The World is Flat is about the convergence of domestic markets into a single international conglomerate. The importance of the text in my understanding was that globalization will bring an increased competition where the playing field is level for all parties. The advantages that the U.S. has experienced in recent decades are vanishing. I enjoyed how Thomas Friedman provided a historical basis of those competitive advantage components and how they were originally defined, why those advantages are eroding over time, and what we can do as a society to preserve the remaining advantages. Without a doubt, the book encouraged me to think about the future and what tools I can pass to my daughter to succeed in the flattened world.
The two flatteners that sparked the most intense thought were outsourcing and off-shoring. The U.S. has engineers, scientists, lawyers, innovators, and other individuals with professional degrees that are retiring and not being replaced. They aren’t being replaced because their jobs are being outsourced or off-shored. It’s a scary thought to consider that the U.S. unemployment rate is high while professional jobs aren’t being filled with American citizens. The dynamics behind this phenomenon can be found in our culture and failing education system. The U.S. education system and our culture for that matter are not producing enough professionals to meet the needs of our economy.
The World is Flat carries the theme of educational system quality throughout. As I read the book, I considered the degradation of the American educational system and what consequences that will bring for not only my future but for my daughter’s future as well. In Chapter 7, Friedman discussed the “right stuff” as the educational system requirements needed to survive in the flattened world while also identifying the lack of these requirements in the current system. I couldn’t agree more with Friedman’s belief that education is a form of competition in the global marketplace just as the business competition that we see in price points and profitability. Friedman put it best, “it is a truism, but the more educated you are, the more options you will have in the flat world.” Our society doesn’t require our children to get the best education; therefore, we are falling behind other countries that have higher educational standards. I have personally heard the complaints that we need to improve our education system; however, this book provided new insight into why this was an important social value with long-term economic impacts. I had never considered the relationship between the education system in the U.S. and the converging international market. While we are busy sending professional jobs overseas, we are also not prioritizing the education system as highly important. This is a recipe for disaster that Friedman clearly warns the reader.
There are many educational messages within the book that made me think critically. The first crisis of importance is the steady decline of the American engineering and science professional support in the economy. Freidman cited that the Federal budget dollars used to fund research and science education have been repeatedly cut. I agree that these circumstances call for the redistribution of monies into the National Science Foundation instead of the excessive spending we see in other areas of excess. The economic data within the book illustrates that the science professions are dying over time. The fact about scientists and engineers moving out of the U.S. workforce and not being replaced was disturbing. The number of U.S. students that have received a science degree inside the U.S. continues to fall against other nations. It is very apparent that the U.S. is losing the educational edge that it once had as a source of competitive advantage. While the demand for scientists and engineers grows within our economy, the ability of our populous to replace the vacancies is not being met. Meanwhile, these jobs are being filled with foreign students who came to the U.S. for an education and remained. Freidman points out that the number of students who were born outside the U.S. continues to rise. Those students end up receiving an advanced degree and meeting the employment demands within our economy. This made me consider the nature of unemployment in comparison to the demand for a foreign-born workforce. How can the U.S. unemployment rate be rising and there also be a need to fill professional jobs with people from outside the U.S.? The answer is clearly in America’s coddling of today’s youth, focused on instant gratification and laziness, and an education system that does not support the actual needs of our economy. I totally agree with Freidman that the educational system and our culture have the capacity and responsibility to mold youth. The good news is that as the world flattens there will be ample jobs for those people who are qualified. The book has helped me reflect on the value of education and thinking in terms of the long run.
The inherent strength of the book is that it sparks the interest of the reader. Many people take for granted the current systems and historic events that may actually have long-lasting advantages or consequences. Friedman conveys to the reader the importance of thinking in regards to the long run and not taking advantage of a position of opportunity or advantage. The weakness of the book, if any, is that it was written from an American perspective. Obviously, it was intended for the English language reader. The stance of illustrating the world is going flat portrays ethnocentrism that Americans are in a position of advantage for a reason, yet that advantage is diminishing. Supporters of the emerging markets might argue that a book on international convergence should focus more time on what innovative practices are being adopted or embraced in India or China, for example.
I could relate to Chapter 9 very well. I have a child and definitely see the need to improve parenting as a nation. Friedman discussed have kids today have a sense of entitlement and a need for instant gratification. With these goals as a priority, there is not enough, or any, focus on hard work and education. Friedman shared a personal story that hit home - “I don't care to have that conversation with my girls, so my advice to them: "Girls, when I was growing, 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." In addition to education, I believe children need to be able to endure stress and disappointment instead of being protected from the hard lessons of life. Personally, I have a 7-year old that has been doing some form of chores since the age of 5. This is something I have strong feelings about parenting. When a child is handed everything, they don't know how to work hard towards reaching goals as adults. As a result of the instant gratification of our society, I don't think kids learn to set goals or work hard.
I chose Chapter 15 to read and report directly due to my personal experience with 9/11. When the terrorist attacks happened on 9/11 I was a resident of New York. I had lived there for the majority of my life and the proximity of the attacks to my life and family caused the event to be very scary. It was the biggest event to occur in the 43 years of living in the area. I first questioned what 9/11 event meant when I selected the Chapter. Obviously, I understood the social ramifications of 9/11, so I wondered what Friedman was trying to convey. I soon realized that 11/9 was also an important event in the flattening world. 11/9 represents the falling of the Berlin Wall. While the Berlin Wall’s destruction was fueled by a “creative imagination” and the terrorist attacks are highlighted as a “destructive imagination.” Friedman points out that the Berlin Wall event was a moment that opened up the world and created a freer democratic environment. On the contrary, 9/11 worked in American society to slam the door shut on the outside world. I enjoyed how Friedman was able to gently point out that we reacted out of fear and isolated ourselves from the outside threat. I enjoyed Friedman’s cautious optimism in this chapter. He stated that creative forces can be used for great things or for evil. The creativity of Osama Bin Laden to put together his evil plot to crash multiple airplanes into multiple locations at the same time is the example of destructive creativity that has dire consequences. The concept is that those creative forces are inherent to society and they will be used to improve our society or it will bring everyone down to the same level. In Chapter 15, Freidman is asserting that people have to use their positive creativity for improving society; however, it is society’s responsibility to give its people the education and nurturing to follow through. This idea really made me envision the nature of our society and education system as a cycle. Currently, we are in a downward trend where our society is not giving its children the educational resources to harbor an environment that values creative imagination.
In conclusion, I recommend the book to any reader because it made me consider the flattening world that my daughter is growing up in and how I can adapt my professional practices to encourage creative imagination and organizational growth. The reading encouraged my interest in the long term consequences of some of our social policies. I believe our society is so compelled to think in terms of instant gratification and we forget to consider what our social policies will create in the long term. The advantages that the U.S. has absorbed through history are weakening over time. The advantages that were built upon creative energy and optimism are being replaced by fear-mongering and closing the social doors to the outside world. The need to improve the education system really hit home as I have a young daughter that will have to face the flattening world. We have to work together as a society to improve the education system so it creates an environment that nurtures and values creative imagination.