Friday, July 17, 2009

Book Review - The World is Flat

(I've had this one in my files for awhile).

In his book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman writes in such a way that makes it very interesting to read. Unlike some books on economic issues, The World Is Flat is easy to follow without getting too bogged down in the mire of economic lingo. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily a good thing since Friedman picks and chooses his facts and how he applies his logic. In the book, he admits that he is not an economist and this is evident, even to this non-economist reader. Additionally, he comes off sounding like a broken record, repeating his mantra of “the world is flat, the world is flat” as if praising himself for coming up with such a novel concept.

My first reaction to the book was with the whole concept of flatness. He continually compares himself with Columbus, who set out to prove the world is round, except Friedman comes to the conclusion that indeed it is flat and this flatness is due to globalization mainly through the benefits gained by the creation of the Internet. However, Friedman seems to be mixing metaphors and doing a horrible job of it. Yes, you could say that there might now be more of a “level playing field” in that countries such as India and China now have a greater opportunity to take on parts of the service industry. Yes, you could say that the world is getting smaller due to the ease and swiftness of communication and travel. And if Friedman meant these metaphors, then it makes more sense. But I was left wondering “What in the world has gotten flatter?” Even after Friedman discusses his 10 Flatteners, the metaphor still wasn’t clearly defined.

The other misgiving I had with this book is that Friedman, in his overzealous attempt to push the “fact” of globalization, makes it sound like all our jobs will be done by Indian or Chinese workers next week, so we’d better get busy in improving ourselves. Friedman does indeed have a point that the U.S., along with every other nation, should constantly be striving to educate better workers. But example after example is given of how this Indian company or that Chinese corporation has taken on so much of some particular aspect of an industry that you have to wonder if any Americans are left in the industry and when they’ll be laid off in order to offshore the work to India. Never mind the fact that while there is certainly some level of globalization, it isn’t nearly the amount that Friedman would like us to think.

Personally, I’m all for globalization and the competition it creates among nations and industries. However, I would certainly not point anyone to this book to learn the merits of it. I’m sure there are far more useful books than one that repeats the same nonsense over and over again. At least, I sure hope so.


Darrell said...

I agree with your assessment of the book's shortcomings. I wrote a small review of my own a while back that took a lot more words to say basically the same sorts of things. :)

Kevin said...

Depends on what you are expecting from the book. Granted it has been two or three years since I read it but as I recall it did do a good job explaining globalisation in everyday language. I particularly liked his Dell theory which demonstrated the potential positive impacts and stabilizing influence that a global economy can lead to. He did not offer any solutions, just provided illustrations and it could have likely been done in fewer pages but I enjoyed it. That may have also been impacted by the nature of what I do and my time in India and the Philippines but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Now that being said, I did buy "Hot, Flat and Crowded" and could only make it through the first few chapters because it seemed to repeat the same mantra over and over again but it did contain some interesting illustrations. Maybe I should pick it up again now that I am about finished "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell.