Back to Mr. Thomas L. Friedman. What we like about Mr. Friedman is that he is such an unworthy opponent. It is like playing darts with a blind man or a boxing match against a paraplegic. In a battle of wits, The New York Times columnist is unarmed. We get to pummel him, confident that he can’t hit back.
Yesterday’s column must have been intended to reassure Americans. The 21st century might be the American century too, he says. Yeah, yeah…the Chinese have more of our money than we do. And yeah, they can beat the pants off of us in commerce. And yeah, we’re all growing old and going broke. But we still have something that nobody else has: imagination!
Forget capital formation. Forget savings. Forget relative pay scales. Forget the trade deficit. Forget de-leveraging. Forget mortgage debt and the zombie banks. And forget the public debt and the other $100 trillion worth of financial obligations of the US government.
We can still walk with a swagger and hold our heads up high. Because we’ve got…imagination!
Why don’t other nations have imagination too? Why couldn’t they invent things such as sub-prime mortgages, color-coded Terror Alerts, and the Ultimate Fighting Competition? Friedman does not attempt to explain the Imagination Gap. So, we will just take it as a given.
But he goes on to say that he is worried. In addition to imagination, the other critical ingredient to success in today’s world, he says, is good governance. And here, he’s not so sure that the US has it as a genetic advantage. Indeed, he thinks that the body politic USA sometimes comes up with “suboptimal” solutions.
“A great power that can only produce suboptimal responses to its biggest challenges will, in time, fade from being a great power – no matter how much imagination it generates,” he warns.
Wow…deep…right up their with Machiavelli, Clausevitz and Toynbee.
How do you come up with optimal solutions, you might wonder? Simple. At least, it’s simple in Friedman’s world…where everything is simple. His planet is populated by a race of such simpletons that they can come up with better governmental solutions simply by being “better citizens.” What’s a better citizen? It’s someone who is “ready to sacrifice, even pay, yes, higher taxes…”
Is that all there is to it? If we pay more in taxes we will have better governance. But how much more do we have to pay? Maybe it can be graphed out. If we pay 25% of our incomes in taxes, perhaps our solutions will be 25% optimal. If we raise taxes to 50%…well, 50/50 on the optimal scale ain’t bad. But if we go the Soviet route – to 100% taxation – can we expect optimal solutions 100% of the time?
Oh, Friedman, what a lamebrain you are! We’ll spot you one on that imagination thing; we don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. But on governance, where have you been for the last 50 years? If there’s one thing we’ve learned it is that governance is subject to the law of diminishing returns, just like almost everything else – like greenbacks and girlfriends, the more laws you have, the less you appreciate another one.
for The Daily Reckoning Australia