Tuesday, January 02, 2007

After much procrastination, I finally broke down and bought a copy of Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat in the " 2.0" updated hardcover. I'm thinking of reading it back to back with Richard Florida's The Flight of the Creative Class in order to have a "Flat vs. Spikey" comparison.

I have no strong opinion on Friedman. I found much to like in The Lexus and The Olive Tree though at times, I also found passages in the book to be gratingly irritating which is why I put off reading The World is Flat as long as I have. I have had some nice exchanges with Dr. Florida on his blog which means he is relatively accessible if I have questions while I am reading The Flight of the Creative Class - an advantage that will no doubt be absent with Friedman.

If anyone out there has read both books -or either book for that matter - feel free to chime in now. I'd like to hear your opinion.
The definitive review of The World is Flat was published by Matt Taibbi of the New York Press.


Nothing more need be said about the book, except that the review is more insightful than the book.

Thomas Friedman writes so much that few reviewers can keep up. One that is up to the challenge is Bill Bonner. Financier, expat living in London and Normandy, and writer for the Daily Reckoning, here is one of his brief looks at the wit and widom of TKF (appears halfway down the article):
While reading your morning coffee, put down the daily paper and read something useful: another look by Bill Bonner at that sage of America, TL Friedman:

I found the Tabibi review to be pedantic, and similar to Barnett's unfortunate attempt. The book is centered around a purposefully bracing metaphor, and a few reviewers never get beyond the fact Friedman would purposefully use the language that way.

I really liked the book. Tom's concept of flatness is important. It reads like a private-sector compliment to Pentagon's New Map.
I agreed with dan tdaxp about Friedman's book when I read it. My first thought was, that this the other half of the Pentagon's New Map or how the gap would become part of the core.
I have not read Richard Florida, except for some magazine pieces. However, one of my favorite writers is Joel Kotkin, who has repeatedly and in detail argued that Richard Florida's arguments are not supported by facts. Kotkin is prolific and has an excellent website.


For some reason I have never had an interest in Friedman. I have thought his newspaper pieces were banal, so at book length I figured my time was better spent elsewhere. Interested to hear what you think of him.
I don’t know, isn’t Bill Bonner kind of trying to kill the messenger? Wasn’t it people like Bill Bonner, or members of his audience, who borrowed like there was no tomorrow; who are now crying because they understand what the final bill will be and how they will have to pay it?

I see Friedman and Barnett as the ones who are saying there are worst things than evolution. It sounds to me like Mr. Bonner speaks to make his audience feel good but without any substance.

While I understand the Labor Party has control in England, what does he want the Americans to do, elect a right-wing conservative government? We did that, they are called Democrats.
the failure of the Iraq war and subsequent end of US prestige negates both friedman and barnett's alleged contributions to this issue. Those ideas are not considered serious ones anymore. Unless there are people other than mental patients who constitute Bush's 32% approval, which I doubt.

the world is round and huge and doesn't want us attempting to lead it.
Yes...until we attempt to stop doing so. The world doesn't really care much for that either.

Let a tsunami, or a famine or invasion happen and the ones throwing rocks the day before at the American embassy will be the ones squealing loudest for our help. Human nature.

Get back to me when the whole rest of the planet combined makes an equivalent contribution to, for example, the anti-AIDS effort in Africa. Or something similar.
I don't know that charity is an excuse for imperialism. I tend to see one as good and the other as bad.

helping people after the tsunami =good.

"helping" saudi arabia by parking our troops on their sand despite the voiciferous protestations of the saudi people = not so much.
Friedman's concept of flatness is not important, it's stupid - the product of bad metaphor and Friedman's naive understanding of economics and global business networks.

He's a bloody gadfly, perhaps informative in some superficial manner to persons with limited intellect or understanding of the issues he pretends to profoundly about, behind a haze of confused metaphor.

Dan, as usual of course is deluded by skilled use of language, but if you want to read about globalisation, read Wolfe of the FT, or de Soto, leave Friedman for the coffee table book people.
Thanks L
I found these 3 ppt clips at http://www.rgemonitor.com/blog/setser/122822 which really helped my feeble brain. I'll also have to check de soto out. Too bad Financial Times is subscription.
"He's a bloody gadfly, perhaps informative in some superficial manner to persons with limited intellect or understanding of the issues he pretends to profoundly about, behind a haze of confused metaphor."

The return of Collounsbury ! I believe your Aqoul colleague Scudder titled Friedman "The Mustache of Understanding" or something like that.

Well, I hold no brief for Friedman per se but I have been pestered into reading him by several people and it will counterbalance the Creative Class book that Lex has cast a shadow upon.
my favorite review of "the world is flat" from Vice magazine

The World Is Flat
Thomas Friedman

A few years ago, I was sitting on a plane watching The Discovery Channel and some buffoon in a big mustache was babbling on about how great globalization was. It was only mildly annoying until these East Indians came on the screen and told him they don’t want globalization because they don’t want to see India become Americanized. Instead of listening to their totally rational arguments he told them they were wrong and moved on. Now the show had become fucking infuriating. Since when do journalists tell the people they are researching that their news isn’t newsworthy? They’re “wrong”? Who the fuck are you? Then I looked at the bottom of the screen and saw it wasn’t just The Discovery Channel. It was the Discovery/Times Channel. Of course. The idiot with the mustache was Thomas Friedman.

Cut to now and the New York Times Magazine is advertising his new book The World Is Flat with a cover story. In this idiotic piece of boomer trash Friedman argues that computers have taken over and now people in the third world can do all our jobs for next to nothing (he ignores the fact that only 5 percent of the global population has a computer). So the world has become a may-the-best-man-win Olympics where the “playing field has been leveled.” Great, Tom. Let’s lower our standards to the lowest common denominator so the biggest corporations can make the most money. According to The World Is Flat, if the American workingman can’t compete with people who will work all day for a small plate of beans, they can fuck off.

As long as Friedman and the rest of the yuppies at the Times can get cheap nannies, affordable lawn care, and a variety of restaurants, they could give a shit about the rest of us. What goes on in the real world is not their concern.



Re The Moustache of Understanding - I do believe that was Tom Scudder - he's a hack.

I share in full, by the way, Martin Wolf's amusing review of the Moustache, (the Economist's is also good, and better since too many critical reviews are ideologically hostile):


By: By Martin Wolf, Financial Times
Published: Jun 04, 2005

THE WORLD IS FLAT: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

by Thomas Friedman

Allen Lane £20, 496 pages

Read this: "Engines talking to computers, talking to people, talking back to the engines, followed by people talking to people - all done from anywhere to anywhere. That is what happens when all the flatteners start to get turbocharged by all the steroids." Or this: "The perfect storm Shirley Ann Jackson is warning about could best be described as the confluence of three new gaps that have been slowly emerging to sap America's prowess in science, math, and engineering."

These sentences are, states the blurb, the product of a "world- class writer". Can such a concertina crash of mixed metaphors be world-class writing? If so, we must be living in a new age.

We are, insists Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist of the New York Times and three times winner of the Pulitzer Prize. We are living in Globalization 3.0, when the world became flat. In a flat world, the rules of good writing that applied during Globalization 1.0 (which went from 1492, when Columbus sailed for the Indies, to 1800, when industrialisation began) or Globalization 2.0 (which went from 1800 to 2000, when the dotcom bubble burst) evidently no longer apply. World-class writing can be self-indulgent, prolix and glib.

Yet it would be wrong to conclude that this is simply a bad book. It is not a good book either. It is a bad, good book, one whose vices are the mirror image of its virtues.

Those vices are evident. Apart from the style, the book would be twice as effective at half the length. The analytical machinery is limited and the claims exaggerated. Yet if the faults are large, so are the virtues. The world is changing in remarkable ways. To think about what those changes might mean, it helps to have an enthusiastic, fluent, intelligent and observant guide.

So what does it mean when Friedman says - yes, he really does - that the flat world is the elephant in the room? He means that a technological, political and economic revolution is now annihilating barriers. His flat world is the cliche of the level playing field.

Driving this, he argues, are "ten flatteners": the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rise of the PC (yes, these should be two); the arrival of Netscape's browser; workflow software; open- source software; outsourcing; offshoring; "supply-chaining" (the Wal-Mart way); insourcing (the use of outside organisations to provide internal services); informing (the Google revolution); and "the steroids" that "amplify or turbocharge all the flatteners", by which he means personal access, through wireless technologies, to digitised information anywhere at any time.

Friedman's "triple convergence" has turned these ten flatteners into the force that created Globalization 3.0: Convergence I is the ability to put many different functions into one machine; Convergence II is the impact on US productivity; and Convergence III is, in Friedman's inimitable style, that "three billion people who had been frozen out of the field suddenly found themselves liberated to plug and play with everybody else".

In short, says Friedman, it is "this triple convergence - of new players, on a new playing field, developing new processes and habits for horizontal collaboration - that I believe is the most important force shaping global economics and politics in the early twenty-first century".

As the 10 flatteners are turbocharged by the triple convergence to deliver the flat world, we will have a "great sorting out". "It affects everything - how communities and companies define themselves, where companies and communities stop and start, how individuals balance their different identities as consumers, employees, shareholders and citizens, and what role government has to play." The most common disease of the flat world, says Friedman, will be "multiple identity disorder".

In the rest of his book, Friedman discusses how the processes he has identified will affect the US, the developing countries, companies and geopolitics.

On the US, Friedman calls, I joke not, for "compassionate flatism". By this he means "a Great Society that commits our government to building the infrastructure, safety nets, and institutions that will help every American become more employable in an age when no one can be guaranteed lifetime employment." Friedman remains a good Democrat.

For developing countries, Friedman recommends "reform retail". By this he means a host of specific reforms designed to make the economy work better. Some countries, such as China, understand this. Others, such as Egypt, do not. One factor he notes is "glocalization", by which he means a culture's willingness and ability to absorb foreign influences within its domestic culture. The inability of many Muslim societies to do this is why they struggle. Latin America, too, seems to find it difficult to undertake such incremental reforms.

On companies, Friedman has simple recommendations. Rule 1: "When the world goes flat - and you are feeling flattened - reach for a shovel and dig inside yourself. Don't try to build walls." Rule 2: "And the small shall act big," in other words, use new technology "to reach farther, faster, wider and deeper". Rule 3: "The big shall act small." Rule 4: "The best companies are the best collaborators." Rule 5: the "best companies stay healthy by getting regular chest X-rays". Rule 6: "Outsource to win, not to shrink." Rule 7: "Outsourcing isn't just for Benedict Arnolds. It's also for idealists." This is, at least, no sillier than the advice of many management consultants.

Finally, on geopolitics, Friedman admits "the world is not flat". What impedes the flattening are people who are ill, disempowered and humiliated (the root of bin Laden's "Islamo-Leninism"), as well as environmental stresses. He has even developed a new theory of conflict prevention, the "Dell theory", which replaces his old Golden Arches theory. The latter suggested that countries with big enough middle classes to have a network of McDonald's would never go to war. Now he argues that any country that is part of a global supply chain will never go to war.

Friedman's conclusion is as American as his book. The world is being flattened. "But we can manage it, for better or for worse. If it is to be for better, not for worse, then you and your generation must not live in fear of either the terrorists or of tomorrow." We must, he insists, have more dreams than memories.

It is easy to laugh. The language and enthusiasm are, indeed, often absurd. The metaphor of flatness is also misguided: a flat desert is still a daunting barrier. Yet the book's energy will force sceptics to recognise that a world in which the cost of communications is falling towards zero and billions of people are trying to participate in the market economy is unprecedented. It is easy to exaggerate. Much activity will, of course, remain local: one cannot look after an old person or serve a meal wirelessly. Borders will continue to matter: one cannot participate in the new world economy from Liberia. But the world is also changing fast.

Friedman's book may be sloppy, but it is also thought-provoking. It will make hundreds of thousands of readers understand a little better at least some of the forces at work in our world. On balance, moreover, his attitudes are the right ones. That is all good. It is a pity that the book itself is much less so.
Thanks again Lounsbury. I like this Wolf guy.
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