China for a day

On Wednesday, I attended a speech by famed author and NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman. His book The World is Flat sits on my desktop and I often use it in my classes because of the insightful ideas about how information systems have changed the global economy. Now he is on a speaking tour promoting his new book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, which is what brought him to Eastern Michigan University. While I believe a great deal of this book is missing the big picture, its his conclusion that I find terribly frightening.

From the first word in the title of his new book, it may be obvious he's talking about global warming. Friedman believes we are experiencing global warming and that it is man made. He even jokes that he told Al Gore that he should apologize because the results have been much worse than he predicted. Friedman argues that CO2 released from fossil fuels is causing this problem, so we need to find alternative energy. The second word "Flat" refers to the information revolution and resulting impact on globalization which has allowed a middle class throughout the world to grow astronomically over the past ten years. The implication, in energy terms, is that the middle class will require vastly more energy than fossil fuels can provide safely (in terms of global warming). That, along with his third term "Crowded", means that the total world population is expected to strain every last once of current energy production past its capacity.

These strains, he argues, is why energy technology will be the next great revolution in industry. His argument so far is interesting and has some plausibility, even though I believe he is wrong about global warming. He wants to see America lead this revolution. And to that I say, you betcha. I love to see America lead any technological revolution. But Friedman's argument about how we get there is downright scary.

He then argues that America has lost its edge after 9/11. Not economically, but politically. The security we demand at airports, at embassies and consulates, and at our borders, is shutting down our capacity to innovate. This argument is incredibly weak and is designed more as a shot at Republicans than anything else. He goes on to say we need government to lead the way in creating the energy revolution here in the U.S., rather than waiting for some other nation to lead the way. How can our government do this? By being "China for a day" (his words!). And he is explicit about what he means...our government should be as authoritarian as China is, but just for one day, just long enough to set the standards, finance the research, and discourage the use of fossil fuels that will lead to an energy revolution.

China for a day! In Friedman's mind, individual rights not only can be suspended for a day, they should be. He acknowledges that people will bitch and moan about this action. His response "so what?". Let them bitch and moan, because the world is at stake. Never mind that people are bitching and moaning because your killing them slowly but surely by taking away the legal protection needed to live. Never mind that the reason why the world is becoming "Flat" is because nations are recognizing and establishing legal protection for individual rights. That the very thing he wants to take away is the very thing that has allowed billions of people to move out of extreme poverty. China, India, and Eastern Europe are becoming wealthier because they are less authoritarian, not more. It is his blatent disregard for the individual that I find truly frightening. China for a day! How about the U.S. for a lifetime?


  1. Anonymous1:03 PM

    Well, I think Friedman missed the big picture, even while discussing globalization, in his earlier book, "The world is flat".

    Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel winner for economics and was Chief Economist at World Bank) said while on a trip to India, that 600 million people from India (out of the one billion!) have been left out of the “development” fold of globalization. If anything, the inequality is far, far worse now, after the advent of globalization.

    Similarly newspaper reports have pointed out how Chinese workers are working in apalling conditions, to churn out the low cost products, with poor pay, cramped rooms, no accident or health insurance benefits, no job security, no overtime, long working hours - so who is actually benefiting from this sort of globalization? Corporates ofcourse.

    There is a small, but interesting book, by Aronica and Ramdoo, "The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman's New York Times Bestseller," which offers a counterperspective to Friedman's theory on globalization.

    It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike. As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman's book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn't a single table or data footnote in Friedman's entire book.

    "Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution," says Aronica.

    Interestingly enough, the book written about two years back, discusses in the chapter, "Debt and Financialization of America," the debt ridden American society, deregulated financial institutions, mortgage crisis and other related issues, with clear pointers to the economic crisis gripping US today.

    You may want to see www.mkpress.com/flat
    and watch www.mkpress.com/flatoverview.html
    for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman's
    "The World is Flat".

    Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens! www.mkpress.com/ShiftExtreme.html

    There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation

  2. Anonymous,

    I've never read this analysis about Friedman's book and from your description, I have no desire too. If you consider "inequality" as the measure of right and wrong and if progress can only measured by the status of the poor, then we have nothing in common philosophically.

    Perhaps you're familiar with the history of the industrial revolution, perhaps not, but when England first experienced the rapid changes in technology, business organization, and capitalization it went through some radical changes. Some of which caused "inequalities". But compare England in 1750 with England in 1850 or 1900, and its immediately evident the benefits that some "inequality" had. We also see how working conditions were not radically different prior to the revolution as during. In fact, it often improved remarkably until we can enjoy the high-living we do today.

    It is from this knowledge of history that I recognize that its the protection of individual rights, specifically property rights that allowed the industrial revolution to flourish. The only reason why China and India are doing well today is because they changed their concept of property rights. That is the major factor in the changing world picture. All the rest is noise, which I expect Aronica's and Ramdoo's book is full of.