Wednesday, September 14, 2005

With the New York Times putting its op-ed columnists behind a for-pay wall next week, it's time to see what I'd be missing by not signing up. Multiple Pulitzer-winner Tom Friedman offers this:

Indeed, Singapore believes so strongly that you have to get the best-qualified and least-corruptible people you can into senior positions in the government, judiciary and civil service that its pays its prime minister a salary of $1.1 million a year. It pays its cabinet ministers and Supreme Court justices just under $1 million a year, and pays judges and senior civil servants handsomely down the line.

A valuable observation. Surely, if we tripled the salaries of our Senators, we'd wipe out corruption, as their positions don't allow for corruption on a scale vastly larger than that. And the well-connected Friedman also has insightful commentary from well-placed observers on the local scene:

"In the areas that are critical to our survival, like Defense, Finance and the Ministry of Home Affairs, we look for the best talent," said Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy. "You lose New Orleans, and you have 100 other cities just like it. But we're a city-state. We lose Singapore and there is nothing else. ... [So] the standards of discipline are very high. There is a very high degree of accountability in Singapore."

Another columnist might note that if the reverse were true, the authoritarian Singaporean government would jail Dean Mahbubani for saying so. But Friedman is too lofty to get caught up in such minor details. He has a point to make --- that Singapore prepares for typhoons better than George W. Bush does for hurricanes, and that the reason for our slovenliness in that department is that we won the Cold War. Yes, reader, that is indeed the reason he advances and argues for --- an insight that truly could not be reached by any mind other than that of Tom Friedman.

Contrast that with the kind of commentary you get for free on the innernut. Sure, you might be missing live reports from the scene, or vast compendia of available data from official and unofficial sources, or biting satire at the follies of the day, or trenchant critiques of official rhetoric, or the ill-noted detail that the one thing the White House did quickly was demand repair of oil pipelines, or the crusty New York voice of a woman who's just fed up. But you won't get Friedman's lofty, global perspective. And who wouldn't pay money for that?


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