Tom Friedman had an odd thing to say on MTP on Sunday (an odd thing he has said before in his columns):
Host David Gregory asked “Where is the center that actually does something, that actually achieves things in Washington if this is what we’re creating?”
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, David, it’s been decimated. It’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.
The problem with this stance is multiple. First, despite his protestations about wanting his democracy, what he is wishing for here is the power of the state to make autocratic decisions. No doubt, all of us wish for that on occasion, but only if the government would do what we want it to do. The messiness of democracy is that none of us gets exactly what we want, hence our continual frustration with Congress. Second, he seems to be assuming that China has some special record for effective policy-making. I am unaware of such evidence. Yes, it is true that China has grown remarkably in recent years, but that growth has hardly been to the uniform benefit of its population. For one thing, a rather large percentage of the Chinese population lives in highly undeveloped conditions. For another, the safety standards and working conditions for vast swaths of the population are hardly ideal.
Sometimes it seems that Friedman travels the world, gets to see the best of a given country, and then extrapolates that the rest of the country must be like the best bits. He sometimes has a point about inadequacies in the US, but his overall methodology stinks.
I will allow that that there are any number of structural reforms to the US government that would allow for better functionality and maybe even better decision-making, but China is not the place to look for recommendations.