In his latest New York Times column, Thomas Friedman takes semi-comedic offense at the fact that the Russians still want to spy on the United States. He relates his gleeful initial reaction when the Russian spy story broke (“Subprime crisis or not, some people think we’ve still got the right stuff.”) before realizing that there are plenty of other countries who’s educational systems, bureaucracies, financial markets, and internet infrastructure are outperforming ours. Russia isn’t one of them:
If you had told me that we had just arrested 11 Finns who were spying on our schools, then I’d really have felt good — since Finland’s public schools always score at the top of the world education tables. If you had told me that 11 Singaporeans were arrested spying on how our government works, then I’d really have felt good — since Singapore has one of the cleanest, well-run bureaucracies in the world and pays its cabinet ministers $1 million-plus a year. If you had told me that 11 Hong Kong Chinese had been arrested studying how we regulate our financial markets, then I’d really have felt good — since that is something Hong Kong excels at. And if you had told me that 11 South Koreans were arrested studying our high-speed bandwidth penetration, then I’d really have felt good — because we’ve been lagging them for a long time.
Russia meanwhile, says Friedman, is simply continuing a long tradition of importing modern technological advances without cultivating the sort of free market environment that Friedman deems necessary to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. So while Friedman is happy that “someone still wants to spy on us,” he’d rather it wasn’t the Russians. After all, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, isn’t it better to be flattered by our rivals?
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