Saturday, June 25, 2005

The flattening world

NYT columnist Tom Friedman’s new book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century should be required reading for anyone who considers himself an engaged, web-savvy, news-consuming, technology-loving citizen of the world. I know this sounds overblown, but I’m serious. You can hear Friedman himself discuss the book’s themes during a recent presentation at MIT. With apologies to Mr. Friedman for any misrepresentation of his thesis, here’s a quick and dirty summary of the book’s major arguments: Friedman’s three phases of globalization 1. "Globalization 1.0": 1492 to early 1800s – countries globalize 2. "Globalization 2.0": early 1800s to 2000 – companies globalize 3. "Globalization 3.0": 2000 to present – individuals globalize Friedman’s ten forces that “flattened the world” 1. Fall of the Berlin Wall (allowed world to be viewed on single plane; opened way for collaboration) 2. Netscape browser went public making internet more accessible to more people 3. Workflow advances from new software (interoperability and collaboration) 4. Outsourcing (i.e. call centers from U.S. to overseas) 5. Off-shoring (i.e. factory from Canton, OH to Canton, China) 6. Open-sourcing (i.e. Linux software; renders Microsoft model obsolete b/c “it’s hard to beat free.”) 7. Supply-chaining (i.e. take something from shelf of Wal-Mart another one made in China; Note: Wal-Mart makes nothing, just supplies stuff) 8. In-sourcing (i.e. UPS does internal delivery of pizza dough for Papa John’s Pizza franchises) 9. Informing (i.e. Google lets you do your own research thus facilitating collaboration) 10. Turbo-charging (the things that make collaboration totally mobile and non-location-specific like wireless technology, voice-over-internet and file sharing) Those for whom the world is not yet flat 1. Too poor/too sick (i.e. Sub-Saharan Africa with AIDS and political corruption) 2. Too isolated (i.e. rural India or China) 3. Too frustrated (i.e. Middle East) 4. Too many Toyotas (need alternative fuel sources or the world’s flatness won’t matter one way or another) Solution/Response The take-away message is education, education, education. Friedman discusses the importance of tertiary education (education beyond high school). For Louisiana, with the nation’s highest high school drop out rate, the implications of failing to get education right just get more and more serious with the passage of time. Indeed, that means Louisiana is already behind. Why is education the answer? Friedman argues that with the entrance of India, China and the former Soviet states into the global economy, that puts 3 billion new people on the playing field. Even if just 10% of those people are skilled and can compete at the global level, that’s still more people than the total size of the current American workforce. That’s a lot of competition for jobs that, thanks to technological innovations, can go anywhere in the world. People, Americans, Louisianans need to be able to compete for knowledge jobs – not manual labor jobs. Why? Because those trained for one kind of knowledge job can be re-trained if their line of work goes elsewhere. Non-knowledge workers and the economies dependant on them (and protectionist trade policies to keep them afloat) just fall further behind. The trends Friedman outlines in this book, as he notes in his MIT lecture, render debate about NAFTA, CAFTA and social security reform irrelevant. As the result of an ever-flattening world, borders are less and less important and personal education becomes more and more critical. But don’t take my word for it. Read Friedman’s book for yourself. The world is changing. Just because we’re not paying attention doesn’t mean it’s not happening.