Thursday, June 02, 2005

From What Perspective is the World Flat?

I'm about halfway through Friedman's new book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.

It is interesting in its fairly easy-to-read journalistic style but, as was the case in Baby Boon, I've been spoiled by the empirical data-centered literature of economics.

His thesis is that this so-called third wave of globalization is eroding hierarchies of all kinds around the world.

". . . the dynamic force in globalization 3.0-the think that gives it its unique character-is the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally" (Friedman, 2005: 10).

". . . I think this new era of globalization will prove to be such a difference of degree that it will be seen, in time, as a difference in kind. That is why I introduced the idea that the world has gone from round to flat. Everywhere you turn, hierarchies are being challenged from below or transforming themselves from top-down structures into more horizontal and collaborative ones" (page 45).

He then goes on to list 10 "flattening agents" including: The fall of the Berlin Wall, the Day Netscape Went Public, Work-Flow Software, Open-Sourcing, Outsourcing, Offshoring, Supply-Chaining (read: WalMart), Insourcing, In-Forming, and (I haven't gotten to this yet) "The Steroids".

Again, his journalistic style makes some of this quite interesting. His little chapter on outsourcing and offshoring, I think, might make a good read for my intro students who, while appreciating that trade lets them have more stuff, consistently fall back on the anti-globalization rhetoric when it comes to losing their parents (or possibly their own) jobs in the name of free trade.

Also, the primer on open-sourcing was fascinating.

However, none of it comes with any real empirics to put it into any perspective. For example, how big is the open-sourcing movement? Is it really large enough to dismantle the corporate, for-profit software development structures?

And, he dabbles a bit with some concerns over worker rights in China and the treatment of labor by large MNCs like WalMart, but it is only a comment or two.

The last irony (so far) (pointed out to me while on a WAY too long bike ride yesterday for my not-quite-in-shape legs with a fellow history professor) is that some hierarchies have only increased. Example being: income and wealth inequality. This is not only not mentioned, it is certainly not substantiated by empirical evidence.

Here is a recent Los Angeles Times article (May 31, 2005 "California Executive Pay Report: Gulf Between Top, Bottom Gets Wider" by Kathy M. Kristof) that shows that CEOs' pay is growing at a much faster pace than that of rank-and-file employees.

No comments: