The World Is Flat Summary

Thomas L. Friedman

The World Is Flat

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The World Is Flat Summary

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The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century is a 2005 non-fiction political science book by Thomas L. Friedman. Focusing on the effects of globalization in the early 21st century, the title refers to a metaphor for viewing the world as a level playing field in terms of commerce, allowing all competitors an equal opportunity. While globalization is controversial, Friedman is a strong advocate of the changes caused by the phenomenon, supporting free trade. The book is critical of societies that resist the changes caused by globalization, and Friedman criticizes societies that resist these changes. The book advocates for the idea that a rapid pace of change is inevitable, and believes that Americans will have to adapt to cope with the growing changes caused by increased opportunity for the developing world and the talented individuals in them. Friedman researched the content extensively through travel and interviews, and uses a combination of anecdotes, research, and personal opinion to drive his point home. Critically acclaimed and massively popular, The World is Flat was the inaugural winner of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.

The World is Flat begins with Friedman retelling a trip to Bangalore, India, where he realized that globalization had changed core economic concepts. Friedman believes that this is a combination of the onset of the personal computer combined with the rise of workflow software, which creates increased efficiency in the workplace. This has allowed companies in China and India to provide workers to massive tech companies in the United States, thus becoming a key part of global supply chains. This has led Friedman to form a capitalist peace theory called the Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention, which he details towards the end of the book. Friedman believes that the current stage of globalization is the third incarnation. While the first was controlled by governments and countries, and the second was controlled by multinational corporations, the third is driven by the individual.

One of the major segments of the book details what Friedman calls the ten flatteners, or major events that caused globalization to accelerate and level the global playing field. The first was the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which allowed millions of people behind the Iron Curtain to join the economic world. The second was the IPO of Netscape, the first major Internet company, which opened the World Wide Web up to the general public. The third flattener was workflow software, which is Friedman’s catchall term for any online software that allows for the automation of parts of the workload and communication between machines. Friedman believes this flattener led the way for all the others. These include uploading, or the sharing of files and collaboration on online project; outsourcing, or companies sending jobs to outside contractors abroad; offshoring, or companies relocating their entire manufacturing base abroad; supply-chaining, which includes companies like Wal-Mart using their technology to streamline sales, distribution, and shipping; and insourcing, where companies perform tasks outside their normal business orders. The final two are informing, which is the spread of information around the world through sites like Google and Wikipedia; and what Friedman calls “The Steroids”, which are technology such as mobile phones and IPods, which makes all these tasks easier and more efficient.

Friedman believes that to fight the potential economic consequences of such a shift, the US workforce must keep updating its work skills. In addition, Friedman suggests that the US government should guarantee retirement benefits that are less dependent on one’s job, and provide insurance to help people through a loss in job. Friedman also believes that the government should encourage young people to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to keep these innovator positions strong in the US. Friedman’s showpiece theory, the Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention, states that no two countries that are part of a major global supply chain, like Dell’s, will ever fight a war against each other due to the economic benefits for both countries. Economic interdependence is the best possible insurance against conflict. While Friedman warns that this is not a guarantee, it means that both countries will have strong economic incentives towards finding a peaceful resolution. The case of China and Taiwan, neither of which recognizes the other’s legitimacy, is cited. Although conflict is high, their economic ties keep the tension below the boiling point.

Thomas L. Friedman is an American journalist and author. He is a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, winning for his coverage of the 1983 Lebanon war, his 1988 coverage of Israel, and his 2002 examination of global terrorism. In 2005, he was elected as a member of the Pulitzer Prize board. He is currently employed by the New York Times, where he writes a weekly column. In addition to The World is Flat, he has published an additional six books dealing with the Mideast Conflict, globalization, terrorism, and renewable energy. He is a frequent contributor to the Discovery Channel, hosting documentaries for them on similar topics. He is a key member of the political action committee Americans Elect, and is a vocal advocate for the politics of “radical centrism”.