The World Is Flat

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The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
Original 1st edition cover
AuthorThomas Friedman
Cover artistI Told You So, by E.D. Miracle; 1976.
CountryUnited States
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date
April 5, 2005
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback) and audio-CD
330.90511 22
LC ClassHM846 .F74 2005
Preceded byLongitudes and Attitudes 
Followed byHot, Flat, and Crowded 

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century is a book by Thomas L. Friedman that analyzes globalization, primarily in the early 21st century. The title suggests the world has a more level playing field for commerce in which most competitors, except for labor, have an equal opportunity. He suggests that countries, companies and individuals need to remain competitive in a global market. Historical and geographic divisions are, according to the author, less important.[citation needed]

Friedman is a strong advocate of those changes,[which?] calling himself a "free-trader" and a "compassionate flatist", and he criticizes societies that resist the changes. He emphasizes the inevitability of a rapid pace of change and the extent to which the emerging abilities of individuals and developing countries are creating many pressures on businesses and individuals in the United States; he has special advice for Americans and for the developing world. Friedman's work is based on much personal research, travel, conversation, and reflection. In his characteristic style, through personal anecdotes and opinions, he combines in The World Is Flat a conceptual analysis accessible to a broad public. The book was first released in 2005, later released as an "updated and expanded" edition in 2006, and yet again released with additional updates in 2007 as "further updated and expanded: Release 3.0". The title was derived from a statement by Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of Infosys.[1] The World Is Flat won the inaugural Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2005.[2]


In his book The World Is Flat, Friedman recounts a journey to Bangalore, India, when he realized that globalization has changed core economic concepts.[3] In his opinion, this flattening is a product of the convergence of the personal computer with fiber optic microcable and the rise of work flow software. Friedman termed the period Globalization 3.0, thereby differentiating it from the previous, Globalization 1.0, during which countries and governments were the main protagonists, and Globalization 2.0, during which multinational companies led the way in driving global integration.

Friedman recounts examples of companies based in India and China that according to him, by providing labor ranging from that of typists and call center operators to accountants and computer programmers, have become integral parts of complex global supply chains; such companies are Dell, AOL, and Microsoft. Friedman's capitalist peace theory called Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention is discussed in the book's penultimate chapter.

Ten flatteners[edit]

Friedman defines ten "flatteners" which he sees as leveling the global playing field:

  1. Collapse of the Berlin Wall – 11/9/89: Friedman called the flattener "When the walls came down, and the windows came up". The event not only symbolized the end of the Cold War but also allowed people from the other side of the wall to join the economic mainstream. "11/9/89" is a discussion about the Berlin Wall's coming down, the "fall" of communism, and the impact that Windows-powered PCs (personal computers) had on the ability of individuals to create their own content and connect to one another. At that point, the basic platform for the revolution to follow was created: the IBM PC, Windows, a graphical interface for word processing, dial-up modems, a standardized tool for communication, and a global phone network.
  2. Netscape – 8/9/95: Netscape went public at the price of $28. Netscape and the Web broadened the audience for the Internet from its roots as a communications medium used primarily by "early adopters and geeks" to something that made the Internet accessible to everyone from five-year-olds to ninety-five-year-olds. The digitization that took place meant that everyday occurrences such as words, files, films, music, and pictures could be accessed and manipulated on a computer screen by all people across the world.
  3. Workflow software: This is Friedman's catch-all for the standards and technologies that allowed work to flow. It is the ability of machines to talk to other machines with no humans involved. Friedman believes the first three forces have become a "crude foundation of a whole new global platform for collaboration". This is complemented by the emergence of software protocols (SMTP – simple mail transfer protocol, and HTML – the language that enabled anyone to design and publish documents that could be transmitted to and read on any computer anywhere). The emergence of such software is the "Genesis moment of the flat world" and means "that people can work with other people on more stuff than ever before". This created a global platform for multiple forms of collaboration, on which the next six flatteners depend.
  4. Uploading: Uploading involves communities that upload and collaborate on online projects. Examples are open source software, blogs, and Wikipedia. Friedman considers the phenomenon "the most disruptive force of all" and also talks about how this gives individuals the possibility to replace news and the traditional music industry, because of individuals possibility of blogging and podcasting.[4][page needed]
  5. Outsourcing: Friedman argues that outsourcing has enabled companies to split service and manufacturing activities into components that can be subcontracted and performed in the most efficient, most cost-effective way. This process became easier with the mass distribution of fiber-optic cable during the introduction of the World Wide Web.
  6. Offshoring: This is the internal relocation of a company's manufacturing or other processes to a foreign land to take advantage of less costly operations there. China's entrance into the World Trade Organization allowed for greater competition on the playing field. Now such countries as Malaysia, Mexico, and Brazil must compete against China and one another to have businesses offshore to them.
  7. Supply-chaining: Friedman compares the modern retail supply chain to a river and describes Wal-Mart as the best example of a company that uses technology to streamline item sales, distribution, and shipping.
  8. Insourcing: Friedman uses UPS as a prime example for insourcing, whereby the company's employees perform services – beyond shipping – for another company. For example, UPS repairs Toshiba computers on behalf of Toshiba. The work is done at the UPS hub by UPS employees.
  9. Informing: Google and other search engines and Wikipedia are the prime examples. "Never before in the history of the planet have so many people – on their own – had the ability to find so much information about so many things and about so many other people", writes Friedman. He states that the growth of search engines is tremendous; for example, Friedman states, Google is "now processing roughly one billion searches per day, up from 150 million just three years ago".
  10. "The Steroids": The steroids are wireless, Voice over IP (VoIP), and file sharing, and are used on personal digital devices like mobile phones, iPods, and personal digital assistants; on instant messaging; and on VoIP phones. Digital, mobile, personal, and virtual as well as all analog content and processes (from entertainment to photography, to word processing) can be digitized and therefore shaped, manipulated, and transmitted; and these processes can be done at high speed with total ease; mobile can be done anywhere and anytime by anyone, and can be done to anyone.

Proposed remedies[edit]

Friedman believes that to fight the quiet crisis of a flattening world, the US workforce should keep updating its work skills. Making the workforce more adaptable, Friedman argues, will keep it more employable. He also suggests that the government make it easier for people to switch jobs by making retirement benefits and health insurance less dependent on one's employer and by providing insurance that would partly cover a possible drop in income when changing jobs. Friedman also believes there should be more inspiration for youth to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians because of a decrease in the percentage of those professionals who are American.

Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention[edit]

The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention, also known as simply the Dell Theory, is a capitalist peace theory and an updated version of Friedman's previous "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention". According to Friedman:

The Dell Theory stipulates: No two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, like Dell's, will ever fight a war against each other as long as they are both part of the same global supply chain.[5]

That is, as long as corporations have major supply chain operations in countries other than that corporation's home country, those countries will never engage in armed conflicts. This is because of the economic interdependence between nations that arises when a large corporation (such as Dell) has supply chain operations in multiple global locations and when developing nations (in which supply chain operations commonly take place) are reluctant to give up their newfound wealth.

In his previous book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman argued that no two nations with a McDonald's franchise had ever gone to war with one another; this was known as the Golden Arches theory. Later, Friedman upgraded that theory into the "Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention" by saying that people or nations do not just want to have a better standard of living as symbolized by a McDonald's franchise in their downtown but also want to have that lump of the labor sector that is created by globalization. That is, developing nations do not want to risk the trust of the multinational companies that venture into their markets and include them in the global supply chain.

Thomas Friedman also warns that the Dell theory should not be interpreted as a guarantee that nations that are deeply involved in global supply chains will not go to war with each other. It means, rather, that the governments of those nations and their citizens will have very heavy economic costs to consider as they contemplate the possibility of war. Such costs include long-term loss of the country's profitable participation in the global supply chain.

This theory relates with how conflict prevention occurred between India and Pakistan in their 2001–2002 nuclear standoff, wherein India was at risk of losing its global partners. The relationship between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan was also cited as an example of that theory: both countries have strong supply relations with each other.

Critical reception[edit]

The World Is Flat received generally positive popular and critical reception as well as some negative criticism, peppered with doubt.

The Washington Post called the book an "engrossing tour" and an "enthralling read". The review closed with, "We've no real idea how the 21st century's history will unfold, but this terrifically stimulating book will certainly inspire readers to start thinking it all through".[6]

An opposing viewpoint was found in a 2007 Foreign Policy magazine article in which Professor Pankaj Ghemawat argued that 90% of the world's phone calls, Web traffic, and investments are local, suggesting that Friedman has grossly exaggerated the significance of the trends he describes: "Despite talk of a new, wired world where information, ideas, money, and people can move around the planet faster than ever before, just a fraction of what we consider globalization actually exists."[7][8]

Some critics have pointed out that the book is written from an American perspective. Friedman's work history has been mostly with The New York Times, and that may have influenced the way the book was written – some would have preferred a book written in a more "inclusive voice".[9]

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has been critical of Friedman's book:

Friedman is right that there have been dramatic changes in the global economy, in the global landscape; in some directions, the world is much flatter than it has ever been, with those in various parts of the world being more connected than they have ever been, but the world is not flat ... Not only is the world not flat: in many ways, it has been getting less flat.

— Joseph E. Stiglitz (2007): Making Globalization Work. pp. 56–57

Richard Florida expresses similar views in his 2005 Atlantic article "The World Is Spiky".[10]

John Gray, formerly a School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science, wrote another critical review of Friedman's book called "The World Is Round". In it, Gray confirms Friedman's assertion that globalization is making the world more interconnected and, in some parts, richer but disputes the notion that globalization makes the world more peaceful or freer. Gray also declares, "least of all does it make it flat".[11]

Geographers on the whole have been particularly critical of Friedman's writings, views influenced by the large body of work within their field demonstrating the uneven nature of globalization, the strong influence place still has on people's lives, and the dependent relationships that have been established between the have and have-not regions in the current world-system. Geographer Harm de Blij detailed those arguments for the general public in Why Geography Matters: Three Challenges Facing America (2005) and The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization's Rough Landscape (2008).


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel H. Pink (May 2005). "Why the World Is Flat". WIRED. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  2. ^ "Business books of the decade; The World Is Flat". The Financial Times.
  3. ^ Warren Bass (April 3, 2005). "The Great Leveling". Washington Post. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  4. ^ The World is Flat
  5. ^ The World is Flat (ISBN 1-59397-668-2), Thomas L. Friedman, pg 421
  6. ^ "The Great Leveling". The Washington Post. April 3, 2005. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  7. ^ Pankaj Ghemawat (March/April 2007). "Why the World Isn't Flat" (Subscription). Accessed April 3, 2008.
  8. ^ Pankaj Ghemawat (March 2007). Why the world isn't flat. Foreign Policy. Accessed October 5, 2012.
  9. ^ Peter Begley (2006). "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century". Accessed November 6, 2006.
  10. ^ Richard Florida (October 2005). "The world is spiky". Atlantic Monthly. Accessed May 9, 2009.
  11. ^ Gray, John (2005). "The World is Round". The New York Review of Books (Trans. Array, Web ed.). pp. 1–9.
  12. ^ Justin Fox (October 17, 2005). "A Painter Is Flat-Out Flimflammed". Fortune Magazine. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  13. ^ Patten, Justin. "The World Is Flat - Ed Miracle and defendants settle case". Retrieved July 21, 2023.

External links[edit]