-year-old cringe...
9.9.2009 2:48pm
wfjag:

No, lest anyone misunderstand him, Friedman is at pains to emphasize that he is not doing a Double-Standards Dictators, Least Worst Alternative analysis here. That would be important, as assessing tradeoffs usually is. On the contrary, he is deliberately comparing autocracy and democracy, and specifically China and the United States, and finding the latter wanting by the admirably robust standards of the former.

Reading between the lines -- the guy from Mexico who holds the paper on the NYT has realized what a dog investment he made and is unloading it on someone in China who still thinks that the NYT is important, and so a good investment, in the US. Accordingly, Friedman writes an op-ed that makes the fawning of school-girls over the Jonas Brothers look like stoic restraint, hoping to protect his job when the New Boss comes a call'n. (Either that, or Friedman is having a LSD flashback to the 60's and thinks he's waiving his little red book of Quotations from Chairman Mao and bravely protesting running dog capitalism from the security provided by a trust fund).
9.9.2009 2:49pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
EcoLawyer:

"If you believe what Friedman (and a vast consensus of the international scientific community) believes with respect to global warming ..."

If Friedman believes in AGW then why doesn't he advocate controlling China's carbon emissions? He should also be advocating for nuclear power. But he is strangely silent (as far as I know) on both these issues.

Look at what Schellnhuber, who heads the Potsdam Institute for Climate research, says:
Yes. Up to €100 billion ($142 billion) annually. If the richest sixth of the world's population were to pay this amount, each person would have to pay €100 per year. The West would give back part of the wealth it has taken from the South in the past centuries and be indebted to countries that are now amongst the poorest in the world. It would, however, have to be ensured that the poorer nations use the money for the proposes it is intended -- namely to help them to develop a greener economy.
You see we can't really limit China and India's carbon emissions because the West stole their wealth in the past so they get a pass. In other words, the US and Europe show pay the whole bill for AGW.

Of course I take issue with AGW. And BTW "consensus" is irrelevant when it comes to scientific fact.
9.9.2009 2:57pm
mischief:

On the one hand, Friedman is clearly not genuinely proposing the superiority of autocracy.


On what evidence is this assertion based?
9.9.2009 3:01pm
Borris (mail):

Or to put it another way, managing expectations to make people content with substandard performance.


Hey that's how I run my career.
9.9.2009 3:01pm
Joe The Plumber (mail):
There is, however, something attractive in being able to say "Okay, here's what you are going to do". And that has been true since at least the time of the pyramids.

Really?

Like, um, if I said "I'm going to put that black man over there and 500 of his friends in chains and whip them when they don't do what I say" attractive?

You people are disgusting.
9.9.2009 3:04pm
Joe The Plumber (mail):
Already, they have higher CAFE standards than the U.S.

And then what?
Nothing about CAFE standards has anything to do with reducing carbon emissions. In fact, higher CAFE standards lead to more driving.

Keep defending the indefensible, leftists, this is fun to watch.
9.9.2009 3:05pm
Joe The Plumber (mail):
In other words, what he is lamenting is the 'just say no' attitude of many Republicans.

You mean other than the fact he never says that, right?

Or, do you mean other than the fact you can't point to a singular example of the "Republicans" just "saying no" to anything, right?
9.9.2009 3:08pm
SuperSkeptic:
@ Dana H

What we need is less democracy and more freedom.

I agree, but we must admit that democracy is better than autocracy or dictatorship because it is at least a "dictatorship" form from the bottom-up, as opposed to the centralized regression Mr. Friedman favors. That is to say, it's a half-step in the direction of freedom for the individual.
9.9.2009 3:11pm
George Smith:
I didn't think Friedman was nearly that dumb.
9.9.2009 3:23pm
M (mail):
I'm surprised, Professor Anderson, that you would besmirch the honest pages of Volokh with the idea that the thesis of Thomas Friedman's piece is the superiority of brutal Chinese authoritarianism.

Foolish rhetorical flourish aside, a fair reading of Friedman's thesis is, as other comments have pointed out, that American democracy is awesome, but that when Republicans mindlessly use veto points to obstruct policy, America risks falling behind to the brutal Chinese.

Now, as some commenters point out, there are questions of fact here - are the Republicans acting stupidly or is no one bargaining with them in good faith, are the policies proposed any good, etc. But that is a different order of criticism on Friedman's column.

Friedman has spent an entire career arguing that an educated democracy can best reap the benefits of globalization and technology. To suggest that this column represents a mea culpa and a preference for brutal autocracy is dishonest and a discredit to this blog.
9.9.2009 3:28pm
Joe The Plumber (mail):
but that when Republicans mindlessly use veto points to obstruct policy, America risks falling behind to the brutal Chinese.

Huh?

When have the Republicans used "veto points" on anything?
9.9.2009 3:31pm
Joe The Plumber (mail):
there are questions of fact here - are the Republicans acting stupidly or is no one bargaining with them in good faith

I love watching people like you make this incoherent comments.

You do understand the Democrats run Washington, right?
9.9.2009 3:32pm
M (mail):
Joe The Plumber:

What you are saying is exactly what I'm talking about. Your question "when have Republicans used "veto points" on anything?" is precisely the criticism I have been making of Friedman's essay today.
9.9.2009 3:37pm
josil (mail):
Re trains in autocracies, there is little evidence that they uniformly run on time. In fact, there are frequent delays, some due to the need for transporting populations to assorted locations (against their will). Sure, democracy is messy; but intellectuals in charge of almost anything is much worse.
9.9.2009 3:49pm
Jay Turner (www):
I can't stand that Friedman's column.

Feel free to have your say at:

http://www.firethomasfriedman.com

I mean really... China?
9.9.2009 4:00pm
MarkField (mail):

Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the inherently fascistic tendency of liberalism than Friedman's column.


I hate to be the one to detect the fly in your soup, but activist liberals can't stand Friedman and say much harsher things about him than anything yet in this thread. As I pointed out above.
9.9.2009 4:04pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

josil (mail):
Re trains in autocracies, there is little evidence that they uniformly run on time. In fact, there are frequent delays, some due to the need for transporting populations to assorted locations (against their will). Sure, democracy is messy; but intellectuals in charge of almost anything is much worse.


One realizes that autocracy and people being transported agianst their will do not imply intellectuals in charge - see the Khmer Rouge for instance.
9.9.2009 4:10pm
one of many:

Fascists came to power as anti-Communists. The Chinese are Communist. Therefore, the Chinese can't be Fascist.
doesn't work, China split with the Soviet Union over being true communism and fascism split with International Communism over being true socialists. Oh wait arguing from the left side of things so facts cannot be allowed to get in the way of the narrative, nevermind.
9.9.2009 4:23pm
shertaugh:
This post is more than a bit overwrought.

VC readers would be far better served by a post from KA listing the pros and cons of the GOP's healthcare reforms. Or maybe the GOP's energy policy.

If he can find any.
9.9.2009 4:24pm
DiversityHire (mail):
Not overwrought at all. Professor Anderson should get a Pulitzer for this, if they can wash the stink of Walter Durante (and his little buddy) off of it.
9.9.2009 4:30pm
rick.felt:
I hate to be the one to detect the fly in your soup, but activist liberals can't stand Friedman and say much harsher things about him than anything yet in this thread.

I'm sure they do (see, e.g., Matt Taibbi), but do their criticisms extend to Friedman's technocrat-guided statism, the reason that some here have labeled him a fascist? Or is he criticized because he's a corporatist, free-trader, pro-Israel, Iraq/Afghanistan-cheerleader? The latter seems far more likely. In other words, do "activist liberals" dislike Friedman for the same reasons that they find Bill Clinton lacking?

Anyway, I enjoy Friedman. You can tell that every column is the result of Friedman ingesting some Brookings/DLC conventional wisdom, then reading into his ass and pulling out whatever he can. It's always fun to see if he gets something right by accident, and there's often a botched metaphor to chuckle at.
9.9.2009 4:30pm
Foobarista:
There are two things we could learn from China in terms of top-level elites: they have a fairly high level of turnover, and they don't let people stay in one position for very long. There's nothing about this that is a particular feature of authoritarian government. Oddly, the "falling out of favor" of party bigwigs from time to time serves a useful function of cleaning out the entrenched.

Our "thousand year Congress" entrenches people like Pelosi, Byrd, and Murtha and arranges things so they are pretty much impossible to remove; also, we let senior bureaucrats work in the same departments for their entire careers, which is rare in China.

In this sense, our democratic process is rather broken and dangerously skewed to entrenchment. For Congress, I'm not a fan of term limits, but I am a fan of a "national no-confidence vote" which would literally throw all the bums out and not let them run for Congress again for a significant number of years.
9.9.2009 4:32pm
second history:
Does anyone believe that "business" wouldn't have the "burden" either way? Either business pays directly, or government pays directly while business pays indirectly (and usually more) to fund the government through higher taxes. The money has to come from somewhere. Either it comes from taxes on the businesses or from taxes on the productive people who own and run businesses.

Of course, businesses don't really pay any taxes; whatever they pay are included in the prices they charge consumers.
9.9.2009 4:34pm
MarkField (mail):

I'm sure they do (see, e.g., Matt Taibbi), but do their criticisms extend to Friedman's technocrat-guided statism, the reason that some here have labeled him a fascist? Or is he criticized because he's a corporatist, free-trader, pro-Israel, Iraq/Afghanistan-cheerleader?


The ones I've seen include criticism of all of the above except "pro-Israel". Ah, though now that I think about it, Greenwald might very well have criticized him on that score.


It's always fun to see if he gets something right by accident, and there's often a botched metaphor to chuckle at.


Now that's the best excuse I've seen yet for reading him. I'm not sure, though, whether it's worth the burning sensation I get from the stupid.
9.9.2009 4:43pm
egd:
shertaugh:

VC readers would be far better served by a post from KA listing the pros and cons of the GOP's healthcare reforms. Or maybe the GOP's energy policy.

Probably the best thing about Liberals is when they're so glaringly wrong that they run from the debate.

Although in shertaugh's defense, the GOP did bury those proposals on their "gop.gov" website. (as an aside...how did the GOP get a .gov address? And why isn't there a "democrats.gov"?)
9.9.2009 4:53pm
gab:
egd:


Although in shertaugh's defense, the GOP did bury those proposals on their "gop.gov" website. (as an aside...how did the GOP get a .gov address? And why isn't there a "democrats.gov"?)



Probably the best thing about conservatives is how they propose and pass solutions to glaringly obvious problems like health care when they're in the majority.
9.9.2009 5:13pm
egd:
gab:

Probably the best thing about conservatives is how they propose and pass solutions to glaringly obvious problems like health care when they're in the majority.

You're right. I can't think of a single massive government spending program that Republicans passed during the Bush administration.

By the way, when was the last time Conservatives were in the majority?
9.9.2009 5:34pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Yankee:

China's government isn't autocratic! Modern-day China is an authoritarian oligarchy controlled by a complex set of interlocking relationships between an ever-shifting set of elites. Hu Jintao is not merely a figurehead, but he has nothing remotely like dictatorial authority. Comparisons to autocratic regimes are thus completely beside the point. Of course, there are also better and worse oligarchies.

Of course, China was a totalitarian dictatorship in the mid-20th century, but it is not nearly as bad today.


That's more or less my point. Economic openness is causing fractures in the party which create slow changes towards more democratic approaches. This trend will continue but will probably take another 1-3 decades before structural changes start to occur.
9.9.2009 5:45pm
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
In the sense you mean "rut," bulls are always in it.
9.9.2009 5:56pm
roystgnr:
So wait, this was actually published in the New York Times? They know that The Onion's fawning China issue was only funny because it was a joke, right?
9.9.2009 6:02pm
rrr (mail):
"All things considered, Chinese roads and railroads are very, very effective. For one who has lived and worked in China, I can tell you, their trains do not suffer the comparison with ours and are, by many standards, the most efficient way to travel in Chinese country."

I've rode planes, trains, buses, taxis, etc. Your statement is full of crap. If you did indeed live there, you couldn't have traveled too far from the central part of Beijing, Shanghai, etc. Apologists for China, on any front, simply haven't spent much time there and certainly haven't spent time away from a few major cities. I suppose when you are a rich westerner with money to burn, it looks like utopia because everything is so much cheaper for you. Having to live in an apartment in Xining (or someplace similar) and travel from there would disabuse you of that notion. Xining is the size of Austin, TX. Only a fool would favor Xining.
9.9.2009 6:04pm
alkali (mail):
mischief writes, apropos of me:

"On the one hand, Friedman is clearly not genuinely proposing the superiority of autocracy." On what evidence is this assertion based?

On the statement's preposterousness. If someone said, "That Charles Manson is a heck of a guy," they are speaking ironically or making a tasteless joke; the chance that they genuinely have come to like and admire that notorious individual is negligible. Likewise Friedman's remark, which is clearly a provocation and not to be taken seriously.

To be sure, I don't contend that Friedman is excused because he had some kind of rhetorical strategy in mind when he put pen to paper. But the nature of his sin is gross stupidity, not engaging in immoral advocacy for an inherently violent system of government.
9.9.2009 6:08pm
rick.felt:
To be sure, I don't contend that Friedman is excused because he had some kind of rhetorical strategy in mind when he put pen to paper. But the nature of his sin is gross stupidity, not engaging in immoral advocacy for an inherently violent system of government.

The problem, of course, is that Friedman is a second-rate thinker and a lousy writer. The left and right, refreshingly, broadly agree on that.

Here's what probably happened: Friedman wanted to make a general point about the American political system being structurally opposed to grand changes, even when a sizable majority believes those changes to be vital. Along the way, he decided that he needed a non-serious throwaway line about how all this could be easier in a dictatorship.

The problem is that when Friedman cast his gaze around the globe for a suitable dictatorship, he came across his hobby-horse: the rapid technological progress certain portions of certain developing nations. Flattening! Information Superhighway! Level playing field! Technocrats! Out-of-the-box thinking! Friedman couldn't help himself. He popped a chub once he realized he could write about some trivial insight he gleaned after lunch and a round of golf in Shanghai with some Chinese solar cell company exec. Get him started on this "flattening" crap and you can't slow him down.
9.9.2009 6:24pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Joe The Plumber:

You mean other than the fact he never says that, right?

Or, do you mean other than the fact you can't point to a singular example of the "Republicans" just "saying no" to anything, right?


Friedman:


With a few notable exceptions, the Republican Party is standing, arms folded and saying "no."
And it is possible the president will seek to fund those subsidies, at least in part, with the idea John McCain ran on — by reducing the tax exemption for employer-provided health care. Can the Republicans even say yes to their own ideas, if they are absorbed by Obama?



Quoting Goldman: "a group of ideological naysayers."

Only a very literal and limited reader could have missed this point being made in his article. Or, perhaps, a better reader blinded by partisan frenzy.
9.9.2009 6:35pm
ChrisTS (mail):
ArthurKirkland:
Yes, Professor Anderson obviously knows these waters well. Perhaps the only way to intensify this feeding frenzy would be to toss some Cuba-Castro chum into the water.

Nah. Too outdated; gotta go Chavez-chum.
9.9.2009 6:36pm
ChrisTS (mail):
David M. Nieporent
Do you know how ridiculous it is to claim that one isn't praising autocracy while at the same time lamenting the fact that there's actual policy disagreement, and arguing that anybody who disagrees should just shut up and sit in the corner?

Friedman is not claiming that the problem is policy disagreement. He is claiming that 'many' Republicans in Congress are refusing to work - even when their own demands are met through compromise. He is certainly not saying those members of Congress should shut up and sit in a corner.

And by the way, I refuse to be put in the position of defending Friedman on just about anything of substance; I do think the OP and many of the comments utterly distort his message.
9.9.2009 6:41pm
Mister Snitch (mail) (www):
It's not JUST Friedman and the left-leaning Times worshipping the God China, you know. Investor Jim Rogers is so enamored of China as the economy-and-ociety-of-the-future that he moved his family there (from NYC).

Rogers acted because he believes US policy has gone irredeemably astray. He does not believe this began with Obama, though he does not think the new president will do anything but accelerate the inevitable. Friedman, though, presumably toes the company (Times) line that Obama is and will Do The Right Thing. Which raises the question - If we're in such good hands, why is China about to mop the floor with us? At least Rogers is consistent in that regard.
9.9.2009 6:51pm
Marcum (mail):
Why has anybody ever given him any credit for anything ever?

He has never done anything in the real world — he has just written things — and he has from the beginning been a complete moron with nothing of practical value to add to the discussion.

I could never understand why people read him. His ideas are so silly and puerile, they don't even merit debate.

He isn't qualified turn off a running toilet. He and Andrew Sullivan couldn't get each other dressed if they were cloistered in a haberdashery. Blow them off please. Don't dignify them with your rebuttals. Just shake your head knowings and pityingly.

He is not a partisan, just part-in-sane, deluded, intellectually challenged, therapy deprived, megalomaniacal with mego friends. They all live together in the same jejeune world where they can make stuff up that sounds really cool but doesn't comport with the laws of the universe and are therefore just silly kid games.

The only thing an intelligent person would have to question him on is: "Do you have any idea what happened to you to make you such an impractical but opinionated idiot? Waas there never anyone who loved you enough to quide you into addressing and reworking your currently feckless and delusional psyche?"

I feel for you man — that's rough.

Marcum
9.9.2009 7:06pm
Gordo:
Friedman, the supposed "expert" on everything, has a clear misunderstanding of the lessons of Chinese history.

China has had a series of strong dictators and weak dictators - before 1911 they were called "emperors." When strong dictators ruled (e.g. Ch'in ruler, early Han dynasty, Kublai Khan, early Ming dynasty, early Manchus) they were a powerful state. But the problem with dictators is that sometimes there are strong and smart ones and sometimes there are weak and stupid ones. When the weak and stupid ones take precedence in China the result is a long period of chaos and impoverishment that puts the country back where it started.

Today the communist dictators of China are strong. But some day, perhaps some day soon, they will be weak. And they will not easily be dislodged.

That's why, for the long run, I'm betting on India, a democratic nation, eclipsing China and becoming a predominant world power. Assuming India and Pakistan don't get into a nuclear war, of course ...
9.9.2009 7:54pm
kietharch (mail):
Thomas Friedman does very well. Google "Thos. Friedman's house photo". Not strong on taste or judgement (as you might expect) but clearly solvent.
9.9.2009 7:59pm
Perseus (mail):
There is the dismaying whiff here of the 1930s and the loss of faith in those years by political elites and the chattering classes in the future of parliamentary democracy as measured against the robust and healthy decision-making processes of those, uh, non-parliamentary systems;

I can't say that I think very highly of Tom Friedman, but I think you stumbled upon something with your mention of parliamentary democracy. It seems to me that what he really dislikes is not so much one-party democracy but American-style one-party democracy, which he believes gives too much power to backbenchers (thus his lament about Democrats watering down bills) and the minority party (nay-saying Republicans). My hunch is that like the Progressives, he'd be favorably disposed towards the strong party Parliamentary system as is found in Great Britain. For example, in a different context, he wrote, "If ours were a parliamentary democracy, the entire Bush team would be out of office by now, and deservedly so." Of course, many regard that system as being a kind of elective dictatorship.
9.9.2009 8:20pm
lonetown (mail):
I particularly like the way they make the family buy the bullet for the execution.

I know, as a conservative, I'm going for that when we're back in power.
9.9.2009 8:48pm
MarkField (mail):

Thomas Friedman does very well. Google "Thos. Friedman's house photo". Not strong on taste or judgement (as you might expect) but clearly solvent.


His wife supplies the bulk of the money. Or at least used to, until daddy had a few problems.
9.9.2009 9:39pm
ReaderY:
As Abraham Lincoln once explained it, we are all engaged in a massive experiment to determine whether a certain type of government "can long endure.'

The experiment is still ongoing. We do not yet know the outcome. There's probably no quicker way to end the experiment than to start presuming that failure is impossible.

Lincoln certainly didn't.
9.9.2009 9:54pm
Randy R. (mail):
Zarkov:"China is so committed to alternative energy that it builds one new coal-fired power plant a week. "

True. But it is also true that China is spending billions on alternative energy, clean tech and improving the environment, and much more than we are. If fact, China is No. 2 in the world for investment in these areas (Germany is No. 1). The US is down around No. 12 or so.

I think Friedman is man who is thrilled with the fact that he grasps the obvious. His book, The World is Flat, is a ho-hum description of world trade, and contains nothing that the average businessman or woman didn't already know about outsourcing and India. This column of his is more of the same. Of course China builds beautiful new roads, and has some of the best airport infrastructure in the world. That hardly teaches us much, except for the fact that we are letting our infrastructure crumble.

If he would say something, anything at all, that shows a bit of actual contemplation or insight, he might be worth reading. I consign his stuff to the middle brow aisle, where hair stylists and piano teachers can read his stuff and think that they know a little bit about the world in which we live.
9.9.2009 11:06pm
Randy R. (mail):
rick.felt: "He popped a chub once he realized he could write about some trivial insight he gleaned after lunch and a round of golf in Shanghai with some Chinese solar cell company exec. Get him started on this "flattening" crap and you can't slow him down."

My thoughts exactly. This guy rakes it in, so I guess we should give him credit, though.

Gordo: "China has had a series of strong dictators and weak dictators - before 1911 they were called "emperors." When strong dictators ruled (e.g. Ch'in ruler, early Han dynasty, Kublai Khan, early Ming dynasty, early Manchus) they were a powerful state. But the problem with dictators is that sometimes there are strong and smart ones and sometimes there are weak and stupid ones. When the weak and stupid ones take precedence in China the result is a long period of chaos and impoverishment that puts the country back where it started."

Too true. And this is why the current leadership will never give up power, because they -- and the public -- truly believe that if they do, the 'emperor' will be weak, and civil war will ensue. Better to have a strong but ruthless central ruler than a weak one, in their minds.

And, if this is what the public in general wants, who are we to argue otherwise?
9.9.2009 11:12pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Randy R:
Of course China builds beautiful new roads, and has some of the best airport infrastructure in the world. That hardly teaches us much

When I defended my dissertation, years back, the then new Chair of the Department asked me what I thought about 'culture and power'(no, it had nothing to do with my dissertation).

I said, roughly, that I appreciated the pyramids of Egypt and Michaelangelo's work for the Medicis (Lorenzo), but that I could not in good conscience approve of the slave system required in the former case or the suppression of Michaelangelo's own artistic vision in the latter.

I think this is a plausible line of response to the stupid aspects of Friedman's article - well, assuming one is not in a postition to offend him.
9.10.2009 12:12am
c.gray (mail):

Friedman is not claiming that the problem is policy disagreement.


No, he's not not. But that just underlines the fact that he and anyone who defends this column are utterly childish.

That there are serious policy disagreements between various political actors in Washington on issues like health care, industrial policy and immigration is so obvious, only someone living inside a bubble of near perfect self-delusion could possibly believe otherwise.


He is certainly not saying those members of Congress should shut up and sit in a corner.


If Friedman's column had called for Republicans and moderate Democrats to put aside their own judgment, ignore the views of and interests of their constituents, and shut up and sit in the corner, that would have just made it a typical rant of the sort we might have read any day in the NYT or WSJ, directed at anyone by any given partisan hack over the last two centuries.

Instead Friedman laments the situation his favored political faction faces compared with that of a "reasonably enlightened group of people" that deals with members of opposition parties via mass murder and labor camps, and with intra-party disputes via house arrest and exile to Inner Mongolian poultry-dicing factories.

But yeah. Whatever. China has some nice airports and is spending big bucks on solar cells, so Friedman kinda sorta has a legitimate point. And he was joking besides. Got it.
9.10.2009 1:22am
mischief:

On the statement's preposterousness. If someone said, "That Charles Manson is a heck of a guy," they are speaking ironically or making a tasteless joke; the chance that they genuinely have come to like and admire that notorious individual is negligible. Likewise Friedman's remark, which is clearly a provocation and not to be taken seriously.



Balderdash. There have been too many useful idiots in American history to not take him seriously. Dismissing such people as preposterous has undoubtably added to the death tolls of tyranny.
9.10.2009 11:09am
Leo Marvin (mail):
I'm no fan of Friedman, so I drag myself ambivalently to his defense. I think KA misses the ironic subtext to Friedman's column. I read it as saying our polity is so broken that even an authoritarian system like China's, which no sane American would choose over our own, does a better job than we do at some important functions.
9.10.2009 3:15pm
ChrisTS (mail):
c.gray:

Friedman is not claiming that the problem is policy disagreement. [me]

No, he's not not. But that just underlines the fact that he and anyone who defends this column are utterly childish.


1) Who is 'defending' his column? Seems to me the column and Friedman have both received near-universal disdain here. (I may have missed a comment or two.)
My point was that, contrary to another's claim, he was not complaining about the mere fact of policy disagreement; rather, he was complaining that, as he sees it, one side is not honestly engaged in the process of governance.
2) I have no idea how your 'not not' entails the childishness of Friedman or anyone else. Would it be less childish to complain about the mere fact of policy disagreement? It would certainly be more in the fashion of the Chinese government.

As to the rest of your post, I think you have seriously missed my points, at least. But, perhaps, you were not trying to respond to anyone on rational grounds, so much as venting?

I certainly do appreciate your own disdain for partisan ranting.
9.10.2009 7:48pm
Seriously... (mail):
I find it striking that he laments that we are not accomplishing much because of the Republican's dissident. Yet I'm pretty sure that he believes that Democrat dissident during the first six years of a Bush a righteous cause and prevented us from plunging into further depravity (e.g. school choice, social security reform)

Friedman is using a pretty poor argument because it is only agreeable if those in charge are those he agrees with. Republicans were lamenting the same thing when the their major proposals did not fly in Congress.
9.10.2009 10:15pm
Ricardo (mail):
It's not JUST Friedman and the left-leaning Times worshipping the God China

Comments like this really make me wonder. If Friedman had written the same column but had made his subject Singapore or Pinochet's Chile, we would be seeing a completely different group of people criticizing him. I'm not sure why this is: for the average apolitical person, China is closer to these countries in terms of basic freedom and justice than to truly appalling regimes like North Korea, Iran or Burma.

In fact, many libertarians and conservatives have long made the argument that economic freedom is more important than political freedom in developing countries (and have made this argument in order to defend countries like, say, Singapore and Pinochet's Chile). China is mostly following this model although it is still much too bureaucratic and corrupt. Still, the direction of change is definitely in favor of economic freedom and there are even positive signs in terms of political freedom although it lags far behind other Asian countries in that regard.
9.10.2009 10:30pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
My point was that, contrary to another's claim, he was not complaining about the mere fact of policy disagreement; rather, he was complaining that, as he sees it, one side is not honestly engaged in the process of governance.
The problem is, you seem to think that saying "No" isn't a reflection of policy disagreement, that it's okay (for instance) to quibble about which health care bill to pass and whether it should cost $900B or $1 trillion, but it's not legitimate to reject all health care bills.
9.11.2009 12:55pm

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