“The World Is Flat” a book by author Thomas L. Friedman, discusses key events of the twenty-first century and they have brought the world closer together. At the book’s core, it is study of how and why the business world has become more interconnected, and how old American values may be preventing it from retaining the status it has long held a top of the economic world. Friedman begins by describing a trip to Bangalore, India where he visits “India’s Silicon Valley” and is stunned by the amount of technology that has come about in this once third world country. The playing field of business has been leveled, with emerging countries now able to compete with more developed countries for higher paying, higher valued jobs. Our author interprets this globalization of business as the world being flat. A notion that soon turns into a theory, complete with a historical timeline, consisting of what Friedman calls flatteners. The flatteners are a mixture of political events, technological advances and business practices, all which have shaped the way business and in many instances social interaction takes place today.
Beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the shift of power that took place. More specifically: the closing of the Soviet social order and the opening of American free market capitalism. Various others were to follow, including supply-chaining, where Friedman uses Walmart as an example, and their streamlining of operations and managing costs. Also, insourcing represented by UPS, and their competency of logistics and delivery management. This list of flatteners then concludes with Friedman’s concept of “Steroids”, these are enabling us to be connected to anywhere in the world at any given time. There is much more to the book than this list of flatteners, but they certainly give structure to the overall theory. Most of these concepts are relatively new, and the world is still sorting them out as Friedman puts it. Leading to an interesting situation in the state of Indiana, which in 2003 needed to update its computer systems for its unemployment office.
A company from India came with the lowest bid for the job, which meant a cheaper price for the taxpayers of Indiana but fewer jobs for the workers of Indiana. Not an easy decision for anyone in charge, comparing two insurmountable trade-offs. This and similar situations are what the “sorting out” phase is alluding to. Friedman later delves into the topic of free trade and American employment. Using David Ricardo’s comparative advantage theory (two countries could both benefit from trade if they were producing things they had an advantage in), to illustrate that competent and educated workers are a product that can be comparatively produced. His main point on this subject is that American workers need to move vertically, by becoming better educated and more knowledgeable. Only than can America capitalize on all the markets it has an advantage in. This means, “Finding the New Middle”. If Americans are to create a better prepared, more educated workforce there will be no more room for what is now mediocrity. The new middle includes middle class workers who have the ability to refine their skills and become effective managers.
These skills include leadership, explaining information, expertise of using or adapting to new technology, and personalization. Friedman states that America has lost its competitive edge, and that there has been a national sense of entitlement proving to be a detriment to society. This was a country that could once simply await the talent of foreign workers, as only in America was there such opportunity to succeed. But as more havens for success open throughout the world, this once great and dominant nation is left with a rapidly declining skilled workforce. This is demonstrated in the next section of Friedman’s book, as the “dirty little secrets”. This list begins with the numbers gap, the awakening fact that highly trained and knowledgeable American workers are retiring and not being replaced. Which is explained in the second point, the education gap at the top, stating America doesn’t educate enough in the sciences.
Where as the education gap at the bottom alludes to the fact that wealthy families have better schooling. Which was fine at a time when factory jobs and low skill work fueled the economy, but with the raised expectations of workers, this system proves to be primitive and a handicap on society. These points only reiterate Friedman’s previous claims of why the country is losing the economic supremacy it long held over the rest of the world. One is left to wonder how this transformation has taken place. Exactly how a country that was once the gold standard in business practices and in competent workers has dropped the ball and is now in a race against time to catch up to what were recently known as less developed countries. Friedman makes a couple points explaining factors holding the population back that many Americans may refuse to believe.
The first being that politicians are intentionally dumbing people down, concerning them with mere combating issues of morality, when in fact the country has yet to address the real problems it is facing as a whole. Friedman’s next disservice to society is the parenting in the United States. And while it is certainly hard to attack any given family providing for their children, it is more of an attack on the collective whole, and the focus that has been instilled on entertainment. There is a need for a child to be raised with exposure to stress and disappointment, and with a focal point on hard work. It is time for America and those struggling within it, to stop feeling sorry for themselves and to rise against the factors holding them down. One way to achieve this would be to remove objects that have been abused and proven cancerous in society. Which leads to another solution Friedman provides – no guns or cell phones allowed. His point is that capabilities create intentions, which translates to what can be done, will be done.
And just alike guns and cell phones, people have been vastly misusing the internet and all of the technological advances seen in the last few decades. The business world’s greatest innovation has for millions around the world been deduced to simply an entertainment hub. If people do not understand the potential of full connectivity, then they can never further integrate or improve it. With current technology, free trade is done easier than ever before, and free trade leads directly to a more peaceful world. The example is Dell, and their globally distributed supply chain. Friedman states, “no two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, like Dell, will ever fight a war against each other.” Which of course may not be entirely true, but meaning with so much market driven collaboration at work, peace is preferable. Friedman then begins the final chapter by illustrating the irony of the Berlin Wall falling on 11/9, and the World Trade Center falling on 9/11, in clashing ideas of creative vs. destructive imagination.
Explaining that Americans gave into fear following 9/11, and instead of coming together and fighting for freedom, they got together and fought against terrorism. While this point seems to deviate from the core ideas of the book, it is merely to demonstrate one man’s idea, the tools of technology and the execution of a plan. This is how Friedman breaks down terrorism, a problem of imagination, of self-affirming. Comparing Osama Bin Laden to David Neeleman, who started the JetBlue airlines; two men who wanted to use airplanes to fulfill their dreams. One of which was to transport people, one to kill them; both relying on communication and dedicated workers to preform. Friedman’s next segment, “The Curse of Oil” demonstrates exactly that, while it is used to fuel and produce, it can corrupt the principles of democracy.
The problem is that in oil rich countries, leaders can use the oil money to control companies and state institutions, and not be liable to the people. Saudi Arabia for example will not reform, why would they? As long as the oil money is coming in, those in charge of the country have no desire to. The Middle East however is not only consisting of outdated or failed business and social practices, at the end of the book we take a look at one individual company who has gone directly against that model. Friedman discusses Aramex, an Arab delivery company succeeding on the world stage.
After taken public, large stock options were given to employees, empowering them for success, and giving them all a piece of ownership over what they had created. The book ends with stressing the importance of this example, if only more of this was happening in the Middle East, things could drastically change for not only their society, but for the peace and success of the world. If Arab employees are excited in entrepreneurial expansion, and eager to engage in business with Americans, terrorism could possibly become a thing of the past.