One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.
Yes, you read that correctly. Thomas Friedman -- the neo-liberal, free-market crusader who not so long ago could be found championing a disastrous invasion designed to spread liberty and democracy -- has morphed into a cheerleader for the CCP, an authoritarian party presiding over a brutally repressive political system and an economy that features no small measure of state intervention.
For starters, praising the Chinese Communist Party for its farsightedness on environmental matters is patently absurd. Granted, 2007 was a long time ago, but you'd think that Friedman might still remember "Choking on Growth," a major series his own newspaper ran that year chronicling the tremendous damage China's economic development policies have done to the country's air and water, and the dire consequences this environmental degradation has for public health. Sure, the one-party system makes it relatively easy for the central government to mobilize resources and pour a few billion dollars into electric car research or its renewable energy industry, but the other side of the coin is that China's top-down, development-oriented political system is so riddled with corruption and dysfunction that the government has a hard time enforcing even the most basic environmental regulations at the local level.
More important, of course, is the fact that the "drawbacks" of one-party autocracy that Friedman makes passing reference to include things like, oh, I don't know, the near total absence of freedoms of expression, assembly, petition, religion and so on. If China's leaders are really the "reasonably enlightened group of people" Friedman claims, then I suppose it's a bit curious that they've chosen to reject virtually every political value the Enlightenment stood for, and to preside over a tightly-controlled media and education system that attempts to keep the population in a permanent state of dis-enlightenment as to the history and functioning of their own society. And that's not even to mention the regime's management of its ethnic minorities, an area in which it continues to operate largely on a model adopted from Stalinist Russia.
So, to recap: Authoritarian rulers like Saddam Hussein, who jail dissidents and deny basic freedoms to their people? Targets for regime change. Authoritarian rulers like Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, who jail dissidents, deny basic freedoms to their people ... and build solar panel factories? Targets for Friedman's affections.