Sebastian Mallaby contrasts McDonalds’ success at adapting to the rise of anti-McDonalds’ sentiment around the world with the way the United States just keeps becoming more and more hated:
But McDonald’s has changed in more appealing ways as well — ways that reflect the problem-solving grit of American business. It has listened to its health critics and adapted: It sold 304 million pounds of mixed greens in 2005, and the U.S. operation claims to be the nation’s largest purchaser of apples. The company has bent over backward to demonstrate its interest in the environment and animal welfare; it has teamed up with the University of Miami to improve conditions for tomato pickers and with Conservation International to acquire its fish sustainably. Meanwhile, the franchise has kept up with evolving tastes: It has revamped the easy-wipe decor; its coffee is less watery.
It’s a fair enough point, though government-to-business analogies are always problematic. Then Mallaby ends with a kicker. “American business succeeds in the world because it morphs, shape-shifts, learns from its mistakes; it is too paranoid, too anxious to please its customers, to stick with formulas that aren’t working,” he writes, “The question posed by last week’s BBC poll is whether American government can mimic that agility.” Well, what a nice center-right I-used-to-work-for-the-Economist way of putting things. Business good and nimble, government clumsy and inept. But of course the problem here isn’t that “American government” has proved reckless and stubborn and trashed America’s global image. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, etc. have done these things. They’ve ordered the unilateral invasions. They’ve ordered the kidnapping and torture and indefinite detention. They’ve abrogated the treaties and refused to sign the others. There’s not an abstract government problem here, there’s a concrete Bush administration problem.