Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Book: Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat"

My latest read was Thomas L. Friedman's "The World Is Flat", his latest defense of globalization. To begin with, I am currently a rabid free trader and I am a supporter of the whole globalization movement. Not everyone is a fan of globalization. Globalization has caused all sorts of disruptions with jobs being shipped overseas and all, but free trade has been one of the most effective anti-poverty forces in existence today.

I have seen Thomas Friedman on TV many times and I find him irritating. His writing is very similar to his on-air persona - irritating. I hate it when an author plugs his other books in the first chapter. Having said that, the book does build a good case for why globalization is happening, why it is good, why the United States could be the biggest beneficiary of globalization, and how the United States could squander that potential windfall with petty protectionism and poor preparation of its workforce. The book covers the what, why, and how of globalization and explains how the United States could fit in a globalized world.

There are parts of this book that should be taught in every high school and college in the country and makes this book a must read. Specifically the list of skills that will be need to create the "New Middle", the new middle class of the United States. The workforce needs to move out of the 20th century and be brought into the adaptable, continuously educated, flexible, and creative workforce that is required by the 21st century world. Not only must the workers themselves change but the support system set up by the State must transform to assist the mobile, adaptive worker.

Being the geek that I am, I connect with the high tech changes that have enabled globalization. I embrace technology as it becomes available (i.e. becomes cheap enough to afford and is useful). I also see the United States slowly, but accelerating, falling behind. While we are debating building border fences and penalizing industries for moving jobs and factories overseas, our fellow planet-mates are finding better ways of doing things. There is this sense of entitlement in the United States today. We have this air of superiority that is reminiscent of all the smugness seen in every fallen civilization that has come before us. We have our priorities completely bass ackward. One of Friedman's quote makes the point:
“In China today, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America today, Britney Spears is Britney Spears-and that is our problem.”
We need to prioritize education, innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. We need to reinvigorate the work ethic that existed in this country last century. We need to teach problem solving not test taking. Most importantly, we need to teach our young the importance of constantly improving themselves.

The Best Man has personally been affected by the globalization movement - specifically outsourcing. He has witnessed the movement of jobs overseas. As I read this book I wanted to find fault in Friedman's reasoning but what I found was that the Best Man is a good example of someone who has the necessary skills to survive the upheaval. The fact is, he is surviving the upheaval and as a result his value is increasing. He is a member of the "New Middle."

4 comments:

  1. That book would be worth a reading but I do think it would make me mad. This globalisation leaves too many people on the side of the road and I find it hard to accept. Especially because it tends to grow uncontrollably...

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  2. Gany,

    That should give you more reason to read the book. You should read opinions that you disagree with. You may learn that your initial reaction was wrong or you may reinforce your beliefs. Reading the other side's arguments will help you develop your counter arguments.

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  3. I would much rather the discourse on Globalization came from economists like Joesph Stiglitz (Nobel winner for economics and was Chief Economist at World Bank), Paul Krugman (Princeton), Pankaj Ghemawat (Harvard)etc. Ted Koppel interviews Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz, who ofcourse doesnt find a mention in Friedman's book.
    http://select.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/opinion/25friedman-transcript.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin

    Two books to read, which offer a counterperspective to Friedman's "The World is Flat."

    The Harvard Professor, Pankaj Ghemawat's latest book, "Redefining Global Strategy," is more academically inclined. I read an article of his published in the journal, "Foreign Policy", where he argues that the world is, at best, only semi-globalized. His argument being that Cultural, Administrative, Geographic and Economic aspects of a nation come in the way of total globalization from taking place and cites examples of the same.

    The other small, but interesting book, is by Aronica and Ramdoo, "The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman's New York Times Bestseller." It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike. As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman's book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn't a single table or data footnote in Friedman's entire book. "Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution," says Aronica. Aronica and Ramdoo conclude by listing over twenty action items that point the way forward, and they provide a comprehensive, yet concise, framework for understanding the critical issues of globalization.

    You may want to see www.mkpress.com/flat
    and watch www.mkpress.com/flatoverview.html
    for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman's
    "The World is Flat".

    Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens! www.mkpress.com/ShiftExtreme.html

    There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation
    www.mkpress.com/extreme
    http://www.mkpress.com/Extreme11minWMV.html

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  4. Anonymous: Thank you for your opinion and the links. I am not an economist and I am well aware of both my knowledge limitations and the limitations of Friedman's book. I will take a look at your suggestions and, who knows, I may learn something.

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