Thomas Friedman Extols the Virtues of Communism

China AnniversaryThomas Friedman‘s latest column, in which he argues Communist China’s system is preferable to ours because it “can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century,” has quite naturally generated a heated response in the blogosphere, with everyone from Reason editor Matt Welch to National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg to American University lawprof Kenneth Anderson to Nick Denton‘s Gawker ridiculing Friedman’s thinking and/or questioning his patriotism.

In my New Atlanticist post, “Chinese Autocracy vs. American Democracy,” I cut the old boy a bit of slack.

To be sure, Friedman elides some of the minor advantages America’s system has over China’s, such as freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, access to the Internet and others too numerous to mention.  But Friedman, who’s been to China and talked with its cab drivers to gain fascinating insights about how the world works, knows this.

Frustrations and pique aside, Friedman doesn’t really prefer China’s system to America’s at all.   Rather, he prefers to a particular set of policy outcomes that China’s “enlightened” government can impose on its people without consequence, that our own more-or-less accountable representatives can not.   But that’s rather like preferring Fascism for the timeliness of its trains.

Especially if you make your living as an opinion writer.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steve Verdon says:

    And if China’s enlightened government decided to impose the death sentence on people name Thomas Friedman because it is a “critically important policy needed to move a society forward in the 21st century”? After all, they are enlightened and the masses are not.

    I don’t think people really like freedom. I think they find it scary, because along with freedom comes responsibility. Did you mess up? Well now it is time to face the music. Oh, you don’t like that? Okay, well then how about we don’t let you make decisions were you can mess up? Fell better? You do? Good.

  2. DL says:

    Oh please, give these assorted leftists and Marxst lovers half the country; half the wealth; and half the debt, build a giant wall and shoot any who try to come back when their half goes to Hades.

    If it is so much better in all these places that they rave about, why aren’t they there?

    Because it isn’t. Their goal like all leftists, is to bring us down to the lowest common denominator – with them in charge!

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    He makes known his preference for the collective over the individual. Isn’t that a common trait of the left? Soft selling it still doesn’t make it right. Democracy and our Bill of Rights have made things too messy for Friedman’s tastes.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    When China announces plans to build over 150 nuclear power plants, 20 of which by next year, one wonders if we admire the implementation of policy by fiat or simply its declaration.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Presumably, Tom Friedman sees himself as running an authoritarian regime rather than living under the dictats of one.

    He really needs to have the concept of deadweight loss explained to him.

  6. RWB says:

    Did anyone actually read the piece? What Friedman prefers is a working two party democracy. He thinks China will kick our ass because we have one party running things badly and the other is a party of NO. I assume that same will be true in the next Republican administration, with Democrats playing the NO role. We are a UNION not a COMPETITION,

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    Presumably, Tom Friedman sees himself as running an authoritarian regime rather than living under the dictats of one.

    Yes, he wants to be one of the people wearing the boots stamping on a human face – forever.

    Nice guy. Really.

    He really needs to have the concept of deadweight loss explained to him.

    I don’t think that would suffice. I’m sure he’d say, “Yes, but….”

    RWB,

    Problem is that when there is competition you get better results. This is true in sports and in economics. When ever you have competition in the economy inovation flourishes, commodities become relatively cheaper, and you see a growth in output. When you have monopoly you have less innovation, higher prices, and lower output. When business “work together” it is to achieve the monopoly outcome, not improve on the competitive one. At best Friedman is a naive fool, at worst he advocates something that is pretty despicable.

    Oh, and there is not two party system in China. Kinda shoots the whole kumbaya view in the foot.

  8. RWB says:

    This is not a sports event, this is the lives of the people being governed. And as for competition in economics, a certain level of actual participation is assumed in that competition. What company ( besides the MAFIA ) has ever prospered with a strategy of working for the oppositions failure instead of working for their own success. The party of NO situation we find ourselves in is clearly the former.

  9. steve says:

    ” I think they find it scary, because along with freedom comes responsibility. ”

    So true. I wish more libertarians understood that. That aside, I am puzzled by the right wingers who worry that the Chinese will own us soon. I know paranoia and fear are common amongst some parts of the party, but if you really believe in capitalism, China should not be seen as much of a threat.

    Steve

  10. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    RWB, I want to remind you the party of no was the Democrats back in the good old days when Republicans were spending wildly. Fortunately, we have recently gotten a lesson in what wild spending really is. RWB, I don’t want a socialist system in my country. If you but read the consititution, or have someone educated read it to you. You will learn government serves at the convenience of the people not the other way around. I don’t want anyone trying to tell me what to do, what I have to buy or what I can say. And I am willing to fight about it. I believe if you and your ilk keep pushing, you will see a second civil war. What part of “communism does not work” is it you do not understand?

  11. RWB says:

    Also …

    Friedman may indeed be a naive fool, but that does not exclude his ever being right.

    He is not talking about a two party system in China, he is talking about what we are supposed to have here. His point is that a two party system where one party just obstructs the other is the worst of both worlds. One hopes he will feel the same during the next Republican administration when the Dems are the party of NO. Our internal political death spiral is a disadvantage in the economic competition with China. You may not like that, but you ignore it at risk to America’s position in the world.

    I have to ask again if you actually read the article?

  12. RWB says:

    Ragshaft –

    “I assume that same will be true in the next Republican administration, with Democrats playing the NO role” – from my original post.

    In the past we were never so much just outright working for the other party to fail, except for isolated idiots like Sam Farr. I assume the Democrats will be just a bad in the next Republican admin, and said so in my post. “What ever it is I’m against it” is stupid regardless of party affiliation.

    Why do you assume that I am a liberal, or a socialist? When I expressed fiscally conservative ideas here during the Bush years I was called a koombia socialist Now that the Democrats are in power we are all fiscally responsible. My conservative principles have not changed in 40 years, people like you change principles at every election; and you call yourself a conservative !

    What is it with you people? Do you think a closed dogmatic mind is a conservative trait?

  13. Franklin says:

    RWB- a hint: it’s not worth it arguing with Ragshaft (nor G.A.Phillips if he happens to arrive). Most of the other people posting are reasonable, however, if you can give them a good argument.

    As for the article, I think our country is perfectly able to get stuff done when necessary. After 9/11, the Democrats were suddenly a party of Yes. To anything, really – illegal torture, illegal eavesdropping, the launching of a war on false pretenses. But we *did* get stuff done.

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    RWB- a hint: it’s not worth it arguing with Ragshaft (nor G.A.Phillips if he happens to arrive). Most of the other people posting are reasonable, however, if you can give them a good argument.

    lol….

  15. anjin-san says:

    He makes known his preference for the collective over the individual. Isn’t that a common trait of the left?

    Yo, Steve… how much stuff do you have in your house that says “Made in China” on it?

  16. Bill says:

    “I cut the old boy a bit of slack.”

    As you probably should. Zakaria makes a similar argument in the Future of Freedom, where he talks about how liberal autocracies can enact positive reforms that build a Democracy better than direct Democracies can. It’s an academic argument ripe for outrage, but not one that’s necessarily pining for fascism.

  17. I’ve always marvelled and shivered at just how much most people left of center desire a one party state, having grown weary of the need to obtain the consent of the governed more than once.

  18. Brett says:

    Zakaria makes a similar argument in the Future of Freedom, where he talks about how liberal autocracies can enact positive reforms that build a Democracy better than direct Democracies can. It’s an academic argument ripe for outrage, but not one that’s necessarily pining for fascism.

    It’s true in the sense that, at least in theory, stable autocracies and/or oligarchies can afford to take the longer view because they usually have a smaller list of people they are accountable towards (usually the military, church, etc), and because their political futures won’t simply be toppled every couple years. You see this in the private market as well – back when Bell was still a monopoly, they did a lot of funding towards basic research in Bell Labs, among other things.

    That’s the theory. The reality, of course, is that not every despot acts like this – some are just openly kleptocratic, others have simply a short-sighted focus on maintaining their own power that defeats any long-term planning (particularly when their power hold is precarious). Arguably, democracy works because it serves to legitimize the government, and because the loss of stability in governance is more than made up for by accountability.

  19. Bill says:

    Brett –

    Well, right. The drawback is that the effectiveness in enacting positive changes is dependent on the whims of a few who are more easily corrupted. Of course, Zakaria’s argument goes on to take a shot at pure direct Democracy, which is arguably the root of California’s colossal problems.

    I’d say the reality is that most despots don’t act in a far-sighted, liberal way. One example would be Mossedeq or the subsequent Shah’s stabs at liberal economic reforms that died on the vine in favor of fascination with cozying up to the USSR and buying military hardware, respectively.

    That said, if the right folks are in the right places, one can get a lot of stuff done. For governments in transition to democracy, liberal autocracy can be just the ticket.