The Corner

Re: What Tom Friedman Left Out

Rich – Don’t get me started again on Tom Friedman. I think it’s a safe bet that the reason he hasn’t told us the truth about China is that he doesn’t know it. His chief sources are CEOs, PR flaks for corporations, and other Davos denizens.

I liked that Post piece on China too, even though I was all ready to go ballistic about it when I first saw it on Sunday. In the print edition, the subhead says that China is “well-governed.” But when you read the piece, it’s clear the authors mean that in an ironic way.

Still, as I noted last week in a column, China envy is really just a form of power worship. Indeed, the very idea that China is well-governed is both evil and stupid. The evilness should be obvious. It’s the stupidity that too many people get away with. China has massive corruption problems. It has no transparency. Building codes, food-safety regulations, environmental standards, and countless other hallmarks of good governance are severely diminished (never mind the fact that in American parlance good governance has something to do with democracy, free speech, and the rule of law). Just last week, we learned that Apple’s Chinese contractors were using child labor. Huzzah for Chinese good governance!

I was talking to an academic who teaches grad students in China the other week, and he told me about how the Chinese government is constantly backing down out of fear of their own people. For instance, in the lead-up to the Olympics, the government announced a ban on smoking in Beijing. It was openly defied everywhere. Then the government said, Okay, no smoking indoors. That was openly ignored everywhere. Eventually, it came down to an order that every restaurant had to have a no-smoking section, and that’s a joke. The government never admits error, but they routinely “revise” unpopular decisions. This is not to say that the government is democratic or representative. It’s not. But like any long-running dictatorial system, the regime is often as afraid of the people as the people are of it.

And, by the way, if the Chinese are so good at making people do what they want and putting resources behind political objectives, why didn’t the Chinese do better than us in the Winter Olympics?

Again, the China that people like Friedman envy doesn’t exist. What’s useful is the myth — the myth that a bunch of “enlightened” technocrats are (like Tom Friedman) smart enough to run everything.

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