If globalization serves as a kind of secular religion for international elites, then Thomas L. Friedman is its high priest. Like a modern-day St. Paul, he travels constantly and tirelessly spreads the gospel about the glories of free trade. In his previous book, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," the New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner hailed globalization as a liberating force. In his important, provocative and infuriating work, "The World Is Flat," he has embarked upon a new mission.
Friedman presents a dire choice between redemption and perdition. Drawing on extensive interviews he has conducted mainly with corporate bigwigs, he argues that the conventional wisdom of the left -- that rapacious American imperialism is exploiting and impoverishing the Third World -- is nonsense. Instead, he contends that the United States must meet the mounting economic challenge from the Third World or fall by the wayside -- that globalization is no longer an exclusively U.S. game but has, in effect, gone global. For all his apocalyptic language, however, he never demonstrates that globalization will be the most significant force shaping the 21st century.
According to Friedman, the leveling of the economic playing field began with collapse -- the fall of the Berlin Wall, which "was blocking our sight; our ability to think about the world as a single market, a single ecosystem, and a single community." Since 1989, the European Union has expanded from 15 to 25 countries and China has joined the World Trade Organization. Friedman recounts that he first realized the extent of these changes recently at the KGA Golf Club in southern India when his playing partner pointed at two shiny glass-and-steel buildings and declared, "Aim at either Microsoft or IBM." Friedman went on to meet numerous Indians whom he almost confused with Americans because they had taken on American-sounding names, were imitating American accents at Indian call centers or adopting U.S. business techniques at software labs. Similarly, Friedman depicts a booming China, whose increasingly educated workforce threatens U.S. economic power. Indeed, China has been running an annual trade surplus of $150 billion, while buying up U.S. Treasury bills with its excess cash.