Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thomas Friedman: To China with Love

Of all the commentators the major news networks trot out for their reasoned take on the issues of the day there is one who continually gets his ass kissed like he's some kind of royalty or wise elder statesman. All of them - David Broder, Mark Shields, David Gergan, Paul Krugman, Newt Gingrich and David Brooks - can be thoroughly nauseating at times but New York Times opinion sage Thomas Friedman is hoisted on a pedestal as the breathless nation awaits his perspicacious proclamations.

He is, in fact, a partisan sloganeer pretending to be an oh so wise intellectual progressive. I have read some of his books and will say he delivers valuable insight on several economic and cultural trends. He is a trained observer of socio-economic world. He is however completely predictable. In his eyes Liberals, Democrats and Progressives while at times misguided are inherently good and decent, having only the best intentions. Conservatives, Republicans and Traditionalists are troglodytes.

One of his latest books called "Hot, Flat and Crowded" is demonstrably wrong on all counts. For someone with one clever slogan after another it doesn't seem to matter that the facts just don't support his suppositions. Hot, of course, is a reference to Global Warming. Despite what the true believers believe the facts are proving the opposite is true - we are headed into period of global cooling and that climate change is a fact not a symptom. Flat is a shout out to his previous bestseller "The World is Flat" which presumes that the global economic playing field has been leveled by technology and transportation improvements. While their might be some merit to his idea - the rules of the game are not the same for everyone and every nation - the playing field is far from level. Crowded means population explosion and resource depletion. Here again the actual trends point to the world population peaking sometime in this century and then receding precipitously. White Europeans and the Japanese literally could be on the road to extinction if current demographic trends continue. All around the world fertility is waning - almost all peoples are having fewer children. Global resources have kept pace in a world that has seen the human population double since the 1960's.

Basically Friedman is just plain wrong more often than not - in my opinion.

In his latest proclamation he is picking China as the winner in the Global Dominance sweepstakes. The reason? China is a one party autocracy led by a reasonably enlightened group of people. America on the other hand is shackled by red state troglodytes.

He writes: China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. 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.

So what if all this is absolutely true? They are essentially a party dictatorship. They don't respect the rights of their own citizens. They have embraced the economic growth and wealth of capitalism but none of the ancillary costs. China does not innovate they steal. China does not compete they cheat. Sure there's a lot to like about getting things done by simple decree instead of messy legislation negotiated with backward leaning troglodytes, but we are a democracy with a representative form of government that must consider the will of the people.

Friedman is quite impressed with the way China gets things done. He admires their progressive vision for the future. But paragons of virtue and stewards of the planet China is not. While complaining that the troglodytes are standing in the way of meaningful carbon (read: wealth) restrictions on Americans, Friedman doesn't seem to mind that the dash toward economic development that has been official state policy in China for the last few decades has left it one of the most polluted countries on the planet. This while America's GDP increases and our pollution decreases... The U.S. leads all industrialized nations in the reduction in the growth of our carbon output. In other words we are going in the right direction (if one believes carbon is a problem). Meanwhile China brings online a new coal fired power plant every week and cares not a whit for worker's rights or the pollution they breathe. According to Friedman America's rebuttal should be draconian taxation on carbon imposed to all businesses and industries that operate in America, making everything we do more expensive.

The far sighted Chinese regime continues to outlaw the formation of real trade unions and the right to strike which of course leads to artificially low wages. How does a $2/day salary with no benefits strike you Tom? And we ought to emulate China because that's what we want for America and our workforce, right?

While others share Friedman's belief that globalization is a form of salvation the American capitalist class just keeps on outsourcing, shuttering U.S. industry and moving jobs overseas. These captains of American industry refuse to invest in their own country's future because most of the returns go to workers in the form of higher wages and not to the shareholders. Perhaps the most devastating aspect of this trend as we dismantle our manufacturing capabilities and move them to China - we are generally required to transfer our most advanced technologies to their factories.

Does Friedman's admiration of the "Chinese Way" include the suppression of consumption in order to accumulate capital wealth to be controlled by the government? Where is the vast Chinese market for American goods we were promised? Ultimately opening up American markets to China has not fostered the spread of "democracy" instead it has been devastating to the U.S. economy and American workers.

So Mr. Friedman, perhaps the Chinese will lead the world in manufacturing all manner of energy efficient and "green" technology, but they won't be the ones developing it and its citizens will still be living in a cesspool - and ours will live in poverty. Go China, long live the troglodytes!