47866a49fc5bcd95f6ed42bf492f8234-2THE WORLD IS FLAT by Thomas L. Friedman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Hardcover, 496 pages, $27.50. Audio CD, $20.05.

Four decades ago, when the grandfather writing this review emigrated from India, it was unthinkable that America would one day be outsourcing engineering work and core business processes to India. Americans thought of India as distant as Mars. Russian cosmonauts were the competition, not a swami climbing a rope. In the 1960s, President Kennedy inspired a technology race to the moon. And, to borrow a phrase from Tom Wolfe, only Uncle Sam’s boys could possibly have the “right stuff” to win the Cold War.

Two decades ago, when the father writing this review was finishing his graduate studies, the Cold War was almost over but a new race was on to be first-to-market with products of America’s investment in science and engineering. While others had a part in the game, it was predominantly an American intramural competition. But hyphens had found their way onto the playing field, with Chinese-Americans and Indian-Americans contributing significantly to technology hot spots.

Fast-forward into the future, when the son writing this review will live in a world shaped from the present and the past. Whether it will be one, harmonious, flat world or a thousand shards of glass is unknowable. But Grandfather and Father do know that they want their (grand)son to thrive in whatever world bequeathed to him. They also know that in the future, it may not matter that he is Indian, American, Indian-American, or merely the hyphen itself, bridging many places. What will matter is that he has the “right stuff.”

Like this review’s authors, Tom Friedman’s The World Is Flat is based on three generations: Globalization 1.0, Globalization 2.0, and Globalization 3.0. During the three centuries (1492-1800) of Globalization 1.0, religion and imperialism inspired the integration of previously isolated countries and kingdoms. “The key agent of change … was how much brawn … your country had and how creatively you could deploy it.” By the time of Globalization 2.0 (1800-2000), the change agent was the multinational company, and global integration was powered by falling transportation and telecommunication costs. Friedman’s thesis is that with the new millennium, the world—like one big global village—has gone flat and enabled individual change agency.

The dynamic force of Globalization 3.0 … is the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally. And the lever that is enabling individuals and groups to go global is … software … in conjunction with the creation of a global fiber-optic network that has made us all next-door neighbors.

After introducing the current phase of globalization by explaining the “ten forces that flattened the world,” Friedman considers responses to an increasingly flat world. He argues that unless there is a calamitous war, globalization will become pervasive. As the world grows flatter, more opportunities will be available to people who dream of them, people like those Indians and Chinese who are educated, motivated, excited, and eager to get jobs that previously seemed to be the exclusive—nearly hereditary—claim of the developed world’s children.

If we don’t encourage our children to pursue higher education, don’t be surprised that parental selfishness or governmental indifference will translate into an accelerated movement of jobs to countries where education is a priority and the cost of labor is low. In digitized free markets, work is disaggregated and moves to the smartest and most economical source. Imagination and innovation are the core competencies that will keep jobs closer to home.

47866a49fc5bcd95f6ed42bf492f8234-3Although the United States has a world-class infrastructure, there has been a “steady erosion of America’s scientific and engineering base.” Friedman suggests that this “quiet crisis,” is the result of a “huge sense of entitlement and complacency.” This troubling situation reminds him of the “classic wealthy family that by the third generation starts to squander its wealth. The members of the first generation are nose-to-the-grindstone innovators; the second generation holds it all together; then their kids come along and get fat, dumb, and lazy and slowly squander it all.”

Friedman could be accused of being an alarmist screaming, “The sky is falling.” Instead, he screams, “more American individuals will be better off if we don’t erect barriers to” globalization. His fundamental assumption is that there have always been and will always be new inventions, and knowledge workers benefit from the change that invention brings.

The problem here is that The World Is Flat speaks largely about, and to, a small circle of movers and shakers—the technocratic business class driving change and benefiting the most from it. Friedman’s tunnel vision is reflected in an anecdote he shared at this year’s TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) conference: “What do we tell our kids?” His advice to his own daughters is brief and blunt: “Girls, when I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, ‘Tom, finish your dinner—people in China and India are starving.’ My advice to you is: Girls, finish your homework—people in China and India are starving for your jobs.”

A few social entrepreneurs in the crowd were probably saying, “Hey Tom, we still have people in China and India and America who are starving.” But TiE’s primarily Indian-American audience was focused on wealth creation and applauded heartily, appreciating that Friedman had recognized their contributions to the flattening of the world. Amidst all that bonhomie, there were some in the crowd squirming uneasily as they pondered the future of their own offspring, born and raised in the United States. For their children, the message of The World Is Flat is clear: Be aware of, and make a change in, the world around you. Both fortune and the future favor the prepared mind. —C.M. Oza, Rajesh C. Oza, Siddhartha R. Oza

For Siddhartha’s Oma—Vijayalaxmi—who created the family’s yogurt from Rajasthani village memories, and generation after generation passed along her culture of education and innovation into Silicon Valley dreams.

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