Tom Friedman wants us to get big things done

Michael Giberson

I don’t read Tom Friedman’s columns in the New York Times, but apparently Craig Pirrong does, and I read Pirrong’s Streetwise Professor blog, and Pirrong’s latest post on Friedman reminds me again why I don’t read Tom Friedman’s columns. At least I generally avoid Friedman except when someone else calls attention to a particularly egregious column full of Tom-Friedmanisms.

Once again Friedman visits China, marvels at their ability to get things built, turns his gaze back to our own hallowed shores and – writing with an almost audible sigh – wishes Americans would just pull together and tackle the big problems and do big things. You know, like they used to do back when we were kids, and we had the space program and built highways and such.

Pirrong notes Friedman’s wish to admire the Chinese system’s ability to get things done while disclaiming any admiration for the still repressive nature of the Chinese government. After blasting Friedman’s column apart – not difficult, actually, since it wasn’t much of a coherent whole in the first place – Pirrong concludes:

Sorry, Tom, but it’s a package deal.  Governments who think about people purely instrumentally, who think that they can push them around to achieve this economic result or build that glittering piece of infrastructure have a tendency of engaging in brutal behavior.

… Friedman is just another example in a depressingly long line of soi disant intellectuals who are enamored with authoritarians red or brown; who marvel at their gargantuan achievements; and who somehow believe that the bloody and brutal behavior of such authoritarians is some sort of minor bug that can be eliminated while retaining the supposed economic benefits.

That was a lie in the 1930s.  It was a lie in the 1940s.  It was a lie in the 1960s and 1970s.  And it is a lie now.

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9 thoughts on “Tom Friedman wants us to get big things done

  1. Yes, because as we all clearly remember, the United States was an authoritarian nation while were building the interstates and going to the moon.

  2. Yes.

    However, do you think that the Chinese democracy should be exactly like the US democracy? Asians claim that they are different and that the Western canons should not be applied to them.

    Makes me think. Thanks.

  3. I don’t think that Chinese democracy should be exactly like the US. Nor exactly like Canada, the UK, Australia, Japan, Germany, Sweden, South Korean, South Africa, Brazil and especially not exactly like France. 😉

    All I think is that they (and everyone else in the world) ought to allow sufficient political freedom and openness in government that they can reasonably claim consent of the governed, some protection for basic human rights, and relatively open access to markets.

  4. Michael, you’d probably wretch if you read Friedman’s “Hot, Flat, and Crowded”.

    It is however one of the great examples of Sowell’s, “Vision of the Anointed”.

  5. “the United States was an authoritarian nation while were building the interstates and going to the moon.”

    That was before the lethal combination of overly broad environmental laws and arrogant federal judges. The laws need to be rolled back, and we need to start hanging some judges.

  6. Tom’s not reading enough on federal robotics programs that aren’t DARPA, mehaps.
    Craig’s just trying to get into the ‘Hot, Flat, Angry Bureaucrats 2010′ conference in Shanghai. Congratulation and whinging about green and democratic reform isn’t stylish ’til the last minute anymore. Works for Dr. Who.

  7. China is better at “Getting things done” than the US. The problem is that the things they get done are both bad and good. What about building a new coal power plant every week?

    Like Friedman, I’m disgusted with the US’s inability to get things done. China gets a lot more done, but at least half of the things it gets done are not good. I don’t think that humans have yet invented a system that’s capable of effectively tackling the problems we’ve created for ourselves. We’ve got to work with what we have and do the best we can within the flawed systems we have. Wishing for something better is less effective than either China’s or America’s flawed systems.

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