Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thomas Friedman - China for a Day

[The center]'s been decimated by everything from the gerrymandering of political districts to cable television to an Internet where I can create a digital lynch mob against you from the left or right if I don't like where you're going, to the fact that money and politics is so out of control--really our Congress is a forum for legalized bribery. You know, that's really what, what it's come down to. So I don't--I, I--I'm worried about this, it's why I have fantasized--don't get me wrong--but that what if we could just be China for a day? I mean, just, just, just one day. You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions, and I do think there is a sense of that, on, on everything from the economy to environment. I don't want to be China for a second, OK, I want my democracy to work with the same authority, focus and stick-to-itiveness. But right now we have a system that can only produce suboptimal solutions.

Thomas Friedman has been saying this for a while now. I think he really does not know very much about China. Let's review:

1) The fantasy of "Let's be dictator for a day" needs to include the bad things that happen under dictatorships, not just the good things. You cannot claim you will simply implement the "good ideas" because the "bad ideas" always start off as good ideas. The Great Leap Forward was called the Great Leap Forward for a reason. It was going to be awesome. It ended up being a "bad idea" though. Same thing happens on a smaller scale in China, too. Just see the derelict white elephant buildings littering the countryside.

2) If you think China has better control over corruption than the USA, and that being China for a day would work, you'd better think again. Being China for a day, means everyone would have to fork over red envelopes to all manner of low level officials. Pro-tip: take that day off and don't attempt to renew your license at the DMV. You will save some money.

3) If you can identify beneficial aspects of China's decision making versus ours, then why not attempt to reform those parts of our system that lag rather than simply copy the whole shebang. Let me assist Mr. Friedman here with an example. Say you wanted to build a high speed rail system in the United States and in China. Check out the reason our progress lags so much slower, such as environmental impact reports, historic preservation, or the prevailing wage rule. If its better in China why do it just for a day? Reform the US instead. Most likely, when confronted by why China really is "faster" than the US at implementing policies, it will more often look like a bug than a feature.

But who knows, maybe they do streamline some procedures, most likely because poor countries really, really want development, whereas rich countries are way more into NIMBYism.They have not had the time to create vast structures of licensing, regulation, inspectors, etc., that the USA has. You need to throw up a dirt road to build your new factory - just do it. You probably don't even need to bribe someone for that. I am sure in the USA, this would involve a lot more paperwork. I don't think Thomas Friedman really is a fan of less government and less regulation, do you? Otherwise why does he think the Chinese government is actually the driver of growth in China rather than the private sector. The high speed rail wasn't built for the 5 year plan and the worker's needs, but for the use of rapacious factory owners and their middle class children to visit Guangzhou in a speedy fashion.

In conclusion, Thomas Friedman is an idiot.


Karl said...

Thomas Friedman has been an idiot for a long time- the journalistic equivalent of an ivory-tower intellectual. He is clueless as to how anything works in the real world.

He was also an Iraq war cheerleader, claiming that establishment of a democracy in the Mideast would lead to the liberalization of other countries in the region. Thanks a lot, Nostradamus. (We'll ignore the fact that I argued the exact same thing. My ignorance of geopolitics, history, and culture in that region does not make anyone else smarter).

Anonymous said...

You don't get paid enormous amounts of money to do that, though. He does.

Karl said...

Yeah, but if you want to ignore Friedman, you can just put the magazine or newspaper down. With me, ya pretty much gotta leave the bar.

Word Verification: tainn

J-Hole owes me tainn dollars.