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April 24, 2005 - Archimedes said, "Give me a lever long enough..."













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Archimedes said "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world."  Here's one.

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It seems that lately when I glance at television in the evenings I keep seeing the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.  What’s up with that?

Over at the Discovery Channel they’ve been running "Does Europe Hate the U.S.?" (first shown on Thursday, April 7, 8-9 pm Eastern and Pacific). A synopsis? - With the European Union seeming to be changing the global balance of power for the 21st Century, the confrontation between the U.S. and Europe has big implications for the future. In this documentary, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explores Europe's feeling about America.

Guess what?  They’re not happy with us.  Well, it is a bit more complicated than that.  The interviews with the students in Germany and France are cool, and those with the government big-wigs just depressing.

And then Friedman just popped up on the PBS Charlie Rose Show, plugging his latest book that was released this month, "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century."

Interesting.  But should we listen to this guy?

From his Times bio you can find out that Friedman won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, and that was his third Pulitzer for the Times. He became the paper's foreign-affairs columnist in 1995. Before that he was their chief economic correspondent in the Washington bureau - and before that he was the chief White House correspondent. And this year he was elected as a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board. He’s got a BA in Mediterranean studies from Brandeis and a masters degree in Modern Middle East Studies from Oxford. Not bad. And his book, "From Beirut to Jerusalem" (1989), won the National Book Award for non-fiction that year - and "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" (2000) won the Overseas Press Club award for best nonfiction book on foreign policy, and has been published in twenty-seven languages.

He might know something.

This new book he was chatting up on the Charlie Rose Show? It’s about this:

 

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."

… 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. …

 

Oh. Yawn.

But wait! In the last two issues of Just Above Sunset you can find a lively discussion by many readers of the various ways the Democrats can mount a challenge to the powers that be – the imperialist Christian evangelicals, as it were. There was April 10, 2005 – Liberal Wimps: The Allure of Calm Reasoning With the Powerful Right followed a week later by Inventing a Loyal Opposition.

 

Eight or nine different folks had a lot to say about what can be done.  The problem was finding that lever to move the world.

And now this week Robert Wright is suggesting that Thomas Friedman has provided that lever to move the world.  And that is here -

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

Here’s the opening (my emphases throughout) –

 

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.

 

Wright then argues that if “the left is to develop a rival narrative,” it will have “to honestly address the realities of both globalization and terrorism.”  And he says Friedman's book “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.”

Really?

Wright contends that “these days” hardly anyone accepts the label "anti-globalization." And that leads to an odd place –

 

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. …

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.)

 

That’s pretty cool, even if Wright admits “Friedman doesn't emphasize this sort of leftish global governance.”

But you think the war was a bad idea?

 

You might like globalization!

 

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.

 

Wow!  Off-shore systems shops and those Nike sweatshops can stop wars?  Perhaps so.

And Wright points out that the new hyper-globalization “rewards inter-ethnic tolerance and punishes tribalism.”  He cites Friedman - “If you want to have a modern complex division of labor, you have to be able to put more trust in strangers.”  And that would mean “nations famous for fundamentalist intolerance” like Saudi Arabia don’t get to play in the new, big sandbox.

And how far can one go with this?

 

Peace and universal brotherhood - it almost makes globalization sound like a leftist's dream come true. …

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 …?

 

Well, that’s a thought.  I have often argued with my conservative friend about our fruitless embargo on trade with Cuba and the matching severe travels restrictions.  What is the point?  If we want them to ease out of the Albanian communist mode, why not open up all sort of trade with them?  A Starbucks on every corner, a KFC every ten blocks – we buy cigars and do the tourist thing – and money flows back and forth….  So much for their people’s revolution.

Wright puts it this way –

 

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.

 

Yeah, but we do things militarily.  How odd.  And Friedman supported the war.

Anyway, the lever for changing things may be this book, if my friends buy into it premises –

 

… 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 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. … 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?

 

Look to globalization.



Footnote:

Panglossian?  Think baseless optimism.

Pangloss is a character in Voltaire's Candide, ou l'Optimisme (1759).  Pangloss is a follower of - and some argue a caricature or outright satire of - the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who theorized that the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds.  (See this for background.)  As one wag said, perhaps we should fear we do.































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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