Another Point of View: The World Is Not Flata
Some believe that although the world is certainly a more competitive place, it is not “flat.” It is more competitive because access to knowledge is easier than ever before, but the rise of scientific competence and the apparent flight of high-technology jobs abroad is no more likely to dislodge the United States from its science and technology leadership than were previous challenges from the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s or from Japan in the 1980s.
For example, Americans are alarmed to read of the large numbers of well-educated, English-speaking young people in India vying with US workers for jobs via the Internet. In fact, only about 6% of Indian students make it to college; of those who do, only two-thirds graduate. Just a small fraction of India’s citizenry can read English; of these, a smaller fraction can speak it well enough to be understood by Americans. In China, where the numbers of engineers and other technically trained people are rising, government skepticism about the Internet and aspects of free markets is likely to hinder the advance of national power.
China and India indeed have low wage structures, but the United States has many other advantages. These include a better science and technology infrastructure, stronger venture-capital markets, an ability to attract talent from around the world, and a culture of inventiveness. Comparative advantage shifts from place to place over time and always has; the earth cannot really be flattened. The US response to competition must include proper retraining of those who are disadvantaged and adaptive institutional and policy responses that make the best use of opportunities that arise.
India and China will become consumers of those countries’ products as well as ours. That same rising middle class will have a stake in the “frictionless” flow of international commerce—and hence in stability, peace, and the rule of law. Such a desirable state, writes Friedman, will not be achieved without problems, and whether global flatness is good for a particular country depends on whether that country is prepared to compete on the global playing field, which is as rough and tumble as it is level.
Friedman asks rhetorically whether his own country is proving its readiness by “investing in our future and preparing our children the way we need to for the race ahead.” Friedman’s answer, not surprisingly, is no.