Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thomas Friedman's Socialist America

Merry Christmas! (even if it is a little late)

Here's a review of this Thomas L. Friedman article by William M. Palumbo.

Time to Reboot America

This article is written by a socialist. I mean that in the following way: it has the mentality behind it that regards government and its leaders as being the reason for progress in the world. It gives little credit to everyday individuals and looks to the Nietzschean Übermensch as the catalyst of change. This elitist charge is becomes doubly offensive to the defender of a free society because Friedman, at the same time, presumes that this person comes from government. (Keep in mind that only agents of government possess the ability to affect change through legal use of force.)

Thomas Friedman, while implicitly recognizing what sort of production actually benefits living standards and those that do not (re: his argument, that to the detriment of society, the best intellectually are entering the financial services industry and not engineering or manufacturing, etc.) does not seem to apply this argument to which direction progress should take; to what voyage should our country next embark on? Instead of leaving this uncharted course to be navigated on the free market, he presumes, incredibly, to know what must be done. For example we need investment in new energy and it should be governmentally imposed at a cost to us all, a cost presumably acceptable to Friedman and thus his class. It is an argument for how best to readjust the classes under him so as to make his own life more accommodating, and is argued in a way an aristocrat might to the peasantry if he had no worry for revolt. I believe we can see this aristocratic attitude clearly in the first three snobby paragraphs, bragging, as they are, in blasé self-contentment.

Immediately the column, as it enters America with Friedman’s JFK arrival, shifts its tone from complacency to near disgust. The “Flintonstone”-esque “ugly, low-ceilinged arrival hall was cramped” and JFK had the nerve to charge $3 for luggage cart rental! Friedman whimsically muses to himself how yes, he had seen this terminal before, in 1998 Hong Kong. Hah! How dare they, err, I mean we, Americans allow this! (Consider for a moment how many Americans have not been to an airport since 1998. If this man writes for the middle class he is apparently in such high demand that they continue to read him despite being flatly put down.) Friedman then pretends, like a good steward, to be concerned with how “our kids’ future” shapes up, this, argues Friedman, largely contingent on how the bailout money is spent. The money should be invested wisely for the future in prescient projects. If it is “spent on pork, it will be the end of us.” Like a good economist, and hinting of an answer, he reminds us that infrastructure is crucial for economic expansion.

Two points here: first, the money being spent is largely on pork, and, while it will not be the end of us, it will certainly prolong this recession. Second, if we are going to spend money on infrastructure, do we really have to focus on international airport terminals before, say, roads and bridges? Is a less than 12’ high terminal really going to offend the tastes of your average business traveler enough that they stop conducting business with the largest, most productive and prolific economy in the world? I, for one, sincerely doubt that, and I also doubt that if Friedman took the time to consider his own argument as formulated he would find practicality either. The man is, in all probability, in and out of airports frequently, some surely with less than grand terminals (which speaks to how little effect they have on him business-wise) and thus views “infrastructure” not as a middle-class person or blue-collar worker, but as one of privilege.

Friedman views Americans as “dumb as we wanna be.” Besides infrastructure, his wish list includes shoveling pork to teachers (a popular idea based on the fallacy that money alone yields higher standards in education), nationalizing education standards, changing immigration laws (a very good idea, though I very much doubt Friedman would support sealing the southern border as a complement to relaxing other restrictions to increase the importing of intellectual capital), and dictating what cars private industry should produce. It’s a laundry list of which Mao would see much merit.

Back to the socialist attitude: are Friedman’s not the pretenses of every socialist? The assumptions made by one whom considers too exclusively his own position and/or personality in society, not sufficiently able to extend their ethics past current personal conditions? Friedman shows disdain for genuine choice when he states that cheap “energy prices” (that is, energy that is already inflated in price due to our own government) is delaying investment in new fuel. (He misses the fact that future research by energy companies is figured into the price.) Would he like to make gasoline $8 a gallon by tax and fund the energy research publicly rather than privately? One gets the sense he would, yet I would ask he justify subsidizing the research costs of energy companies. His instincts in problem solving have a theme of centralization, and that has proved economically, and intellectually for that matter, backwards.

Finally, the very title suggests that he views America, Land of the Free, as defunct in concept and in need of molding, hopefully by a capable, incoming President. In addition to being of the garden variety-cleverly cloaked socialist mindset too common in editorializing, Friedman also shows a political affinity towards socialists, offering his apologetic influence to Obama.

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