This book is surprisingly dull, at least the half of it that I have read so far. This is a book claiming that our world is in the process of changing right now to the same degree as the changes during the Great Age of Exploration or the coming of the railroads, and it is boring.
This may be the writing style. Although, as you know if you read this blog all the time and have total recall, I read a lot about economics and find it interesting, sentences like ” The scarcity of capital after the dot-com bust made venture capital firms see to it that the companies they were investing in were finding the most efficient, high-quality, low-price way to innovate” belong in the annual report, not an actual book. The sheer number of hyphens on every page is enough to warn us that this book is not belles lettres.
It may be the fact that Friedman refers to the region where I live as “a Li’l Abner backwater” in spite of having been able to find sushi to eat with no difficulty, to his reported surprise. Nah, I wouldn’t hold that against the book, and his remarks had already been reported in The Wall Street Journal anyway. I just felt I had to mention it.
It is possible, though, that the history of Wikipedia and Pay Pal are not actually interesting enough in and of themselves to require such a wealth of detail. But the overall thesis of the book is interesting.
When the great ships confirmed that the world was bigger than the Europeans thought, this book tells us, there was a globalization based on nations: “What is my country’s role in the world?” When faster modes of transport allowed international trade without the efforts of a Marco Polo, the question became “What is my company’s role in the world?” And now, with the internet in place, the question is, “What is my place in the world?” The world’s flatness is the flatness of a computer screen.
Friedman says, essentially, that now anybody gets the work who can do it the cheapest. This is fine for us in the U.S., where we are never the cheapest, because it will “free up” our people and capital for more interesting work. What that more interesting work will be cannot be predicted right now. Whether farming out the dull stuff is morally desirable is not considered.
Naturally, this makes me think of the age of colonization. Today’s Scramble to the Bottom has to remind you of the Scramble for Africa. Are both Europe and Africa better off today for having had those colonial relationships? Friedman thinks so. His position is that the international economic pie is getting bigger, even if we can’t see that it is, and that a little fear is good for everyone, because it encourages change, and that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
I have often thought that this time period would be to future economists a great watershed time period, but I had been thinking that it would be the end of robber baron rapaciousness, the point at which the goal of providing the world’s affluent people with mountains of cheap material goods at any human or environmental cost gave way to something else.
If you mostly think of globalization as something that exploits people in poor countries, threatens the livelihood of the poor in wealthy countries, hastens the harm being done to the environment, and does away with the specialness of local commerce and regional variations, then this book offers a cheering alternative.
Once you struggle through the detailed history of fiber-optic cable.