Tom Friedman phones it in again, in yet another New York Times column filled with the same old cliches we’ve heard a thousand times. This time, instead of kissing the asses of the Butchers of Beijing, Tom Friedman decides to give the GOP some unsolicited and unwelcome advice. Apparently, what the Republican Party needs to do is just agree with the Democratic Party on everything, and all will be well.
The problem with Friedman’s ideology is that we’re already watching it fail. The blue-state model is failing here, and the European welfare-state model that the Democrats want to emulate is teetering on the edge of chaos. (Just observe the inevitable end-state of the European welfare state as exemplified in Greece.)
Friedman argues that we need spend more on infrastructure and education—the same old cliched thinking we’ve heard before. The problem with such spending is that it doesn’t produce anything: it’s the equivalent of digging ditches to keep people busy. Take “high speed rail,” the fetish of statophiles everywhere. Nearly every rail project in this country goes massively over-budget and few people ride in them. Yet we spend billions of dollars developing “solutions” no one wants to problems no one has. But that’s how America is supposed to compete in the 21st Century.
What we don’t need is more bureaucratic pipe-dreams. We don’t need more top-down initiatives made by Washington D.C. that have no basis in the needs of real people. Have we learned nothing from the 20th Century: central planning does not work. No government agency, no matter how well-functioning, has the level of knowledge necessary to make better economic decisions than the people who are actually effected by those decisions. Trying to direct the economy from afar does not work, never has worked, and won’t work in the future.
And of course, Friedman wants to “raise revenue” to fulfill all of his dreams of high speed trains and elaborate (and pointless) fights against global warming. The problem with “raising revenue” is every dollar taken out of the productive economy and put into wild-eyed government initiatives is a dollar that can’t be invested in something actually worthwhile—the fact is that the “Keynesian multiplier” is a myth and $1 in government spending does not magically produce more than $1 in growth.
And that’s why we shouldn’t listen to people like Tom Friedman. It’s not that the Republican Party lacks ideas, it’s that the Democratic Party is threatened by change. The poles of American politics have reversed. From the union battles in Wisconsin to the 2012 Presidential race, it’s been the conservative upstarts trying to overturn the sclerotic and malfunctioning status quo while the left tries to defend their fiefdoms from substantive change.
Friedman doesn’t want to embrace the 20th Century, he wants to repeat its mistakes. The 21st Century is all about the decentralized over the centralized, autonomous and intelligent networks over large institutions, the agile over the cumbersome. And there is nothing that is less agile, less intelligent, and less willing to delegate power and authority than the United States federal government. Yet Friedman and his ilk would imbue that same broken system with more and more power over every facet of our lives. It’s like arguing that we should take down the Internet and put everyone on Minitel.
If the United States is to be successful in the 21st Century, it can’t emulate the failed policies of the last century. If there’s one side in this equation that is horribly out of step with the times, it’s the one embracing the failed strategies of the past. Perhaps it’s President Obama and his cast of Clinton-era retreads that should simply give up.