Thomas Friedman goes to the movies, sees Crazy Rich Asians. What column is he inspired to write after two hours following the adventures of Rachel Chu and Nick Young?
The New York Times Twitter caption about Friedman’s next column provides the answer:
“Crazy Rich Asians versus Crazy Poor Middle Easterners — one has invested in education, trade, infrastructure, and human capital, the other has not.”
Friedman gets his best ideas while he’s relaxing. The World is Flat, an Everest of punditry and the best work of psychedelic literature since Alice in Wonderland, began germinating in Friedman’s head while he golfed in Bangalore and was advised by a fellow player to “Aim at Microsoft or IBM,” in reference to the tall buildings in the distance. Four-hundred-and-eighty-eight cheery pages about the interconnectedness of global capitalism followed.
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy, but Friedman had a different take. His lede is one impressively long sentence:
I greatly enjoyed the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” because, beyond the many laugh lines, it reminded me of an important point: Rich Asia has gotten really rich — not because it doesn’t have political, tribal, ethnic and religious differences like other regions, but because in more places on more days it learned to set those differences aside and focus on building the real foundations of sustainable wealth: education, trade, infrastructure, human capital and, in the most successful places, the rule of law.
We can skip past the part where the exact opposite is true — especially the part about Asian countries emphasizing the rule of law as they get richer — and just celebrate the triumphant return of one of TF’s most cherished ideas, the Golden Straitjacket!
In 1999, Friedman posited that once you accept the tenets of American-style free-market capitalism (which you will, by force if necessary), you’ll be swimming in IMF loans and your poor citizens will be shitting cellphones. You’ll have no more war, because no two countries with McDonald’s have ever fought one another.
Once you put on the Straitjacket — the economic-doctrine version of the “last suit you’ll ever wear” — your “political choices get reduced to Pepsi or Coke… slight nuances of taste, slight nuances of policy,” Friedman writes. But you’ll be rich.
Asia, Friedman gleefully notes, put on the Straitjacket. But the Middle East kept resisting American influence, which is why they are now “Crazy Fucked Middle Easterners” instead of “Crazy Rich Middle Easterners.” Worse, Donald Trump is complicating the problem by not forcing the Straitjacket on the region. Why, Trump isn’t even willing to invade Syria to stop Russian-Iranian mischief, Friedman says.
Bottom line: the Middle East should stop “letting the past bury the future” and instead “let the future bury the past,” especially by investing more in education and infrastructure, like the Asians. Of course, we’ve been bombing critical infrastructure across the Middle East pretty much nonstop since 2003, and haven’t so much in Asia. But this is a minor point. Get with it, Middle East!
Such were Thomas Friedman’s thoughts after watching Crazy Rich Asians.
So, in honor of his column, I’m giving away a “Crazy Middle-Class Asian” T-shirt to the reader who comes up with the best idea for Friedman’s next movie-themed column.
Will it be Synechdoche, Bahrain? Syria Dark Thirty? Guess Who’s Coming to the EU? Tweet to me at @mtaibbi or write your guess in the comments below. I’ll send one T-shirt to the best entry, and another to an honorable mention.
Caution: Make sure that Friedman hasn’t already done your idea. He loves movie-themed columns, and if you’re not careful, you’ll plagiarize. In honor of the late David Bowie, I was going to suggest Merry Christmas, Mr. Putin, but Friedman has actually already done “Merry Christmas, Vladimir – Your Friend, Donald.”
Friedman also loves A Few Good Men and has done at least two columns on the theme, although it’s unclear if a recent column, “Sounding Code Red: Electing the Trump Resistance,” referred to the illegal punishment that Jack “You’re goddamn right I did!” Nicholson ordered, or some other, more obscure voting-based code red that only Friedman knows about.
Winners to be announced Monday. In the meantime, here are a couple of possibilities to get us started: please also participate in our poll:
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