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Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Growth Theory and Friedman's "Flat Earth"

Here's an interview with Thomas Friedman in Yale Global Online (18 April 2005). Some quotes, with the issues I see in them italicised:

Lean thinking:

Wal-Mart doesn't make anything. But what they do is draw products from all over the world and get them into stores at incredibly low prices. How do they do that? Through a global supply chain that has been designed down to the last atom of efficiency. So as you take an item off the shelf in New Haven, Connecticut, another of that item will immediately be made of that item in Xianjin, China. So there's perfect knowledge and transparency throughout that supply chain.

International trade vs local social costs:

The consumer in me loves Wal-Mart... And not just me... Some lower-income people are stretching their dollars further because of Wal-Mart...The shareholder in me... loves Wal-Mart... The citizen in me... hates Wal-Mart, because they only cover some 40 percent of their employees with health care... [For the rest,] we tax-payers pay their health care. And the neighbor in me... is very disturbed about Wal-Mart. Disturbed about stories about how they've discriminated against women, disturbed about stories that they've locked employees into their stores overnight, disturbed about how they pay some of their employees. So... I've got multiple identity disorder, because the shareholder and the consumer in me feels one thing, and the citizen and the neighbor in me feel something quite different.

New Growth Theory issues:

What is the mix of assets you need to thrive in a flat world? Money, jobs, and opportunity in the flat world will go to the countries with the best infrastructure, the best education system that produces the most educated work force, the most investor-friendly laws, and the best environment. You put those four things together: quality of environment that attracts knowledgeable people, investment laws that encourage entrepreneurship, education, and infrastructure. So that's really where, in a flat world, the money is going to go.

And I don't really believe much in foreign aid because I think, at the end of the day, that's not how countries grow and get rich. But to the extent that you are going to give foreign aid, it should be to inspire, encourage, and help develop one of those four pillars for whatever developing country you're dealing with. But I do believe in trade, not aid. I think that axiom still applies, even more so in a flat world.


The flat world is a friend of Infosys and of Al-Qaeda. It's a friend of IBM and of Islamic jihad. Because these networks go both ways. And one thing we know about the bad guys: They're early adopters...

Trade, nationalism and peace:

...what I call the "Dell Theory" – you know, Dell Computers. The Dell Theory says that no two countries that are part of the same global supply chain will ever fight a war as long as they're each still part of that supply chain... here's what I predict: If you do go to war and you're part of one these supply-chains, whatever price you think you're going to pay, you're going to pay ten times more. Once you lose your spot in the supply chain because you've gone to war, the supply chain doesn't come back real soon. They're not going to. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. That's why you really risk a lot. And that's why these supply chains now really mean a lot. They're the new restraints.


The anti-globalization movement ... is basically dead today – because China and India have embraced this process and this project... The anti-globalization movement... [are] all still talking about the IMF and the World Bank and conditionality – as if globalization is all about what the IMF and World Bank impose and force on the developing world. Well when the world is flat, there's a lot more globalization that's about pull. This is people in the developing world – in China, Russia, India, Brazil – wanting to pull down these opportunities.

Intellectual property rights:

Look at what happened in [India] with intellectual property law... there's no question that we did want India to have intellectual property protection to protect our products... But what it turned out was that a lot of Indians wanted it as well because they become innovators themselves. They are now plug-and-playing in this world and they want the intellectual property protections for their innovations.

Failure of Western technical education:

There is a crisis. We're not producing in this country, in America, enough young people going into science and technology and engineering – the fields that are going to be essential for entrepreneurship and innovation in the 21st Century. So we're at a crisis – it's a quiet crisis, as Shirley Ann Jackson from the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute says. If we don't do something about it, then in 10 to 15 years from now this quiet crisis will be a very big crisis. And that's why my friend Paul Romer at Stanford says – and I totally agree with him – is a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And right now we're wasting this crisis.

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