9.27.2009

Thomas Friedman Rides Again

I don't know that I've ever discussed a Thomas Friedman column here.

I've always found the man's columns, like his latest, to be rather oversimplified, vaguely sensationalist and self-serving.  All the puzzle pieces just happen to fit together in a convenient historical tableau that ought to leave you, reader, believing everything will and should transpire just as he's laid out.  Sputnik caused the internet and the internet is good.  Therefore, China's going green is the new Sputnik and we should adopt green energy policies because it will cause the next big, good thing.

For one, is the factual basis of Friedman's crystal clear Sputnik II premise even accurate?  Is China really even going green?  Or is the latest move by the Chinese leadership, the UN speech by President Hu Jintao,  largely posturing with a few concrete specifics and lots of wiggle room?

Also, Friedman fails to note that of course it's easier for China to go green suddenly than it is for the U.S.   China's political system permits rapid, systemic changes in policy with little room for dissent.

The more column-worthy observation one could draw from the Chinese energy consumption projections is this: even if China democratizes, even if it adopts a parallel system of green energy development, its sheer demand for raw materials and energy resources remains a destabilizing prospect on the horizon.  And, moreover, one has to ask whether democratization or increased governmental responsiveness will actually exacerbate the trend.  With more political freedom, would China's burgeoning, aspiring middle classes demand even more economic development toward a greater overall standard of living?  Or would newly engaged masses account for negative externalities of white hot economic growth in government policies?