Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Review of The World is Flat 3.0

Do you ever debate buying a book? You know what I mean. Something about the cover or title catches your eye. You pick up the book, skim it a bit then put it back onto the shelf. The next time you go back to the store you go through the routine again. And again. Finally you break down and buy the book. After reading it you wonder why you didn’t buy the book the first time. That’s the story of The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman. I must have picked up the book five times before buying it. I wish I had bought it sooner.

Not that this book is perfect. A 100 or more pages could easily be trimmed with tighter editing and removing repetitive passages and Friedman’s name-dropping stories. But his premise is interesting and particularly applicable to individualists. By “flat” Friedman “means equalizing, because the flattening forces are empowering more and more individuals today to reach farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before, and that is equalizing power.”

Friedman contends we are in the third version of globalization. In Globalization 1.0 countries were the key agents in the world. Globalization 2.0 shifts from countries to international companies; Globalization 3.0 shifts again with individuals becoming the focal point.

The World is Flat identifies ten flatteners behind this evolution. While I won’t discuss each one they fall into three categories: political, business practices and individual empowerment. The key political flattener was literal: the flattening of the Berlin Wall in 1989 which enhanced the free movement of best practices. Most of the other nine flatteners deal with corporate practices such as work flow software, outsourcing and off shoring which drew formerly isolated countries such as India, China, Mexico and others into the world market. As the corporate practices lowered barriers between countries other developments occurred to enhance the ability of individuals to obtain information and, more important, to express their ideas that normally would have no outlet. Of course, we’re talking about the Internet, search engines and blogging. Traditional media outlets like TV and radio (except call-in talk shows) are just that: outlets in which the participants passively receive media output with limited ability to have their voices heard.

Blogging, personal web pages, etc. allow individuals to express themselves and to form collaborative virtual communities. In addition, as Friedman notes, small and medium size companies hire the most people, not the mega-corporations. Flattening allows these small businesses to compete better with the big boys. All of these developments provide tools to empower individuals like no other time in history.

These developments also could bode well for preventing wars. While some conservative thinkers fear (appropriately) the growth of Islamic terrorism and the rebirth of totalitarianism, Friedman shares something both interesting and hopeful: the Dell theory of conflict prevention. “No two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, like Dell’s, will ever fight a war against each other as long as they are both part of the same global supply chain.” In other words, economic interdependence can trump political agendas. One can only hope that this theory is true! Of course there are no guarantees. Political leaders can force their agenda onto an unwilling citizenry. However the ease of being able to do this is getting more difficult as the world flattens.

Returning back to the individual, Friedman offers some advice to succeed. “The most important competition is now with oneself – making sure that you are always striving to get the most out of your imagination and then acting on it.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ted Kennedy and Universal Healthcare: Do As I Order Not as I Do

Capitalism Magazine has this excellent article on Ted Kennedy's surgery on his brain tumor and how he decided on which doctor would perform the surgery. This quote captures the essence of the situation.

[N]ever mind that Kennedy chose not to go to one of the many "industrialized countries that provide 'Universal Healthcare'." Apparently, Kennedy ignored Michael Moore's claims of the excellent healthcare provided in other “industrialized” communist and socialist nations that provide "Universal Coverage", albeit this is precisely what Kennedy seeks to bring to America at the point of a gun.

While the successful outcome of Senator Kennedy's operation depended on freedom, Kennedy has devoted his political career to legislating freedom out of existence. This is an irony that America's news media will evade, much less report.
This reminds me back when I first moved to Boston in the mid 1970s people were in an uproar over the forced busing of their kids to different schools to ensure racial intermingling. I recall hearing about someone who was fairly well to do who was a vocal advocate of busing but sent her child to private school to avoid the busing issue. When confronted with her double standard her reply, without blinking, was: "I'm not a slave to my principles." Yet she expects others to be enslaved by her beliefs. It appears Ted Kennedy follows the same MO. Nice, huh?