Our elites tolerate the republic, as it provides a stable political regime without limiting their ability to amass wealth and power (for details see “Wealth, Income, and Power” by G. William Domhoff). Thomas Friedman explains how this works in “Our One-Party Democracy“, op-ed in the New York Times, 8 September 2009.
His logic is bizarre but inconsequential.
“The fact is, on both the energy/climate legislation and health care legislation, only the Democrats are really playing. With a few notable exceptions, the Republican Party is standing, arms folded and saying ‘no.’”
So a vibrant two-party democracy requires both political parties to agree. Nonsensical, but it is after all just propaganda.
“From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!
— Advice from Screwtape to his nephew, from chapter I of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
More sincere, I suspect, is his admiration for autocratic states.
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that 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.
This would be slightly believable if he gave Singapore as an example. Anyone one familiar with its history might agree, or at least consider this proposition a reasonable one. (For more about this, I recommend “From Third World to First – the Singapore Story: 1965-2000, by Lee Kuan Yew)
China is an absurd example. While its notoriously corrupt rulers have put China back on track after generations of disastrous and murderous misrule, this hardly qualifies them for such praise. And some observers suggest that the stability of its regime is grossly overstated by western observers (for more about this see The Coming Collapse of China by Gordon G. Chang).
Freidman’s love of technocratic despotism shines through his coarse reasoning. Perhaps he imagines that he would be part of the elite in such regime, instead of the more likely outcome of writing political tracts for the daily Pravda.
Why does he have such a high profile in the mainstream media? Column in the New York Times, respectful reviews of his books, and so forth? It’s easy to see. As cui bono?
Look at the climate/energy bill that came out of the House. … with basically no G.O.P. representatives willing to vote for any price on carbon that would stimulate investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, the sponsors had to rely entirely on Democrats … “China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy — an industry that we largely invented — and they are going to do it with a managed economy we don’t have and don’t want,” said Joe Romm, who writes the blog, climateprogress.org. The only way for us to match them is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech.
Government-sponsored profits (aka “free enterprise”), the fast track to wealth for the politically well-connnected!
“The same is true on health care.” Friedman tell us. How true.
“The central mechanism through which Obama seeks to extend coverage and restrain costs is via new ‘exchanges,’ insurance clearinghouses, modeled on the plan Mitt Romney enacted when he was governor of Massachusetts,” noted Matt Miller, a former Clinton budget official and author of “The Tyranny of Dead Ideas.” “The idea is to let individuals access group coverage from private insurers, with subsidies for low earners.”
More government-sponsored profits! Friedman of course omits mention of Obama’s deal with Big Pharma, to guarantee their profits under the new health care system.
Friedman complains that “The G.O.P. used to be the party of business”. What does he mean? First, the cost of insurance must shift from business to households:
Well, to compete and win in a globalized world, no one needs the burden of health insurance shifted from business to government more than American business.
Second, wages must be kept low by large-scale immigration:
No one needs immigration reform — so the world’s best brainpower can come here without restrictions — more than American business.
And, of course, more subsidies for big business (emphasis added to Friedman’s euphemism):
No one needs a push for clean-tech — the world’s next great global manufacturing industry — more than American business.
Perhaps inadvertently, Friedman’s conclusion aptly sums up the situation.
“Globalization has neutered the Republican Party, leaving it to represent not the have-nots of the recession but the have-nots of globalized America, the people who have been left behind either in reality or in their fears,” said Edward Goldberg, a global trade consultant who teaches at Baruch College. “The need to compete in a globalized world has forced the meritocracy, the multinational corporate manager, the eastern financier and the technology entrepreneur to reconsider what the Republican Party has to offer.
Fortunately the Democratic Party is there to help, in exchange for lavish campaign donations. A changing of the guard indeed, with no substantive change in policy.
Change you should not have believed in.
It need not be like this. Elections are a powerful, even irresistible instrument of change. If we just had the wit and will to use them properly.
For other perspectives about Friedman’s article
Looks like none of our technocrats will confess to feeling guilty pleasure at the thought of rule by technocrats. But the takedowns are fun to read. Most are variants of this: “Thomas Friedman, For One, Welcomes Our New Chinese Creditor Overlords“, Kenneth Anderson, the Volokh Conspiracy, 8 September 2009 — Excerpt:
Let me just say for the record that this is a monstrous column. When faced with American public defection from elite-preferred outcomes on certain policy issues that involve many difficult tradeoffs of the kind that democracies, with much jostling and argument, are supposed to work out among many different groups, Friedman extols the example of … China’s political system, because it’s both enlightened and autocratic? Who among us knew?
For a real look at our one-party system: Politics of the FM site: radical leftist reformer or right-wing iconoclast?
More about Thomas Friedman
“Flathead – The peculiar genius of Thomas L. Friedman“, Matt Taibbi, New York Press, 26 April 2005 — Review of The World is Flat.
“Flat N All That“, Matt Taibbi, New York Press, January 2009 — A review of Friedman’s news book Hot, Flat, and Crowded.
And about his primo contribution to the study of history, the Friedman unit: We are withdrawing again from Iraq, forever, 12 April 2008
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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
- About America’s national defence strategy and machinery
- About Obama, his administration and Ameican policies today
Posts about change:
- American history changes direction as the baton passes between our political parties, 18 May 2008 – Importance of the November 2008 political landslide.
- “Don’t Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart” by Tom Engelhardt, 21 November 2008
- Obama’s national security team: I hope you didn’t really believe in change?, 26 November 2008
- Obama supporters mugged by reality (and learn not to believe in change!), 9 December 2008
- Change you should not have believed in, 10 February 2009
- Quote of the Day, 20 May 2009 — Connect the dots between Bush and Obama to see the nice picture.
- Stratfor looks at Obama’s foreign policy, sees Bush’s foreign policy, 30 August 2009
- Motto for the Obama administration: “The more things change, …”, 5 September 2009