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71 of 82 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Friedman missed the key point, October 1, 2007
This review is from: The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (Paperback)
Friedman relies on personal anecdotes to generalize about a complex topic. His anecdotes are heavily biased, since he hangs around with captains of industry, who are big beneficiaries of laissez-faire globalization. He even justifies his approach with this quote: "One example is worth a thousand theories." Well, this topic is much too complex for such an approach. He is an entertaining (if very repetitive and self-absorbed) raconteur, but he misses the forest by spending over 600 pages congratulating himself for climbing a few low-hanging branches in the most obvious trees.

It is a mark of Friedman's approach and personality that he dates the beginning of "Flat World" phenomena to a few years ago, when he discovered them. He seems blissfully unaware of the long history of globalization. A few examples: 200 years ago, before refrigeration, North American entrepreneurs destroyed the English trade in domestic ice by building insulated ships and shipping New England ice to London (and even Calcutta); cheap water power and cotton in the US destroyed the British weaving trades 50 years later; 500 years ago, the takeover of Peruvian silver mines by Spanish entrepreneurs bankrupted silver production in Spain; there are countless examples of the effects of globalization from the Roman Empire's rise and fall as well (well-managed during the rise, disastrously so during the fall). Friedman's "born yesterday" myopia on this topic, and on the lessons of history, is puzzling.

Friedman glances by what is, in my mind, the central issue (e.g. the one that has the biggest impact on people): the different ways governments act and respond. He admits no expertise in economics, yet declares himself to be a Ricardian (without reflecting on the irony of a self-styled futurist relying on 200-year-old economic theory), and moves on. The rest of us, however, can learn a lot by looking at the differences and subtleties (or lack thereof) of governmental policies, a topic which is completely absent from Friedman's book. Asian countries, and to a lesser extent Western European countries, have created a regulatory environment that promotes a productive response in their own countries. Some examples:

If GM wants to sell cars in China or Europe, it is obligated to build a factory there, and transfer some of its technology to local partners. Intel has just announced that its next processor fab will be built in China; the economics of IC manufacturing is something I know quite a lot about, and labor costs are a negligible factor. Intel was forced to do this by Chinese economic policy, not by cheap Chinese labor. Ditto putting a previous Intel chip plant in Ireland when Intel started selling in volume in Europe. On the other hand, our own government has been a willing partner in the evisceration of American industrial and high-tech production. The governments of Asian and European countries shake their heads at our short-sightedness and short-term consumption greed.

I credit Friedman with making more people aware of this important topic. That earns him one star!
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 1, 2008 7:45:23 AM PST
B. Rau says:
Thanks for the review. What would you recommend instead ?

Posted on Jan 8, 2013 12:52:28 PM PST
I like the review and find it factual and informative. However there is one point that I would like to touch on. American industry moved to China on-mass after 1994 when the Chinese devalued their currency overnight by 50% and Clinton never made an attempt to stop them. On the other hand Reagan put a stop to Japan trying the same trick. Now on to my point; that devaluation created the biggest exodus of manufacturing in the history of the West. The only item that amazed me is that it took American industry almost two years to figure out the fact.

Posted on Apr 26, 2013 2:29:18 AM PDT
J. Nations says:
You have written an excellent review. My own father, a kind-hearted but myopically Republican one-sider, lavished praise on Friedman's book, despite the fact that his own job was eliminated (he was downsized), and his investments drastically devalued, because of the "globalization" (or to use your better word, evisceration) of the United States textile industry.

Your good writing helps me breathe easier because it reminds me that despite the thousands of people who accept globalization as a good idea, those who think "free" trade is good for America, there are still eloquent voices like yours, patiently explaining the truth. There is still hope. Thanks for your review!

John Nations
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