Thomas Friedman on How the US Fell Behind

October 23, 2011

Thomas Friedman says the US is falling behind on the global stage, failing to compete in arenas like education, infrastructure and economics.  He's the author of "That Used to Be Us: How American Fell Behind in the World We Created and How We Can Come Back." 


Friedman answered Paulson's question about whether the US would be better off by not squandering our money through wars in Iraq and Afghanistan indirectly, in fact he did not answer it at all. Instead he asked a rhetorical question ("who would you rather have in charge of the world: the US or China?") and offered neither evidence nor a persuasive argument for why it is better for either the US or the world for the US to play global policeman (that's his position...feh). That concluded the broadcast segment, so we could not hear Paulson press him on the issue as I hope and imagine he would have.

Mr. Friedman's talk kept me from falling asleep well. I am an immigrant from Taiwan back in the 1960s. I have the civil rights movement, witnessed the anti-war movement, the women movement, the Water-gate hearings, the Reagan administration, the Persian Gulf war, 911, the Iraq war, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the financial meltdown of 2008. I think the U. S. is failing in its global position now because we, the people, have lost our reign over the parties. How did that happen? Mr. Friedman's prescription for how we can come back is misheaded. We don't need to be the world's police; instead, we should use the U. N. and other global organizations well. Our public education, indeed, needs strengthening by weeding out unqualified teachers and rewarding good teachers by giving them more influence opportunities ( leadership ), more than aiming at higher test scores. Our infrastructure is dilapidating; we should prioritize our needs according to public safety. What makes this country great is our faith in certain values and collective energy, not permanent material wealth. Material fortunes go up and down, but as long as we live within our means and keep our faith, we will be alright. (I say this even more for China; Mr. Friedman seems to think that they are overtaking us unless we remain the "world power".)