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China Versus The United States – And The Importance of Progressive Thinking

I was struck by a comment  made by one of my favorite big brains, Thomas Friedman, in his column this week in the New York Times:

“I was traveling via Los Angeles International Airport — LAX — last week. Walking through its faded, cramped domestic terminal, I got the feeling of a place that once thought of itself as modern but has had one too many face-lifts and simply can’t hide the wrinkles anymore. In some ways, LAX is us.  We are the United States of Deferred Maintenance. China is the People’s Republic of Deferred Gratification.  They save, invest and build. We spend, borrow and patch.

And this contrast is playing out in the worst way — just slowly enough so the crisis never seems acute enough to take urgent action.  But, eventually, infrastructure, education and innovation policies matter.  Businesses prefer to invest with the Jetsons more than the Flintstones.”

You can find Friedman’s entire article here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/opinion/03friedman.html?ref=opinion

As usual, Friedman makes many compelling arguments in favor of innovation – of progressive thinking and planning.  And I can’t help but think about how his ideas stand in stark contrast to much of the hyper- right wing conservative agenda that for some reason prefers the status quo, or even moving backward, to a society that is constantly innovating.  I watched a recap last weekend of a recent conservative caucus, where a prominant speaker proudly announced “WE ARE NOT PROGRESSIVES, AND WE OPPOSE THE PROGRESSIVE AGENDA”. 

What does that mean?  If I were to translate Progressive versus Non-Progressive to the business world, it would lay out something like this:

Progressive Companies –

  • Apple
  • Google

Non-Progressive Companies –

  • Chrysler
  • Sears

If I had a financial advisor that recommended investing in Chrysler and Sears over Apple and Google I would immediately fire them, yet many people find some comfort in the idea of Non-Progress, living life like the Flintstones instead of the Jetsons.  Progress conquers disease, racism, and poverty.  It levels the economic playing field.  It improves our quality of life and spreads optimism.  What could be bad about that?

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