An enlightening essay on the nature of the business world and how the global interconnectedness and outsourcing has leveled the playing field. Completely wrong, and based on an oversimplified and factually inaccurate premise, but well-written and enlightening. In Friedman's "flat" world, it's possible for a call center in India to take orders which then get processed by a shipping service in Indiana which forwards the order to a warehouse in Oakland that stores merchandise made from parts made in Taiwan and assembled in Malaysia. All this is written in such a way as to make the Corporate Executives of the world look like the good guys for somehow coming up with a win-win scenario whereby they bring jobs to third-world countries, at the same time saving themselves money while increasing their productivity and efficiency - a fine premise in the ideal, but hopelessly impractical on several realistic human levels.
The book is very well-written, but Friedman fails to take into account the realities surrounding the fact that in order for such a system to work with any kind of sustainability it needs to create jobs to replace the ones that have been outsourced. Friedman's answer to this is that creativity and inventiveness will take the place of the grunt-work that's been outsourced, an idea that looks good on paper but fails to consider that our society's most financially successful businesses have never invented or innovated anything, instead relying on finding new ways to produce an existing product in a way that's cheaper and faster than their nearest competitor - thus fostering an environment that's not very conducive to innovation. The developers of new technology rarely if ever are the ones to reap the majority of financial benefit from its sale. One cannot, therefore, draw any sort of connection whatsoever from the outsourcing of jobs to the creation of new ones through innovation. If anything, the opposite is true.
Friedman also fails to mention some fairly major flaws in human nature, including things like greed, laziness, and the tendency to make decisions based on emotion and loyalty rather than logic or practicality. There's also this pesky need for workers to continue to be able to support their families on ever-decreasing wages; the need to eat sort of gets in the way of his nice, neat little theory of how wonderfully global the new technology is. In Friedman's ideal world, the world's CEO's would all outsource their labor to countries where labor is cheaper and use the money they saved to create better, higher-paying jobs for all those displaced workers here stateside. Meanwhile, the third world countries would all use their new income from the influx of manufacturing jobs to improve their own standard of living. But this is oversimplified to the point of being absurd -- the CEO's are outsourcing their labor and pocketing the savings while they lay off the workers. The workers aren't going back to school to learn new, higher-paying careers (a Welder's not going to necessarily be able to go back and get a degree in Software Engineering just because that's what jobs are available anyway because he can't afford to go back and be a full-time student for 4 years while he's trying to support his family. The CEO's aren't paying for the re-education of their displaced workforce, instead they're buying homes in the Caribbean and outsourcing their HQ to the Cayman Islands so they don't have to pay taxes. Meanwhile, those third world countries are experiencing no recognizable increase in their standard of living, and they won't anytime soon -- the reason labor is so cheap in those countries is because their governments don't require employers to pay health benefits or any other kind of benefits. If employers paid for their employees to have a higher standard of living, the cost of doing business would increase no matter what country they're in. And since the sole reason corporations are outsourcing is to lower the overhead by using cheap labor, it doesn't make any sense for them to increase their cost of labor by paying for the same things they're required to pay for with American workers. Heck, we can't even get Wal-mart to pay worker's health benefits in this country, how can we expect them to pay for any such benefits in their cheap labor abroad. Really the only winners in this mess are the guys in the top echelons of the corporations, for whose often-unethical policies toward workers Mr. Friedman seems to come across more an apologist than an objective journalist.
Also, I've never heard anyone mention Bill Gates so many times and in such favorable terms in the course of a book on global economics; according to Friedman's revisionist version, it was Gates who invented the personal computer; Windows was the first and only user-friendly operating system according to this author. Case in point: there is a passage in the book that alludes to Microsoft's far-reaching vision regarding the internet and e-commerce. The truth is, Microsoft was caught completely off guard by the advancement of the Internet - Windows 3.0 had very little built-in networking capability; they had to release a special version called Windows for Workgroups when it was discovered that networks were starting to become status quo; The first release of Windows 95 had no built-in internet connectivity, and no web browser was included until Netscape came along, at which point Microsoft had to hurry up and figure out how to make their operating system work on the internet. Gates was even on record back then as saying that he didn't think the internet would ever really amount to much as far as how it would affect the way people used computers. But according to Friedman, Bill Gates was a far-reaching visionary who singlehandedly created the internet, e-commerce, and everything else we take for granted today. That should give you some idea as to the factual inaccuracies that permeate the book. For a more accurate background on the history of computers and the Internet, readers should buy a copy of In The Beginning Was The Command Line, by Neal Stephenson.
Near the end of the book, Friedman plays the 9/11 card. In a moment of wild speculation, he actually blames the terrorist attacks on the fact that the terrorists were from poor countries and were jealous of the prosperity that the Western World has had through globalization, and he puts forth the theory that if these people had had a McDonalds in their town and a couple of factories making Gap clothing, they wouldn't've become terrorists. Except that most of the terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world, a country that practically has a stranglehold on the world's corporate economy already. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had nothing to do with corporate globalization and everything to do with the past 20 years of US foreign policy in the middle east. But hooray for us, we've got globalization, and if those poor terrorists over there had globalization too, maybe they wouldn't be terrorists. Puh-lease.
I have heard it said by others that Friedman's book looks at the overall "big picture" of globalization and not the individual details. However, as the saying goes, "the devil is in the details." Friedman's extoling of the virtues of globalization fails to take into account several key factors which, when considered, paint the globalization picture in an entirely different light. Clearly Friedman's vision of a flat earth won't come true until we solve the paradox of how to make humans into a race of mindless, overachieving, underpaid automatons who still somehow manage to think creatively enough to constantly invent enough new technology to create new jobs at the same rate as the old jobs are being outsourced.