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Friedman: The World Is Flat

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas L. Friedman,  published 2005

Known as an authority of modern globalization, Thomas Friedman further expands his thoughts on globalization and the issues surrounding this phenomenal trend in his latest book, "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century."  Published in 2005, this book can be regarded as an update and continuation of his previous work on globalization, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree."

Friedman contends that ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, corporations and workers in the modern age have been working and competing under different rules.  Whole industries can no longer be protected.  Suddenly, we are propelled into a world where there is a potential excess of two billion workers - all working for each other but also competing with workers in "the developed world" on a 24-hour basis.  Globalization and technology has also empowered the individual - but it has also left the individual with much more responsibility for his or her own fate.  As Bill Gates put it: Given the current trend of globalization, he will rather be born as a very intelligent kid into a very poor family in India rather than just a being born as normal kid in the United States.  20 years ago, he would have answered differently.  The fall of the Berlin Wall along with the advent and widespread adoption of technology such as the internet has totally flattened the playing field - ensuring "fairer" competition and more choices going forward.  Indeed, Friedman also does a very good job in putting this current phase of globalization into proper prospective, and how it fits in with past globalization trends starting with the discovery of the "New World" by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

While Friedman is very optimistic on the benefits of globalization in the 21st century, he is also very concerned and is sounding the alarm on Middle America.  Friedman singles out China and India (the two most populous countries in the world) - two countries where he claims kids are more motivated than Americans to be capitalists, as well as engineers and scientists.  The sheer numbers are also astounding - such as the fact that Indian universities graduate more than a million students than American universities and that China graduates twice as many students with bachelor degrees every year.

Fans of Thomas Friedman's "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" will adore this book - as "The World Is Flat" is a very well-written book - with lots of new compelling stories and argues a very good case for the fans of globalization.  Friedman is not a social scientist per se, so the readers who desire a lot of quantitative and historical research will be disappointed.  Instead, Friedman weaves his story together by discussing his interviews and experiences in places like Bangalore, with corporate leaders such as Bill Gates and Craig Barrett, as well as his many years of experience working as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times.

The only criticism I have for the book is a lack of discussion of the potentially adverse implications of globalization, such as the pollution being caused in Chinese cities due to industrialization as well as union workers who are being displaced in the steel, automobile, and textile industries all over the developed world.  All together, "The World Is Flat" is a very thought-provoking and highly-recommended work.




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