Thomas Friedman defends “one-party autocracy” as represented by China. Presumably, his defense is a sardonic. He is trying to smack down the Republican Party in the US for “standing, arms folded and saying ‘no.’” Sardonic tone notwithstanding, he says something revealing. “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.”
He favorably quotes Joe Romm saying, “China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy . . . and they are going to do it with a managed economy.” For Friedman, the way forward is “from the top down.”
I guess that sort of thing is vision and big think in his mind. It is also complete rubbish. Top down doesn’t work. It seemed as if we all pretty much figured as much in 1989 when the old Soviet system collapsed. Twenty years later, however, we seem to have forgotten. People should remember first that it “capitalism” is the only system that really delivers the good. And they should remember that the crazy wealth created by “capitalism” is correlated to all sorts of good things like longevity, health, education, and freedom as Peter Leeson argues brilliantly. It reduces violence too, as Steven Pinker suggests. Decentralized decision making makes things better. Dictating “from the top down” makes things worse. The evidence is in and it is unambiguous as Leeson, Steve Horwitz, and others have noted. Why can’t someone like Thomas Friedman see it? I suppose it’s what Herbert Spencer said in the introduction to (I think) Social Statics: it takes constant iteration to force alien conceptions on unwilling minds.
Thomas Friedman talks a good game. He speaks as if he is sure he has identified the growth industries of the century, but has he put his money where his mouth is? If he is so certainly right, has he mortgaged his house(s) and invested accordingly? I’d bet he has not.