[Paleopsych] Slate: Robert Wright: (Tom Friedman: The Incredible Shrinking Planet

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Thu May 5 16:26:48 UTC 2005

Robert Wright: (Tom Friedman: The Incredible Shrinking Planet: What liberals 
can learn from Thomas Friedman's new book
Posted Monday, April 18, 2005, at 12:30 PM PT

    [23]Tom Friedman Is Right Again, Dammit!

    Tom Friedman
    What do you call it when multinational corporations scan the world for
    cheap labor, find poor people in developing nations, and pay them a
    fraction of America's minimum wage? A common answer on the left is
    "exploitation." For Thomas Friedman the answer is "collaboration"--or
    "empowering individuals in the developing world as never before."
    Friedman has written another destined-to-be-a-best-seller,
    destined-to-annoy-many-leftists-even-though-he's-a-liberal book, The
    World Is Flat.

    Readers of Friedman's 1998 The Lexus and the Olive Tree may ask: Why
    another best-selling, left-annoying Friedman book on globalization?
    Friedman argues that in the last few years, while we were distracted
    by Osama Bin Laden's transformation of the political landscape, a
    whole new phase of globalization was taking shape. Fueled by
    Internet-friendly software and cheap fiber optics, it features the
    fine-grained and far-flung division of data-related labor, often with
    little need for hierarchical, centralized control; and it subjects
    yesterday's powerhouses to competition from upstarts. "Globalization
    3.0 is shrinking the world from a size small to a size tiny and
    flattening the playing field at the same time," bringing a "newfound
    power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally."

    This theme will get the book read in business class, but the reason
    leftists back in coach should read it has more to do with Osama Bin
    Laden's transformation of the political landscape. Islamist terrorism
    has been a godsend to the American right, especially in foreign
    policy. President Bush has sold a Manichaean master narrative that
    fuses neoconservativism with paleoconservative hawkism, the unifying
    upshot being the importance of invading countries and of disregarding,
    if not subverting, multilateral institutions.

    If the left is to develop a rival narrative, it will have to honestly
    address the realities of both globalization and terrorism. Friedman's
    book portrays both acutely--but that's not the only reason it's
    essential reading for the people it will most aggravate. It also
    contains the ingredients of a powerful liberal narrative, one that
    harnesses the logic of globalization to counter Bush's rhetoric in
    foreign and, for that matter, domestic policy.

    Part of this narrative Friedman develops, and part of it he leaves
    undeveloped and might even reject as too far left. But so what? In a
    flat world, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnists don't
    hand down stone tablets from mountaintops. They just start
    conversations that ripple through webzines and into the decentralized,
    newly influential blogosphere. It's kind of like open-source software,
    one of Friedman's examples of how easily divisions of digital labor
    can arise: Friedman writes some Friedman code, and left-of-Friedman
    liberals write some left-of-Friedman code, and eventually an
    open-source liberal narrative may coalesce. Feel empowered? Let's get

    These days hardly anyone accepts the label "anti-globalization." Most
    leftists now grant that you can't stop the globalization juggernaut;
    the best you can do is guide it. Friedman's less grim view suggests
    that, if you look at things from the standpoint of humanity as a
    whole--a standpoint many leftists purport to hold--globalization may
    actually be a good thing.

    He shows us some of globalization's beneficiaries--such as Indians who
    take "accent neutralization" classes and who, so far as I can tell,
    are as decent and worthy as the American airline reservation clerks
    and tech-support workers whose jobs they're taking (and who seem to
    prefer "exploitation" to nonexploitation). What's more, even as some
    Americans are losing, other Americans are winning, via cheaper airline
    tickets, more tech support, whatever. So, with net gains outweighing
    net losses, it's a non-zero-sum game, with a positive-sum outcome--a
    good thing on balance, at least from a global moral standpoint. (I've
    [27]argued that this is the basic story of history: Technological
    evolution allows the playing of more complex, more far-flung
    non-zero-sum games, and political structures adapt to this impetus.)

    Even globalization's downsides--such as displaced American
    workers--can have an upside for liberals in political terms. A
    churning workforce strengthens the case for the kind of safety net
    that Democrats champion and Republicans resist. (Globalization-induced
    jitters may help explain why President Bush's plan to make Social
    Security less secure hasn't captured the nation's imagination.)
    Friedman outlines an agenda of "compassionate flatism" that includes
    portable, subsidized health care, wage insurance, and subsidies for
    college and vocational school. You can argue about the details, and
    you can push them to the left. (He notes that corporations like to put
    offices and factories in countries with universal health care.) But
    this is clearly a Democratic agenda, and, as more and more
    white-collar jobs move abroad, its appeal to traditionally Republican
    voters should grow.

    Globalization's domestic disruptions can also be softened by global
    institutions. As the sociologist Douglas Massey argues in his
    just-published liberal manifesto Return of the L Word, the World Trade
    Organization, though reviled on the far left as a capitalist tool,
    could, with American leadership, use its clout to enforce labor
    standards abroad that are already embraced by the U.N.'s toothless
    International Labor Organization. For example: the right of workers
    everywhere to bargain collectively. (Workers of the world unite.)

    Friedman doesn't emphasize this sort of leftish global governance.
    Apparently he thinks Globalization 3.0 will enervate international
    institutions as much as national ones. The WTO will "become less
    important" because globalization will "be increasingly driven by the
    individuals who understand the flat world."

    Time will tell. My own view is that a flat world can help American
    liberals network with like-minded people in other countries to shape
    nascent international bodies. (Massey shows that the WTO, in response
    to left-wing feedback, has grown more receptive to environmentalist
    constraints on trade.) But the main leftward amendment to Friedman's
    source code I'd make is in a different realm of foreign policy. As
    Microsoft said of Sun's Java, I'd like to "embrace and extend" his
    belief that globalization is conducive to peace and freedom.

    Friedman persuasively updates his Lexus-and-the-Olive-Tree argument
    that economic interdependence makes war costlier for nations and hence
    less likely. He's heard the counterargument--"That's what they said
    before World War I!"--and he concedes that a big war could happen. But
    he shows that the pre-World War I era didn't have this kind of
    interdependence--the fine-grained and far-flung division of labor
    orchestrated by Toyota, Wal-Mart, et al. This is "supply
    chaining"--"collaborating horizontally--among suppliers, retailers,
    and customers--to create value."

    For example: The hardware in a Dell Inspiron 600m laptop comes from
    factories in the Philippines, Costa Rica, Malaysia, China, South
    Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia,
    India, and Israel; the software is designed in America and elsewhere.
    The corporations that own or operate these factories are based in the
    United States, China, Taiwan, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Ireland,
    Thailand, Israel, and Great Britain. And Michael Dell personally knows
    their CEOs--a kind of relationship that, multiplied across the global
    web of supply chains, couldn't hurt when tensions rise between, say,
    China and the United States.

    Friedman argues plausibly that global capitalism dampened the
    India-Pakistan crisis of 2002, when a nuclear exchange was so
    thinkable that the United States urged Americans to leave India. Among
    the corporate feedback the Indian government got in midcrisis was a
    message from United Technologies saying that it had started looking
    for more stable countries in which to house mission-critical
    operations. The government toned down its rhetoric.

    Also plausibly, Friedman argues that Globalization 3.0 rewards
    inter-ethnic tolerance and punishes tribalism. "If you want to have a
    modern complex division of labor, you have to be able to put more
    trust in strangers." Certainly nations famous for fundamentalist
    intolerance--e.g., Saudi Arabia--tend not to be organically integrated
    into the global economy.

    Peace and universal brotherhood--it almost makes globalization sound
    like a leftist's dream come true. But enough embracing--it's time to
    extend! Time to use the logic of globalization to attack Bush's
    foreign policy.

    Like Friedman, I accept Bush's premise that spreading political
    freedom is both morally good and good for America's long-term national
    security. But is Bush's instinctive means to that end--invading
    countries that aren't yet free--really the best approach? Friedman's
    book fortified my belief that the answer is no.

    Friedman, unlike many liberals, has long appreciated that, more than
    ever, economic liberty encourages political liberty. As statist
    economies have liberalized, this linkage has worked faster in some
    cases (South Korea, Taiwan) than in others (China), but it works at
    some speed just about everywhere.

    And consider the counterexamples, the increasingly few nations that
    have escaped fine-grained penetration by market forces. They not only
    tend to be authoritarian; they often flout international norms, partly
    because their lack of economic engagement makes their relationship to
    the world relatively zero-sum, leaving them little incentive to play
    nicely. Friedman writes, "Since Iraq, Syria, south Lebanon, North
    Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran are not part of any major
    global supply chains, all of them remain hot spots that could explode
    at any time."

    That list includes the last country Bush invaded and the two countries
    atop his prospective invasions list. It makes you wonder: With all due
    respect for carnage, mightn't it be easier to draw these nations into
    the globalized world and let capitalism work its magic (while
    supplementing that magic by using nonmilitary policy levers to
    encourage democratic reform)?

    This is one paradox of "neoconservative" foreign policy: It lacks the
    conservative's faith in the politically redeeming power of markets.
    Indeed, Bush, far from trying to lure authoritarians into the
    insidiously antiauthoritarian logic of capitalism, has tried to
    exclude them from it. Economically, he's all stick and no carrot. (Of
    Iran he said, "We've sanctioned ourselves out of influence," oblivious
    to the fact that removing sanctions can be an incentive.)

    Of course, if you took this approach--used trade, aid, and other forms
    of what Joseph Nye calls "soft power" to globalize authoritarian
    nations and push them toward freedom--hyper-tyrannies like Saddam
    Hussein's Iraq would be the last dominoes to fall. More promising
    dominoes would include Egypt, even Saudi Arabia. But according to
    neocon reverse-domino theory, it only takes one domino.

    And it's true that in a "flattened" world, dominoes can fall fast once
    they get started. Internet and satellite TV let people anywhere see
    what people everywhere are doing without relying on their government's
    version of events. ("Peer-to-peer," you might call it.) Much of the
    inspiration for Lebanon's "cedar revolution" came from watching
    Georgia's Rose Revolution and then Ukraine's Orange Revolution (on Al
    Jazeera). And Palestinian aspirations to democracy were nourished by
    Israel's televised parliament--one reason the ground for democracy was
    fertile when Yasser Arafat died.

    So, was the Iraq invasion really an essential domino-feller, given the
    increasing contagion of liberty and the various nonmilitary levers
    with which we can encourage it? It would be one thing if Bush had
    tried those levers and failed--systematically deployed trade and aid
    and other tools against authoritarianism. But for him soft power was a
    convenient afterthought. He didn't renounce America's longstanding
    attraction to authoritarian stability and start nudging Egypt et al.,
    toward democracy (as many liberals had long favored) until he needed a
    cosmic vision of global democracy to justify an unexpectedly messy

    Friedman, of course, supported the war. And that's one reason some
    leftists will resist using this book as food for thought. But he
    supported the war reluctantly, and he supported it for the best
    reason, the reason Bush settled on retrospectively after most of his
    other reasons had collapsed: to create a market democracy in the Arab
    world. Friedman has long seen, and highlights in this book, that the
    same microelectronic forces that empower Indian software writers and
    lubricate global supply chains also empower terrorists and strengthen
    their networks; and therefore that, 10 or 20 years down the road, we
    can't afford to have whole nations full of potential terrorists--young
    people with no legitimate outlet for their economic and political
    energies. Many liberals who opposed the Iraq war don't appreciate this
    fact. In the long run that's probably a deeper misjudgment than the
    one liberal Iraq hawks are accused of having made. (And I say that as
    one of their accusers.)

    Anyway, liberals who supported the Iraq war look less crazy today than
    they did three months ago. The key question now is which ones
    appreciate how technology is rendering such adventures less necessary
    (and more counterproductive--but don't get me started on that sermon).
    Friedman, during his recent Charlie Rose whistle-stop, noted the
    importance of Ukraine's example for Lebanon, a welcome corrective to
    the common Iraq-hawk line that good things in the Middle East flow
    exclusively from Iraq's elections. For this and other reasons I'm
    tentatively counting him in, hoping he'll sign onto this new source
    code: In a flat world, soft power is more powerful than ever.

    In any event, selling this lefty, peacenik message to Friedman isn't
    as improbable as selling it to some lefty peaceniks, because buying
    the message means coming fully to terms with globalization--not just
    granting its inevitability but appreciating its [28]potential. The
    Naderite left reviled The Lexus and the Olive Tree for what they took
    to be its Panglossian depiction of globalization as a force of nature.
    (In fact, the book spends lots of time on globalization's dark side,
    as does The World Is Flat). But, seven years later, Friedman's early
    depiction of globalization's power--good and bad--looks prescient. And
    with this book he's shown how and why globalization has now shifted
    into warp drive. Meanwhile, the main achievement of Naderite
    nationalists has been to put George Bush in the White House. If forced
    to choose between the two--and, in a sense, liberals are--where would
    you look for inspiration?

    Related in Slate

    In 2002, David Plotz [29]assessed Friedman, the columnist and
    presumptive diplomat-by-newsprint. Jacob Weisberg [30]reviewed
    Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree when it arrived in 1999. In
    2001, Robert Wright gave Slate readers [31]dispatches from Davos. In
    January of this year, Samuel Loewenberg delivered [32]dispatches from
    "the Anti-Davos."

    Robert Wright, a visiting fellow at Princeton University's Center for
    Human Values and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, runs
    the Web site [33]meaningoflife.tv and is the author of [34]The Moral
    Animal and [35]Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.
    Robert Wright


   23. http://slate.msn.com/id/2116914/
   25. http://slate.msn.com/id/2116899/#ContinueArticle
   27. http://www.nonzero.org/index.htm
   28. http://slate.msn.com/id/2116899/sidebar/2116900/
   29. http://slate.msn.com/id/2062905/
   30. http://slate.msn.com/id/25365/
   31. http://slate.msn.com/id/97787/entry/97788/
   32. http://slate.msn.com/id/2112679/entry/2112681/
   33. http://www.meaningoflife.tv/
   34. http://bn.bfast.com/booklink/click?sourceid=412995&ISBN=0679763996
   35. http://www.nonzero.org/

More information about the paleopsych mailing list