The Buzz

Friedman's Clumsy Sophistry

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman demonstrates intellectual clumsiness in touting a forthcoming book by author and editor David Rothkopf. The book, it seems, discusses the various brands of capitalism extant in the world today and ponders which will emerge as prevalent. Friedman favors America’s version and explains: “America’s success for over 200 years was largely due to its healthy, balanced public-private partnership—where government provided the institutions, rules, safety nets, education, research and infrastructure to empower the private sector to innovate, invest and take the risks that promote growth and jobs.”

This is sophistry. The first great public-private institution in America was the Bank of the U.S., allowed to expire because of opposition from Thomas Jefferson and others. The second Bank was killed by Andrew Jackson. There followed a long period in American history when the prevailing sentiment was decidedly against major concentrations of power in Washington. Lincoln consolidated power to wage his war but carefully avoided permanent power entrenchments. Land grants for railroads and state universities were exceptions to a pretty carefully observed rule.

Then came Franklin Roosevelt, and the country entered a new era—the one Friedman likes and confuses with American history.

Friedman writes: “When the private sector overwhelms the public, you get the 2008 subprime crisis.” Come again? Has Friedman heard of Fannie and Freddie, those great “public-private” institutions that did so much to bring on the crisis (as his colleague Gretchen Morgenson so brilliantly demonstrated)? What about the Fed (a governmental entity), which fueled the crisis with interest rates kept too low for too long?

He writes: “When the public overwhelms the private, you get choking regulations.” True, but that’s a small part of the problem, which includes huge governmental debt, runaway entitlements, self-dealing public-employee unions and a governmental giveaway culture that can’t be sustained (and is overdue for a very messy collapse).

Tell us, Mr. Friedman, whether you think the balance is now tipped too much toward the private or the public sector. Then we’ll know what your real views are behind this howler calling for “balance” between the two.