Wednesday, July 27, 2011


No, really: that's essentially Tom Friedman's brilliant idea for how we could have avoided our current debt/debt-ceiling crisis:

Stop for a minute and ask: What would it look like if we were approaching this problem properly?

For starters, two years ago Congress and the Obama administration would have collaborated on a series of hearings under the heading: "What world are we living in?" They would have included a broad range of business, education and technology leaders testifying about what are the major trends and opportunities that are expected to shape the job market for the next decade. Surely, the hyperconnecting of the world, the intensification of globalization and outsourcing, the challenges of energy and climate and the growing automation of the work space that is rapidly increasing productivity with fewer workers all would have figured prominently.

Then we would have put together "The National Commission for 21st Century America," with this assignment: Given these big trends, what will America need to thrive in this world and how should we adapt our unique formula for success?

And what, according to Friedman, would have emerged from this coming together of the best minds of our generation?

Yes, we have developed such a formula over the course of American history, and it is built on five basic pillars: educating the work force up to and beyond whatever technology demands; building the world's best infrastructure of ports, roads and telecommunications; attracting the world's most dynamic and high-I.Q. immigrants to enrich our universities and start new businesses; putting together the best regulations to incentivize risk-taking while curbing recklessness (not always perfectly); and funding research to push out the boundaries of science and then let American innovators and venture capitalists pluck off the most promising new ideas for new business.

According to Friedman, after this fabulous meeting of the minds we would conclude that, yes, we have to make spending cuts and adjustments to entitlement programs, but we also have to raise some taxes and spend lots of money on infrastructure, all while focusing the government on improving education (also a costly process requiring tax revenues). Oh, and we have to have financial regulation with teeth.

Um, really, Tom? You actually believe that hearings convened by the government we had in 2009 -- in the Congress in which, I remind you, the filibuster record was shattered -- would have produced actionable proposals to increase education and infrastructure spending and pass real financial regulatory reform?

Are you nuts? The Republicans would have larded the hearings with anti-tax extremists, anti-regulatory extremists, freelance Randians, and people who think what's really holding us back as a nation is insufficient fealty to Jesus. And that's in addition to the Democratic invitees, including pals of the president, hewing to the corporatist, tax-averse, regulation-averse Goldman Sachs-o-crat line.

Friedman thinks there's a small impediment to his paradise:

Anyone who says that either entitlement reform or tax increases are off the table does not have a plan for sustaining American greatness and passing on the American dream to the next generation.

Alas, that is the Tea Party. It is so lacking in any aspiration for American greatness, so dominated by the narrowest visions for our country and so ignorant of the fact that it was not tax cuts that made America great but our unique public-private partnerships across the generations. If sane Republicans do not stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst, the Tea Party will take the G.O.P. on a suicide mission.

Friedman thinks the tea party is just a small, easily removable tumor on the body politic. He doesn't understand that teabaggery is a parasite that's essentially taken over the body of the host -- Republicans and, to a great extent, Democrats -- nor does he understand that it long predates the actual tea party movement. This sort of extremism couple with intransigence dates back to Reagan, Limbaugh, and the Murdoch takeover of cable news.

The utopia Tom Friedman's wishes for isn't mine, but it would actually be a hell of a lot better than, say, Grover Norquist's. But Friedman has no idea what it would really get there. And so his many readers have no idea who's making it impossible to get to centrism, never mind liberalism.

No comments: