Thomas Friedman has a habit of making obvious statements in grandiose and portentous tones, only to ruin his credibility by following his astute grasp of the obvious with utterly fatuous and meaningless conclusions, bolstered by totalitarian-themed practical recommendations. His latest column is a perfect example.
In the first paragraph, Friedman describes a piece of decaying infrastructure — which just happens to be an Amtrak line. Now, that’s an interesting starting point, because I’ve been under the impression that Amtrak is absolutely and completely incapable of functioning with steady government infusions. It’s a classic example of a completely ineptly run government program. That is, despite Friedman’s implication the Amtrak’s problem is the current economy, the problem isn’t the recession at all, it’s Amtrak’s fundamental nature.
In his next paragraph, Friedman, in oracular tones, asks a question from on high: “If we were a serious country, this is what the midterms would be about: How do we generate the jobs needed to sustain our middle class and pay for new infrastructure?” Having set up his straw man scenario, Friedman follows immediately with a meaningless, “let’s pretend” conclusion: “It would require a different kind of politics — one that doesn’t conform to either party’s platform.”
How do I know that this is a meaningless, let’s pretend conclusion? Because Friedman then proceeds to waffle on, as he inevitably does, about taxing the rich and having the government spend on infrastructure. (“We will have to raise some taxes to generate revenue, like on energy or maybe a value-added tax, and lower others, on payrolls to stimulate work, and on multinational corporations to get them to bring the trillion dollars they have offshore back to the U.S. for investment” and “we’ll probably need more stimulus to get the economy moving again so people have the confidence to buy and invest.”) As you read that, just think of Friedman’s personal wealth, and ask yourself what percentage he expects to give to the government, and what percentage he happily concludes you ought to give.
But back to that whole “tax and spend on infrastructure” meme….
Pardon me for my confusion, Mr. Friedman, but wasn’t that what you and Obama promised back in 2008 would happen, so much so that our unemployment would be below 9% and are economy booming? You know — all those “shovel ready” jobs? You guys sold the nation on the concept of an infrastructure building binge of the type we saw in the 1930s (Hoover Dam, the Tennessee Valley Authority) or the 1950s (the interstate highway system). As Obama has admitted, he didn’t know what he was talking about and, as David Brooks confirmed, he knew a long time ago that he was selling a lie. Not only has our money not been used for infrastructure, it’s been used for boondoggles that make Tammany Hall look like amateur hour at the Ritz. The jobs numbers aren’t so good either, with even reliable Democrat shill 60 Minutes conceding an unemployment rate in excess of 17%.
Friedman tries to hide his usual socialist cheering by following that useless prescription with vaguely uplifting phrases supporting some basic capitalist principles (“Ultimately, though, good jobs at scale come only when we create more products and services that make people’s lives more healthy, more productive, more secure, more comfortable or more entertained — and then sell them to more people around the world,” a goal that will be achieved with workers inspired to become “artisans”) but his heart’s not in it. The overall tone of his article makes it manifestly clear that he’s incapable of imagining American people, functioning freely in an open marketplace, having the energy and innovation to create those products and services. Without Nanny State help, he thinks, we’re doomed.
You know what the tell is for the fact that his column doesn’t mark an admission that his prior beliefs were all wrong but is, instead, the usual melange of lies, fantasy, and totalitarian dreaming? The last sentence: “Government’s job is to help inspire, educate, enable and protect that work force. This election should have been about how.” For a nice book translating Friedman’s touchy-feelie totalitarianism, I highly recommend Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.
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