In this “updated and expanded” edition of Friedman’s “Brief History of the Twenty-First Century”, Friedman argues the advancement of technology has flattened the world and made countries like China and India better to compete in the global market place. Essentially, because one California business is able to discuss with their suppliers in China, IT guys in India, and their bankers in Switzerland at the same time, the world has become a flat place where everyone is one the same playing field.

Not hardly. There is a major difference between the technology/information flow between countries like the United States and Sierra Leone; there’s even a difference between technology flow in rural Montana and New York City. His major premise is inherently flawed because the availability of technology is not the same in all parts of the world and therefore not flattening the world. Friedman makes arguments by assertion, assertions based not on documented facts, but on stories from friends and elite CEOs he visits like that of the flat screens in the conference room connecting every country in the production line.

In Friedman’s mind, China and India are the real winners of globalization and the United States better watch out least it lose it’s position as the world’s only superpower. Latin America and Africa are the what-not-to-do examples never mind the fact that they have been continually exploited by Europe, the United States, and now China and India. Reading between the lines, though, exposes what Friedman really thinks of globalization — great for the transnational corporations (TNCs) of the world and the rich as they profit more and more from outsourcing. His response to the naysayers of globalization and outsourcing is that it’s great from the point of view of the outsourcee; their wages and status rise as they are introduced to the lifestyle of mass consumption so readily enjoyed in the States.

Never mind the fact that TNCs do not care about the places they outsource to and not only exploit the labor of that country but also the environment, and are quick to relocate somewhere else is they can pay less for labor and squeeze out one more dollar of profit, and he misses or ignores a logical result of globalization — the death of the nation-state. The free flow of capital and the internationalization of labor pools means transnational corporations with more money and more power than governments, with no national loyalties to tie them down and no serious rivals except each other.

He glorifies Wal-Mart, whose low prices carry a large cost for their employees and taxpayers because “more than 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees were in [Georgia's] health program for children at an annual coast of nearly $10 million to taxpayers” and a “North Carolina hospital found that 31 percent of 1,900 patients who described themselves as Wal-Mart employees were on Medicaid, while an additional 16 percent had not insurance at all” (pg. 251). But don’t worry about all that because “Wal-Mart’s discounting on food alone boots the welfare of American shoppers by at least $50 billion a year” (pg. 250); ironically, Wal-Mart’s food prices where I live are twice as high as those at the four local grocery stores.

Book Mentioned:

  • Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006. Print. 595 pgs. ISBN: 0374292795. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Retrieved: June 26, 2010.
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