Of globalism and its contented.
New York Times columnist Friedman (Longitudes and Attitudes, 2002, etc.), always glad to find possibilities for hope in the most tangled international trends, offers a mantra to accompany the outsourcing of jobs in the brave new transnational capitalist world: “The playing field is being leveled. . . . The playing field is being leveled.” The phrase is that of a Bangalore-based captain of industry; Friedman’s gloss, which seems merely rhetorical at first but turns out to have some legs, is: “the world is flat.” Which is to say: new communications technologies and business strategies have erased certain obstacles between nations and peoples in at least the realms of knowledge work and intellectual capital. India, for instance, graduates huge numbers of accountants each year who can readily be put to work doing the grunt labor of preparing Americans’ tax returns, leaving it to the erstwhile U.S. preparer to do something wonderful and meaningful with his or her time—estate planning, say, or portfolio management. Friedman is sober-minded enough to recognize, of course, that not all homegrown preparers are Warren Buffetts in the making, and that some people will not thrive when their jobs wander across the oceans—though some may wind up in the Colorado phone bank that, Friedman seems most impressed to learn, processes drive-through orders for a McDonald’s franchise two states away. He is also quick to remark that the freer flow of information from developed to developing nation is a boon not just for the talented of the Third World, but also for the likes of certain bad guys: “Globalization in general,” he writes, “has been al-Qaeda’s friend in that it has helped to solidify a revival of Muslim identity and solidarity . . . thanks to the Internet and satellite television.”
But Friedman is generally enthusiastic about world-changing trends such as just-in-time inventorying, supply-chaining and insourcing. Those who look forward to a planet of Wal-Marts and Dells will be charmed. Those who don’t—well, welcome to the flat world.