The World is Flat The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Year: 2005
Pages: 496

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.

  1. 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[]
§1104 · April 24, 2006 · Tags: , , ·

6 Comments to “The World is Flat”

  1. Jeff says:

    I noticed that there’s a new “updated and expanded” hardback version out. That’s certainly different.

  2. Ben says:

    I wonder how much more there was to say after 6 months?

  3. rob says:

    Glad to know it gets better; I’m about 150 pages in and the excruciatingly bad technical explanations were having me think twice about continuing.

  4. rob says:

    Oh and to add, since I realised that I’m reading the 2006 edition: the newer version has ~70 more pages, and the additions have thus far consisted mostly of him addressing criticisms and responding to comments from people about the first edition. He hasn’t really added anything to the core theories but rather added a few more anecdotes and stories to flesh them out.

  5. Ben says:

    Are they substantive changes, or is he basically just flogging the same horse?

  6. […] There was a noticeable change in the second half of the book, however. After using consumer products to explain the underlying principles of economics, Harford tackles the subject of globalisation and foreign trade, talking at length about corruption in Cameroon, sweatshops in China, and beer in Belgium. Harford is very much free-trade, and it annoys me that he relegates much of the “human factor” to things such as “externality costs,” which is convenient for economists but not practical for the real world. Yes, Tim, maybe working in a Chinese sweatshop is better than the alternative, but that doesn’t make it good or desirable. Actually, this reminded me very much of Thomas Friedman’s mediocre The World is Flat. […]

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