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Tom Friedman Is Right About China (and U.S.)

It's not everyday that I agree with what Tom Friedman says about China. Typically, he goes there, gets starry eyed, and starts extolling all the virtues of the Chinese Communist Party.

His column today wasn't quite that. And he was 100 percent correct on why China gets things done whereas the U.S. no longer does.

This was right on the money:

Studying China’s ability to invest for the future doesn’t make me feel we have the wrong system. It makes me feel that we are abusing our right system. There is absolutely no reason our democracy should not be able to generate the kind of focus, legitimacy, unity and stick-to-it-iveness to do big things — democratically — that China does autocratically. We’ve done it before. But we’re not doing it now because too many of our poll-driven, toxically partisan, cable-TV-addicted, money-corrupted political class are more interested in what keeps them in power than what would again make America powerful, more interested in defeating each other than saving the country.

Once upon a time the U.S. did build Interstate freeways that traversed the entire continent. Dams that regulated water flow and generated power. Skyscrapers that were the envy of the world. And all that was done in a free society and under democratic governance.

(Just the other day a friend and I joked about the L.A.-to-San Francisco bullet train, something that's been "in the works" for more than 20 years and yet not a single rail has been laid. We concluded that our grandchildren will still be talking about it 50 years from now.)

Nothing gets built anymore in the U.S. - other than sports stadiums. Too much red tape. Too many lawyers. Special interest groups. Unions. By the time an environmental impact study was done, a new one has to be commissioned. In the meantime, China just finished adding another thousand miles of high-speed railway.

Another valid point Friedman made about China is its leadership. The top of the CCP leadership chain is frighteningly competent. To rise to the pinnacle in China these days, you can't do it with catchy slogans or being the son of a former president.

Hu Jintao is an engineer by trade. Wen Jiabao a geologist. The fifth-generation CCP leaders have even more diverse backgrounds after a generation dominated by engineers. Many have PhDs and a great number of them are now foreign-educated.

But Friedman does miss a point (perhaps on purpose). With a near-homogeneous population (91 percent Han Chinese), China doesn't have diversity issues; and its benevolence toward minorities is purely lip service.

In the Chinese view, somewhat tinged with racism, the U.S. and the west are being dragged down by their minority populations and racial strife. But the reality is that it's not the blacks and Latinos that are impeding progress in the U.S., as the Chinese are wont to believe (a same attitude held by the Japanese, especially when it was booming in the '80s), it's the diversity-driven politics that are long on sensitivity but short on competitiveness.

That's part of the recipe for the hamburger that may ultimately do the U.S. in.