Watching both the health care and climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.
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.
Our one-party democracy is worse….
So there you have it. If only America could drop its inefficient and antiquated system, designed in the age before globalization and modernity and, most damning of all, before the lantern of Thomas Friedman’s intellect illuminated the land. If only enlightened experts could do the hard and necessary things that the new age requires, if only we could rely on these planners to set the ship of state right. Now, of course, there are “drawbacks” to such a system: crushing of dissidents with tanks, state control of reproduction, government control of the press and the internet. Omelets and broken eggs, as they say. More to the point, Friedman insists, these “drawbacks” pale in comparison to the system we have today here in America.
I cannot begin to tell you how this is exactly the argument that was made by American fans of Mussolini in the 1920s. It is exactly the argument that was made in defense of Stalin and Lenin before him (it’s the argument that idiotic, dictator-envying leftists make in defense of Castro and Chavez today). It was the argument made by George Bernard Shaw who yearned for a strong progressive autocracy under a Mussolini, a Hitler or a Stalin (he wasn’t picky in this regard). This is the argument for an “economic dictatorship” pushed by Stuart Chase and the New Dealers. It’s the dream of Herbert Croly and a great many of the Progressives.
I have no idea why I still have the capacity to be shocked by such things. A few years ago, during the worst part of the Iraq war, I wrote a column saying that Iraq needed a Pinochet type to bring order to Iraq and help develop democratic and liberal institutions. To this day, I get vicious hate mail from liberal and leftist readers for my “pro-dictator” stance. Meanwhile, Thomas Friedman, golden boy of the NYT op-ed page, is writing love-letters to dictatorships because they have the foresight to invest in electric batteries and waterless toilets or something. It looks like there’s reason to hope I was wrong about Iraq (I certainly hope I was). But at least I favored a dictatorship of sorts — for another country! – because I thought it would lead to a liberal democracy. Here, Friedman lives in a liberal democracy but has his nose pressed up against the candy store window of a cruel, undemocratic, regime and all he can do is drool over the prospect of having the same power here. It’s disgusting.
Update: A friend IM’s:
great post ; you know whoe specially hates the argument Friedman makes? Indians. They hear that argument all the time — from Indian communists; but smart indians I talk to want to stab your eyes out when they hear you say this argument since they know democracy — as messy as it is — is a huge strength for them. You would think Bangalore Tom might understand this.