Friedman believes that we are leaving a world where vertical control and command are used to create value, and into a world where we connect with and cooperate with others to create value. Human society is currently at the forefront of this tremendous change, everything is changing from vertical to horizontal. The question is, has the world really flattened out? Or is it just the wishful thinking of neoliberal globalists?
The International Affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman of the “New York Times” launched his another book on globalization trends, “The World Is Flat” in 2005. Declare in an unquestionable tone that “the world is flat”.
The world is flat, which means that in today’s interconnected world that is close and convenient due to information technology, the global market, labor, and products can be shared by the entire world, and everything can be achieved in the most efficient and cost-effective way. . Friedman’s so-called “flat” here actually means a state of being closely connected: the reduction of trade and political barriers, and the rapid development of the digital revolution, all of which allow us to do business with hundreds of millions of people on the planet at the same time. , Even doing any other things at the same time.
The era of personal globalization: from vertical to horizontal
In Friedman’s last best-selling book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization”, we already know that he is a preacher of the gospel of globalization. In this new book, Friedman updated his understanding of globalization, dividing globalization into three phases, and using Internet terminology as version 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 respectively.
The globalization of version 1.0 is mainly the globalization of the country. Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus explored the world on behalf of their national interests, thereby enabling their countries to participate in globalization. At this time, the 1.0 version of globalization began, until the first time The outbreak of the world war ended. The decisive factor for this period of time is the strength of the country, including force, horsepower, wind and later steam power, which reduced the world from “large” to “medium.” After that, the 2.0 version of globalization began, that is, the globalization of companies. This stage lasted from the Second World War until 2000. It truly witnessed the birth of a globalized economy, and multinational companies started to carry out for the market and labor. The global bargaining arbitrage has caused the world to continue to shrink from “medium” to “small” (“Lexus and Olive Tree” wrote about the situation at this stage). The latest stage of globalization began in 2000. The 3.0 version of globalization reduced the world from a “small” to a “very small” and flattened the global economic arena.
But what is truly unique about this era is that it is not the globalization of countries, nor the globalization of companies, but the continuous globalization of individuals. Individuals must increasingly think from a global perspective and place themselves in the wave of globalization. If the driving forces of the first two stages of globalization are steamships, railways, telephones, telegraphs, and computers, then the driving forces of the latest stage of globalization are software and networks, which closely link the world together. There is a confidant in the sea, and the end of the world is next to each other.” If the first two stages of globalization were mainly initiated by Europe and the United States, then the latest stage of globalization has opened its doors to people of all skin colors around the world.
Friedman said that in the era of personal globalization, each of us must “levelize” ourselves. We must change our work and study habits, and we must creatively modify these habits to adapt to the new platform. This is because we are leaving a world where vertical control and command are used to create value, and into a world where we connect with and cooperate with others to create value. Human society is currently at the forefront of this tremendous change, and everything is changing from vertical to horizontal.
Paul A. David, an economist at Stanford University, wrote an article on electricity that provided a footnote to Friedman’s statement. He asked a question: Why didn’t human productivity suddenly increase when electricity first appeared? The result of his research is that in order to obtain the increased productivity of electric motors instead of steam engines, people must first redesign the buildings, changing the tall, multi-storey buildings that can accommodate steam engines and various pulleys into small and low buildings. The factory can be operated with electric motors. After that, managers have to change their management methods, and workers have to modify their production methods. They have innumerable habits and structures waiting to be changed. Once these changes converge at a certain turning point, with a bang, human beings will truly get a substantial increase in productivity caused by electricity. Friedman believes that today we are in the same process as the changes in electricity show. On a level platform, we are learning to change our habits and level ourselves.
Friedman said that globalization is unstoppable. American workers, financial personnel, engineers, and programmers must now compete with those equally good or equally poor laborers far away in China and India. Among them, the more competitive will be. Will win.
It can be seen that Friedman regards globalization as the power of “those who follow me prosper, and those who oppose me perish.” His beliefs are so paranoid that some people ridiculed him for suffering from TIS syndrome (the TIS syndrome). inevitability syndrome, generally translated as “inevitability syndrome”). Thomas Frank sharply criticized that Friedman’s strategy was to “forcibly infuse globalization as the ultimate goal of human civilization into people’s brains, and preach that globalization can make us rich, give us freedom, and enhance all. All people and things in a place”. Entrepreneurs, financial analysts, and mainstream policy makers will undoubtedly appreciate his argument that neoliberal globalization is inevitable. However, the voices against globalization from all walks of life seem to have little repercussions in Friedman.
The high degree of plasticity of time and space means that some parts will shrink while others will expand relatively. Nowhere can benefit from technological innovation. In this sense, the world is definitely not flat.
Distance has not died, geographical boundaries are still everywhere
The essence of the question is whether the world is really “flat” as Friedman said. John Grey and Joseph E. Stiglitz’s criticism of the global free market a few years ago is still valid for Friedman today—although globalization is inevitable, it does not It is not equivalent to the global free market. Friedman failed to review the regrettable consequences of economic liberalism—its negative effects on education, health, and the environment; the decline in labor’s income share; the shocking development of economic inequality; The growth of corporate power, and so on.
“The World Is Flat” is fascinating, and the author’s arguments seem to be convincing, but Paul Krugman’s comments are sharp: what is convincing is not necessarily true. Friedman’s claim undoubtedly contains the truth. For example, innovations in transportation and communication technologies have indeed compressed time and space, but even though the world has shrunk relatively speaking, this shrinkage has been and will continue to be highly unbalanced. The high degree of plasticity of time and space means that some parts will shrink while others will expand relatively. Nowhere can benefit from technological innovation. In this sense, the world is definitely not flat.
Unlike observations such as the “Death of Distance” and the “Borderless World”, geographic boundaries are still everywhere today, even extending to cyberspace. If borders should become meaningless in a certain field, it should be the Internet. However, the growth rate of network traffic within countries and regions is much faster than the traffic between them. Just like in the real world, Internet links decay with distance. People all over the world may be more and more closely connected, but there is no connection between each other.
Not only that, but the vast majority of business, investment, and other interactions still occur within countries rather than between countries. Although we hear everywhere a new connected world emerges, with information, ideas, money, and people moving across the planet faster than ever before, globalization actually only exists in a small part of the world. What’s more deadly is that even such a small degree of globalization is likely to disappear.
In a nutshell: the future of globalization is more fragile than you know. It is better to admit this reality: globalization is already behind us. We should say goodbye to it and set our sights on the emerging multipolar world. This emerging world will be dominated by at least three major regions: the United States, the European Union, and Asia centered on China. They will take very different approaches in economic policy, freedom, security, technology, and society. It will be difficult for medium-sized countries to find their place in the world, and new small-scale regional alliances will likely emerge. And the international institutions of the 20th century—the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, etc.—will become increasingly insignificant.
The future of the world: multi-polarization
There are several forces that kill globalization: First, the side effects of globalization are becoming increasingly apparent: wealth inequality, the dominance of multinational corporations, and the decentralization of global supply chains have all become hot political issues, making it politically opposed to globalization. Become a fashion. Observing factors such as the rise of populism in many countries, changes in regulation, trade, and manufacturing, and increasingly stringent restrictions on the movement of people around the world, it seems that the new trend is deglobalization—or retreat to regionalism or ethnicity. Ism.
Second, unlike Friedman’s belief that technology flattens the world, technology companies seem to be pushing the trend of deglobalization, or they have become tools for governments to implement such changes. For example, when many companies suddenly realize the risk of relying on a complex global supply chain due to the new crown pneumonia epidemic, they face three choices: the first is to move from China to other Asian economies such as Vietnam or Indonesia to achieve diversified operations; The second is to shorten the supply chain. For example, American companies move production to Mexico, and European companies move to Eastern Europe or Turkey; the third is advanced economies investing in robots and 3D printing to produce locally closer to consumers. . This last option is where technology will show its talents.
In addition, the new crown pneumonia epidemic has become a gift from nativists and protectionists, and it is likely to have a long-term impact on the free movement of people and goods. It may reduce the high mobility of global business travelers; prompt many companies to reshape their supply chains and invest in more flexible and often more localized production models; and, undoubtedly, it will favor more trade Protection and immigration control nationalists provide political feed. The speed and scope of the spread of the new coronavirus on a global scale makes people feel that they can easily be threatened by seemingly distant foreign countries, thus providing greater legitimacy for those who believe that closing borders is a solution to various scourges. Sex. As a result, the new crown virus crisis may mean that we will usher in a less globalized world. Even if the pandemic and panic disorder subsides, those who think it is usually good to be open to people and products around the world will need to defend globalization in new and convincing ways.
In a multi-polar world, friction, misunderstandings, and conflicts between increasingly different ways of doing things are highly likely. In essence, multi-polarization means that different dominant regions will not speak a common language. Even if multi-polarization is based on the increasing dispersion and regionalization of economic power, it will be expressed in other ways, especially military power and politics. And internet freedom, technological maturity, growth in the financial sector, and a higher awareness of cultural superiority and confidence. The flow of people, ideas, and capital may be less global, but more regional. The world has witnessed the peak of Western-style freedom and democracy, and a more multi-polar world may constitute a watershed, marking a full-scale competition among the various poles for institutional strength, governance strategies, and control rights.