In his latest article, titled From WikiChina, New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman asks, “What if China had a WikiLeaker and we could see what its embassy in Washington was reporting about America?”
Building on last weeks’ article about how America is in deep trouble because of poor education and lack of values—using as evidence the fact that half of the recipients of the US Rhodes Scholarship were foreigners studying in the US—Freidman continues his fearful preaching.
To start off, he has his imaginary diplomat poke fun of the US cell phone system, implying China’s is better. Then he goes on to the train systems, or lack thereof, on the East Coast.
He ends with this statement: “Finally, record numbers of U.S. high school students are now studying Chinese, which should guarantee us a steady supply of cheap labor that speaks our language here, as we use our $2.3 trillion in reserves to quietly buy up U.S. factories. In sum, things are going well for China in America.” Earlier in the article Friedman noted that the Americans “travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind.” I think Freidman’s view here is not only overly pessimistic; it is pessimistic in a way with no bearing or recognition of reality.
The modern world and the future will be built on connections, and so the places with the most connections will thrive. As the much more positive David Brooks said last week, “The U.S. is well situated to be the crossroads nation. It is well situated to be the center of global networks and to nurture the right kinds of networks. Building that America means doing everything possible to thicken connections: finance research to attract scientists; improve infrastructure to ease travel; fix immigration to funnel talent; reform taxes to attract superstars; make study abroad a rite of passage for college students; take advantage of the millions of veterans who have served overseas. The nation with the thickest and most expansive networks will define the age. There’s no reason to be pessimistic about that.” Americans understand the world like few countries do, and we have the connections to take advantage of that understanding.
Maybe our bullet trains aren’t as fast, but maybe our population isn’t living on top of one another. Maybe our cell phone coverage isn’t ideal, but maybe there are more important things in life. (And may I add a personal testimonial to this? MAY YOU NEVER HAVE TO BUY A CELL PHONE IN CHINA!) Maybe we aren’t excellent at taking tests, but maybe tests aren’t the best way of measuring success nor happiness.
In sum, America has problems, that much is clear. But Friedman’s grass on the other side simply isn’t as green as he preaches. China’s wealth is all nouveau riche, and nouveau riche does more to damage the moral soul of a country more seriously than a hell-bent dictator who starves 40 million of his own people. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Friedman.