On Thomas L. Friedman’s The World Is Flat


Friedman is an optimist, an American capitalist optimist.  He sees the world through economic glasses and he sees only roses in our future, provided we all embrace flat-world thinking!

This book is a panegyric, a paean of praise for the perfection of the Protestant promise!

My first reaction is that the world need not worry about flattening, but America must, as we are bound to loose our pre-eminent position in it; that is what flatness does: it makes opportunity available to all.  As we loose the chains that have imprisoned others, we may not be happy about our own lots, now a few feet more distant from the feeding trough.

My next reaction is that Friedman does not consider at all the downsides of flattening.  He assumes that Arab Muslims are unhappy solely because they are not sharing in the pie, the economic pie.  He also non-estimates a profound unflattening in this country; we have our own Arab / Muslims living right here and making babies as quickly as the other Arab Muslims, our equally disaffected fundamentalist Christian community.

Flattener #4, Open-Sourcing, may not be a flattener that flat-world companies rally around.  Ask Microsoft how it likes Open Source.  Ask the RIAA how it likes Open Source (they call it by another name).

Page 283.  “As at IBM, so in America.  Average Joe has to become special, specialized or adaptable Joe.”  The average American Joe has a high-school education from a red state; the only things he knows for sure is who’s going to win the game next Monday night.  He’s not very well-educated and he’s OK about that.  Just don’t call him stupid.  Don’t call him ignorant either, because he doesn’t know the difference.  The average American Joe isn’t too smart because American business doesn’t need him to be smart; now American business doesn’t need him at all.  So everyone wins, even Joe if he’s still working.

Page 284.  “Unfortunately for America, it appears I will go to the moon before President Bush will go down this road (making us energy-independent and terror-proof).”  Nice words, coming from a staunch capitalist.  But then our President is as clueless as the morons who voted him into office.  That is sad.

Page 335.  “Rather than fixating on jobs lost to China, these countries should remember a fact of economic life: no place can remain the world’s low-cost producer forever – even China will lose that title one day.  Instead of trying to defend low-wage assembly jobs, Mexico and other middle-income countries should focus on creating jobs that add higher value.”  In other words, folks, Friedman suggests that low-skill workers who are losing jobs to lower-wage low-skill workers should ramp up on their skill-sets.  Who’s going to pay for it?  Are these people, who have been raised to think low-skill, are they up to it?  Is this solution a practicable solution?  “Lemme see your resume.  Hmmm, been an auto-worker all your life?  Now you want to be a Help Desk operator.  Next!”

Page 386.  Friedman is like so many of us guilty of seeing things in black and white.  He sees anti-globalizers as the bad guys.  He makes no attempt to explain their aims.  Suffice to say these “anarchists” are concerned lest globalized businesses become more powerful than the elected governments of the countries where they do their business.

Ibid.  “It was no longer possible to claim that this phenomenon was devastating the world’s poor.  Just the opposite: Millions of Chinese and Indians were entering the world’s middle class thanks to the flattening of the world and globalization.”  Hmmm, is this OK, since when is there a problem only when our American poor lose their jobs to low-wage foreigners?  Isn’t it a problem when American middle-class workers lose their jobs to lower-wage foreigners too?  IBM laid off 135,000 skilled workers in one year, these were not unskilled low-wage earners.  Was this not a problem, a big problem?

Pages 411 – 413.  Friedman is right-on when he suggests that all America can do re: the boundless emerging demand for more energy is to “set an example by changing our own consumption patterns.”  But #1: in a book of 400+ pages, one paragraph is not enough, unless Friedman expects to expand on this theme for his next book.  In which case, he might read Jared Diamond’s Collapse first, to see if he has anything to add to the subject.  But #2: with Bush as President, fat chance.  But #3: with a populace that put Bush in office, why even imagine that this can possibly happen here?  Walt Kelly’s Pogo said: “we have met the enemy and he is us.”  The United States is far more dangerous to the future than al Qaeda can ever hope to be (our religious fanatics are as crazy, deluded and self-righteous as theirs; but we have better access to weapons of mass destruction than they do).

Page 438.  Friedman quotes his rabbi: “Bin Laden’s insistence that he has the truth and can flatten anyone else’s tower who doesn’t heed him is megalomaniacal.”  If we substituted the name Bush for Bin Laden and put this quote in the mouth of an Arab Muslim cleric, would it not ring as true?  Friedman does not entertain for a moment the notion that Bin Laden and his followers might have something of value to say to the West.  They are obviously evil nut cases!  So much for a hope of a flat world without a powerful force for unflattening!

Page 447.  Quoting a friend, “Do you think Osama actually believes there is a God up there who is happy with what he is doing?”  Friedman said he “just didn’t know.”  Is it possible for a man to do what he did WITHOUT believing that God himself told him it would please him?  The history of main-stream Christianity is filled with such monstrosities, committed, of course, in God’s name.

Page 458 – 459.  “Give young people a context … in which someone with a grievance can have it adjudicated in a court of law without having to bribe the judge with a goat …”  Friedman is obviously not talking about the USA; he must be talking about a NEW flatland.  Is it too late for us in the USA, is it too late for us to roll back the corruption that has defined our public life for so long?  Is our great experiment truly over?


Friedman does not mention two things.  First, capitalism and globalization and a successful flat world are all consequences of secular thinking.  Second, Friedman’s optimism about the future is all about economic well-being.  The idea that there may be other measures of success and happiness seems to be beyond his thinking. 


What the Golden Arches (or Dell) Theory of Conflict Prevention (q.v.) does not take into account is the motivation of the previously-top-players to fight a war.  “Carthago delendum est!”  “Carthage must be destroyed” was the mantra of a Roman (157 BC) protectionist named Cato the Elder.  As a proud Roman, the idea of economic competition that rivaled all-powerful Rome pissed him off.  “Carthage must be destroyed.”  How will proud America react to being pushed off its high branch on the tree of material goods and services?   We have already invaded Iraq.  Who will we invade next, and in the name of what?  Our cherished freedoms, our right to cheap gasoline prices?