The World Is Flat Essay

1783 words - 8 pages

On a modern-day passage to India, Thomas L. Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, found himself chatting in Bangalore with a young, slight, mustachioed videogame-company CEO named Rajesh Rao. "India is going to be a superpower," Rao said, gushing about a new economic era that makes the globe into one massive marketplace, "and we are going to rule." But rule whom? Friedman asked. Rao laughed. "It's not about ruling anybody," he admitted. "That's the point. There is nobody to rule anymore."

Rao's enthusiasm about the changing rules of international commerce and politics today -- about whether there's anything left to rule in a brave new world of globalization -- ...view middle of the document...

In The World Is Flat, Friedman rejoins the debate over what's really driving world politics, but he does not come out where readers of his eloquent columns on the challenges of defeating bin Ladenism might expect; instead, he argues that "the most important force shaping global economics and politics in the early twenty-first century" is not the admittedly important war on terrorism but a "triple convergence -- of new players, on a new playing field, developing new processes and habits for horizontal collaboration."

Friedman writes that the world is now entering the era of "Globalization 3.0," following Globalization 1.0, which ran from 1492 until 1800 and was driven by countries' sheer brawn, and Globalization 2.0, in which "the key agent of change, the dynamic force driving global integration, was multinational companies" driven to look abroad for markets and labor, spurred by industrial-age "breakthroughs in hardware" such as steamships, trains, phones and computers. That epoch ended around 2000, replaced by one in which individuals are the main agents doing the globalizing, pushed by "not horsepower, and not hardware, but software" and a "global fiber-optic network that has made us all next-door neighbors." If the first two eras were driven mostly by Europeans and Americans, the third is open to "every color of the human rainbow."

In particular, Friedman is obsessed with one of the great economic phenomena of our day: the outsourcing of the U.S. economy's service and information-technology work to India, China and elsewhere. The reason that Indian accounting firms are expected to do about 400,000 American tax returns this year, that small U.S. hospitals have their CAT scans read in the wee hours by Indian or Australian radiologists known as the "Nighthawks," or that the Chinese port city of Dalian is taking outsourced work from its former imperial masters in Japan, Friedman argues, is that the world is undergoing "one of those fundamental changes -- like the rise of the nation-state or the Industrial Revolution" -- that transform the roles of individuals, governments and societies. The world was flattened, he writes, by 10 forces, including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the discrediting of Soviet-style command economies; the 1995 Netscape IPO, which opened up the Internet for easy browsing; the dot-com era overinvestment in the fiber-optic cables that such globalizing hubs as Bangalore and Shenzhen, China, rely upon to cheaply transmit data around the planet; search engines like Google, most of whose queries are now no longer in English; and such flat-world "steroids" as PalmPilots, tiny laptops and the wireless technology that lets one of Friedman's colleagues merrily e-mail from aboard a Japanese bullet train. "The 'hot line,' which used to connect the Kremlin with the White House," Friedman writes, "has been replaced by the 'help line,' which connects everyone in America to call centers in Bangalore."

Even as these forces...

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