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.