New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has a recurring daydream. In Friedman’s daydream the United States adopts the highly efficient Chinese Communist mode of government under the leadership of “a reasonably enlightened group of people” — such as Friedman finds the Chinese Communists to be. Friedman finds enlightenment among the Chinese Communists in their collective pursuit of “electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power.”
GE chairman and chief executive officer Jeffrey Immelt sounds like an acolyte of Friedman, but Immelt at least has the cash nexus to excuse his deep thoughts. In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Immelt lauded the Chinese government along Friedmanite lines. Hey, it works:
The one thing that actually works, you know, state run Communism may not be your cup of tea — but their government works.
Immelt invoked China’s five-year plans to support his assessment. Have the five-year plans been part of the Friedmanite package? I’m not sure. Here Immelt may be on his own:
They have five-year plans. I always tell our team: read the twelfth five-year plan, which is the segment we’re in. Typically what they’re doing makes sense in the Chinese context.
By contrast with Friedman and Immelt, Jonathan Mirsky is a fellow who knows what he is talking about and who has refused to check his devotion to freedom at the door when he talks about China. A while back I noted Mirsky’s essay on Liu Xiabo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, in the New York Times Book Review and proposed a fitting headline for it: “Thomas Friedman, you pitiful fool.” On Sunday Mirsky had another excellent piece in the Times Book Review, this one on the Great Famine:
In the summer of 1962, China’s president, Liu Shaoqi, warned Mao Zedong that “history will record the role you and I played in the starvation of so many people, and the cannibalism will also be memorialized!” Liu had visited Hunan, his home province as well as Mao’s, where almost a million people died of hunger. Some of the survivors had eaten dead bodies or had killed and eaten their comrades. In “Tombstone,” an eye-opening study of the worst famine in history, Yang Jisheng concludes that 36 million Chinese starved to death in the years between 1958 and 1962, while 40 million others failed to be born, which means that “China’s total population loss during the Great Famine then comes to 76 million.”
The Great Famine occurred during (and I believe had a direct relationship to) China’s second five-year plan and the Great Leap Forward. Mr. Immelt might want to study up just a little bit before he further disgraces himself and his company in going the extra mile to deepen his friendship with the ruling elite in that important GE market. Mirsky’s review might even be a good place to start.
UPDATE: A friend directs my attention to a related note on “Soviet growth & American textbooks.”