Thomas Friedman, heretofore perhaps the world’s leading evangelist for free market globalism, devotes his latest column to explaining why Communist China’s system is preferable to ours.


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.

I’ll save you the trouble of reading the rest: Basically, Friedman is upset that the Republicans — and a goodly number of Democrats — in Congress disagree with his public policy solutions and pines for a bit of Oriental despotism.

Naturally, this column has generated a heated response in the blogosphere, with everyone from Reason editor Matt Welch to National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg to American University lawprof Kenneth Anderson to Nick Denton‘s Gawker ridiculing Friedman’s thinking and/or questioning his patriotism.

To be sure, Friedman elides some of the minor advantages America’s system has over China’s, such as freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, access to the Internet and others too numerous to mention.  But Friedman, who’s been to China and talked with its cab drivers to gain fascinating insights about how the world works, knows this. 

Frustrations and pique aside, Friedman doesn’t really prefer China’s system to America’s at all.   Rather, he prefers to a particular set of policy outcomes that China’s “enlightened” government can impose on its people without consequence, that our own more-or-less accountable representatives can not.   But that’s rather like preferring Fascism for the timeliness of its trains.

There will no doubt be times when the decisions of an autocratic government are more to one’s liking than the grinding gears of the democratic process.  The disadvantage of the former, however, is that there’s not much one can do about it when the decisions are less “reasonably enlightened.”  Indeed, even writing columns expressing one’s frustrations are strictly forbidden.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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