REVIEW

Book Review: The World is Flat? - A Critical Analysis of Thomas L. Friedman's New York Times Bestseller by Ronald Aronica and Mtetwa Ramdoo

January 28, 2007
spincycle

I started off writing for Blogcritics.org with my own critical analysis of Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat - A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. It has been over a year and a half since I wrote that review and during that interim period, Friedman's book has managed to be on the New York Times Bestseller List for most of the time, and more spectacularly, has managed to sell about 2 million copies.

Those figures don't take away from the fact that Friedman's book is deeply flawed, and riven with factual and argumentative inaccuracies.

Ronald Aronica and Mtetwa Ramdoo have tried to set the record straight with their blistering critique of Thomas Friedman in their new book, The World is Flat? - A Critical Analysis of Thomas L. Friedman's New York Times Bestseller. While Aronica and Ramdoo's book is not full of Friedman-esque anecdotes, or anointed by a catchy title like the ones Mr. Friedman is so adept at coming up with, just to take the two examples, The Lexus and the Olive Tree to The World Is Flat, what this new book does offer is a deeply satisfying, encyclopedic, richly supported, step by step dismantling of each of Friedman's arguments.

The vision of the globalized world that Friedman offers in his book is a rose-tinted, cheery, bullish version, one that has little to do with reality, according to the authors. Friedman's 'golf course account' of globalization revels in accounts of successful businesses and people. Friedman proffers a vision of a globalized world that has an essentially 'flat' meritocratic global playing field, and provides limitless opportunities for profit for people who are intelligent or who choose to invest in schooling. He seasons his 'analysis' with accounts of his unmitigated fascination with gadgetry, and unbridled confidence in technology. Friedman's conjuring of this globalized world is in fact so utopic that even the familiar hindersome 'olive tree' is missing - only rearing up its head in the Middle East to let you in on the fact that its only the backward culture that's holding the Arab civilization back from the wonderful riches of the flat world. There are no losers in Friedman's flat world - only people for whom it may take a little longer to get their piece of the pie, for example the Chinese sweatshop worker who saves up to educate his kids who then go on to get better jobs and better pay. Of course, Friedman is wrong.

What Aronica and Ramdoo do in their slim book is make sure that you how utterly wrong Friedman is.

Aronica and Ramdoo spend time talking about a variety of substantive problems that afflict the current global economic regime including how the massive account deficits of US that underpin the global economic system, and how the middle class is increasingly losing out. They argue that Friedman's book is a testament to how you can be a peripatetic and still be basically a resort town to resort town peripatetic who never really visits the vast global ghetto made of upwards of 3 billion people with limited access to potable water and surviving on $2/day. Ramdoo and Aronica spend time explaining to the readers the vast underclass that dots the globalized world. The simple fact is that the world is not flat because it is patently laughable to compare the opportunities of the millions born into starvation and penury with children from the first or third world elites who get to buy $100 sneakers (made of course by the starving children).

The authors argue that globalization is indeed much more complex than what Friedman posited. As Aronica says, "Globalization is a highly complex interaction of forces. Not only does it exhibit integration, it also exhibits disintegration. It is rooted in cooperation--and it is rooted in violence. For some, it represents the triumph of free-market capitalism over communism, ushering in democracy, world peace and universal prosperity; for others, it represents conflict, unbridled greed, deregulated corporate power, and an utter disregard for humanity."

Throughout the book, Ramdoo and Aronica are concerned about the shrinking white collar jobs, the vanishing health and retirement benefits, and the simultaneous mass exploitation of the poor in the global third world. This attrition, this slide to the bottom, on both sides of the globe, argue the authors, is due to one single mechanism - the transnational corporations whose gargantuan profits have been fuelled by leeching the job security from the white collar workers in the west and extorting labor and resources from the unprivileged.

The message that I could distill from this book is that this kind of rampant predatory capitalism is not sustainable. The global economic regime is trying to cut off its nose to spite its face or in other words, corporations are willing to sacrifice the middle class to temporarily this short term hunt for profit. Profit is not the global good but often times pursuit of it is left unmonitored based on the argument that it somehow is.

There is a popular saying that a capitalist will even sell you the rope that you need to hang him with and that seems to be becoming increasingly true. We must disassociate global good from corporate profit and argue and work stridently towards a sustainable future before it is too late.

Aronica and Ramdoo's sobering account is an important addition to the literature of globalization and a necessary therapy for all those whose minds have been stunted by Friedman's glib book.

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Book Review: The World is Flat? - A Critical Analysis of Thomas L. Friedman's New York Times Bestseller by Ronald Aronica and Mtetwa Ramdoo

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Author: spincycle

 

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#1
Chandra
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January 28, 2007
06:28 AM

Hi

I am not sure that the data is used correctly here

Examples

1. 3 billion people with limited access to potable water- Data Source?

2. 3 billion people surviving on $2/day- Source and where? 2 dollar means differen things in different countries

3. 3 billion people with limited access to potable water and surviving on $2/day- Compare with 15 years back?

4. Ramdoo and Aronica are concerned about the shrinking white collar jobs - data Source and where?

5. vanishing health and retirement benefits- Data source and where?

6. mass exploitation of the poor in the global third world - Data source and where?

7. We must disassociate global good from corporate profit and argue and work stridently towards a sustainable future before it is too late- Sounds like Das Kapital

#2
Anindo
January 29, 2007
09:01 AM

Chandra,

You just attacked some of the remaining left shibboleths. There is no source for the data that you demand. These are axioms in the language of the "gutter inspectors". It seems that the whole world was living prosperously in a utopian, environmentally clean, non-exploitative work environment with health benefits before the onset of globalization made possible by the advent of technology. How delightful!

Regards,

#3
Judy
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February 15, 2007
02:22 PM

I am currently reading The World is Flad and I have certainly had some misgivings about the level of optimism in this book, and the very small amount of space that Friedman gives to the developing world. I fear too the kind of world that Friedman describes.
I do want to ask, though, if you could say more about factual innacuracies in the book. Any specifics?
Thank you.

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