Beating up on Tom Friedman’s amoral gadget-headedness is always good, clean fun, even if it’s done from a rah-rah-America neocon viewpoint. Of course a country’s quality of life isn’t measured by the quality of its cellphone network or the speed of its bullet trains, and it takes a hard heart or a soft head to imagine that the average Chinese lives as well as the average American.
But there is an important insight hidden in Friedman’s breathless prose: you can’t much improve the quality of life of currently prosperous Americans (let’s say, folks above twice the median family income where they live) by giving them more of the things that money can buy. A safe neighborhood, walkable cities, fast, comfortable inter-city transport, excellent public schools and universities, scientific discovery, medical progress, clean air to breathe, an economy that is sustainable into the lives of one’s children and grandchildren, a vibrant high culture: these are primarily public goods, and need public expenditure to bring them about.
Higher taxes on the prosperous to buy the public goods prosperous folks want is a win-win proposition. Now that those folks constitute a major chunk of the Democratic electorate, I hope that Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue will make a point of seeking out opportunities to make them (us) better off, at their own expense.