April 03, 2005

Friedman's Flattened World

"This is not a test", says the New York Times' Tom Friedman of the challenges to America posed by the "flattening" of the world through new web technologies, globalization, "informing", open sourcing, and the access to these and other globe-flatteners by millions of educated young people in places other than the United States.

Our problems of relatively small numbers of science and technology graduates, along with our declining educational standards across the board are colliding with increasing competition from millions of Indians, Chinese and South Koreans who no longer even have to come to America in order to take away our jobs. Even though it breaks little new ground, it's a worthwhile article that's based on a new book by Friedman scheduled for release this week. A couple of excerpts (ellipses mine - DW):

Do you recall ''the IT revolution'' that the business press has been pushing for the last 20 years? Sorry to tell you this, but that was just the prologue. The last 20 years were about forging, sharpening and distributing all the new tools to collaborate and connect. Now the real information revolution is about to begin as all the complementarities among these collaborative tools start to converge...

...If this moment has any parallel in recent American history, it is the height of the cold war, around 1957, when the Soviet Union leapt ahead of America in the space race by putting up the Sputnik satellite. The main challenge then came from those who wanted to put up walls; the main challenge to America today comes from the fact that all the walls are being taken down and many other people can now compete and collaborate with us much more directly. The main challenge in that world was from those practicing extreme Communism, namely Russia, China and North Korea. The main challenge to America today is from those practicing extreme capitalism, namely China, India and South Korea. The main objective in that era was building a strong state, and the main objective in this era is building strong individuals...

...This quiet crisis is a product of three gaps now plaguing American society. The first is an ''ambition gap.'' Compared with the young, energetic Indians and Chinese, too many Americans have gotten too lazy. As David Rothkopf, a former official in the Clinton Commerce Department, puts it, ''The real entitlement we need to get rid of is our sense of entitlement.'' Second, we have a serious numbers gap building. We are not producing enough engineers and scientists. We used to make up for that by importing them from India and China, but in a flat world, where people can now stay home and compete with us, and in a post-9/11 world, where we are insanely keeping out many of the first-round intellectual draft choices in the world for exaggerated security reasons, we can no longer cover the gap. That's a key reason companies are looking abroad. The numbers are not here. And finally we are developing an education gap. Here is the dirty little secret that no C.E.O. wants to tell you: they are not just outsourcing to save on salary. They are doing it because they can often get better-skilled and more productive people than their American workers.

Posted by dan at April 3, 2005 05:50 PM
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