There are times The World is Flat author Thomas Friedman can go a bit overboard when it comes to the wonders of globalization.
There are times The World is Flat author Thomas Friedman can go a bit overboard when it comes to the wonders of globalization. It would be nice, for example, if he spent a little less time quoting Asian venture capitalists and software entrepreneurs and a little more time with the people in the trenches-the legions of nameless, faceless laborers who have to breathe the toxic fumes and deal with the physical injuries that often result from working in those same factories currently driving the global economy.
Still, Thomas Friedman is at least half right. Globalization is a good thing, as was made evident in a number of recent headlines.
Case in point: Ethiopia just got its first-ever automobile factory, thanks to a company called Holland Car, a creation of the Dutch automotive supplier Trento Engineering (Sittard, Netherlands). The factory is building the Abay, a modified version of the Chinese-made 520. Standard equipment includes airbags and an antilock braking system. Think about that-airbags in Ethiopia. Clearly the country has come a long way since Haile Selassie (of Rastafarian fame) was toppled from his throne and countless thousands died as a result of the unrest of the 1970s. And the Ethiopians have the free market to thank for it.
Or how about this: South Korea has begun building a business park called the Kaesong Industrial Complex, in North Korea. Developers intentionally sited the complex on the main military route between the two Koreas’ respective capitols, Pyongyang and Seoul. Kaesong means "open fortress" in Korean, and this same area served as the the capital of Koryo, the first unified state in Korea, more than 1,000 years ago. North Korea has already cut the number of troops it maintains in the area.
Alas, the world is not seeing progress in all areas. The United States, in particular, has adopted a bunker mentality that threatens to do more damage to our economy-and by extension our society-than a thousand Osama Bin Ladens. Canadian ambassador Michael Wilson recently observed that U.S. customs have begun clogging cross-border trade to the point where it is seriously affecting profitiblity. According to Wilson, it costs less to ship an automobile halfway around the world by ship than it does to truck it over the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit. This is no way for anyone to make money.
Nonetheless, the overall picture is a positive one, if for no other reason than that in a global economy there are so many players. If one person doesn’t take advantage of a particular opportunity, someone else will. As Friedman likes to observe, individuals, companies and societies have to run faster than ever these days just to stay in place.
Now if we can just leverage all that wealth to create decent working conditions for the folks doing the heavy lifting, we might truly be able to say that humanity has entered a kind of modern-day Golden Age.