Economics are hardly my strong suit. Whether that is a cause or effect of my general abstinence from economic tracts remains to be seen. However, I’d been hearing such good things about Friedman’s book that when I passed it in a library a few weeks ago, I decided to give it a try.
Were I a lesser man, I would have stopped somewhere about page 200. The entire first half of the book made me roll my eyes back and say “Duh!” That’s because Friedman devotes Part 1 to explaining how the world has changed from “round” to “flat”1, largely because of technological innovations, and that’s old hat to me. Microsoft Windows and the personal computer? Yawn. Netscape and the burgeoning internet? Tell me something I don’t know. Open source and global collaboration? Blogged it. In fact, Friedman comes off as downright silly at times—a man who still uses AOL trying to delve deeper into the technical aspects of software than he really should be.
So, thankfully, by the time the excruciating exposition was done and Friedman got to the meat, I hadn’t given up. And in all fairness, the second half is much better. Basically, Friedman’s theory is this: flatness is a non-zero-sum game. While global flatness enabled, for example, al Qaeda, it also tends to prevent conflict because nations have so many economies ties spread across the globe that political aggression puts their entire economies at risk. What’s more, outsourcing—to an extent—is good for America. That may be the hardest pill to swallow for some people, and I take issue with Friedman’s assumptive treatment of it, but will admit that he does have a point: outsourcing technical work to places like Bangalore places the onus of expertise on Americans. America used to be the cream of the intellectual crop, but now our science and math scores are falling, and places like India and China are kicking our asses. There’s no reason America can’t benefit most of all from global flatness, but only if we kick it into gear and start educating our populace.
The line that really sticks with me is this: “In China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America, Britney Spears is Britney Spears. And that’s our problem.”
Bravo, Mr. Friedman. Bravo.
- I take issue with this analogy: it’s supposed to indicate that the globe has lost its barriers to movement, but wouldn’t a round globe be more conducive to that than a flat one? Friedman devotes a page or two to Columbus, and I came away wondering how in the world he decided that “flatness” was the term he was looking for[↩]