Review of The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman

The following is essentially note-taking for an article I am writing on “gumption metaphysics” but since I won’t be able to specifically address The World is Flat in that article I thought it would be worth writing a proper review here.

First published in 2005 and updated in 2006, The World is Flat is a book-length neoliberal manifesto, written at the height of neoliberalism’s hegemony and corresponding hubris.  This “brief history of the twenty-first century” seeks to reinforce the elective affinity between three particular bodies of thought, and in so doing create the ideological basis for the final conquest of capital over all its opponents.  These three bodies of thought are: 1) Neoliberalism proper, 2) Informationalism, and 3) Development theory (Until recently, modernization theory).  It is important to emphasize that Friedman is seeking to reinforce these connections, because there is no necessary relation between them.  Liberalism has been on occasion opposed to informationalism’s historical predecessors (industrialism and managerialism), and modernization theory was once more associated with Keynesianism than with neoliberalism.  By fusing these disparate ideologies together, in a manner reminiscent of Manuel Castells’ The Information Age trilogy, Friedman seeks to provide a comprehensive and appealing ideology of legitimation for global capitalism today.

The World is Flat is structured around two contradictory theses: That the world is “flat” (i.e. That all human and natural resources are freely accessible to capital, that national boundaries and regulations are largely meaningless, and that information technology has lowered entry barriers to create a global “level playing field” for entrepreneurs) and that the world is “round” (i.e. That significant barriers to capital remain, that states continue to have relevance, that significant structural inequalities continue to exist, etc.).  Friedman begins the book by proclaiming that the world is flat, and it is not until page 460 that he finally offers the antithesis: “I know that the world is not flat. Don’t worry. I know.”  Like most books describing purported revolutions, The World is Flat vacillates between whether the flat world revolution is a fait accompli or an ongoing process (There is for example a similar ambiguity in Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man).  It is a question of whether the world is flat, or whether it is flattening.  This tension is evident in Friedman’s qualified statement that: “…the flattening of the world is largely (but not entirely) unstoppable” (276).  In the first case, history has ended and There Is No Alternative, in the second the historical horizon remains open and threats to capital’s dominion remain.  Friedman’s work is structured according to this contradiction, with the first 460 pages describing in detail the features of the revolution, and the second 111 pages describing how it will overcome its enemies.

The most important points advanced by the first section of the book are that: 1) Capital is a revolutionary force and labour is a reactionary force, 2) The feverish competition of the global labour market should be embraced by workers because ICTs and deregulation have created a “level playing field” and 3) That a combination of education, gumption, elbow-grease, sweat, muscle, hustle, can-do attitude, and bootstraps will soon create a global Carnegiesque utopia in the image of the American Dream.

The first of Friedman’s points, that capital is a revolutionary force and labour a reactionary one, can be traced back to Daniel Bell’s anti-Marxism in The Coming of Post-Industrial Society.  Bell theorized that a “new class” of white-collar post-industrial workers had emerged, and therefore rendered the binary opposition of labour and capital irrelevant as capitalists’ power faded in the face of the new class, and the proletariat was increasingly rendered obsolete. This thesis was taken up by subsequent informationalist ideologues such as Alvin Toffler, Richard Florida, and Manuel Castells, These ideologues variously describe the “new class” as “cognitarians,” “the creative class,” and “creative producers” but all essentially advance the same argument as Bell.  Surprisingly, Friedman is much more honest than these other apologists for capital, not giving the “new class” pride of place in his flat world.  Overturning Bell, Friedman goes back to Marx’s famous statement on capitalism’s dynamic character in The Manifesto of the Communist Party, a common touchstone for neoliberal thinkers:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

Where Marx had an ambivalent view of this revolutionary quality of capitalism, celebrating its destruction of the old feudal world and its elevation of the forces of production, while simultaneously seeing capitalism as possessing its own injustices that would be overcome with the transition to socialism, neoliberals like Friedman see capitalism’s revolutionary character as an unalloyed good.  It is in this mode that Friedman overturns Bell, arguing not that capitalists are becoming increasingly irrelevant, but rather that they remain the ruling class, and are a revolutionary force for good.  It seems unlikely that this thesis could have been maintained in the relatively progressive intellectual atmosphere in which Bell was working, but in 2005 Friedman’s claim was hardly controversial.  Friedman does integrate the “new class” argument into The World is Flat, but does so under the label of “the new middle” and “untouchables.”  Friedman does not argue that this “new middle” will be the driving force of society (capitalists will be able to claim that title) but rather that “creative” workers will form the new middle class.  There is an implicit theme to Friedman’s argument, which is full of lines such as:

…there is no sugar-coating the new challenge: Every young American today would be wise to think of himself or herself as competing against every young Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian.  In Globalization 1.0, countries had to think globally to thrive, or at least survive.  In Globalization 2.0, companies had to think globally to thrive, or at least survive.  In Globalization 3.0, individuals have to think globally to thrive, or at least survive.  This requires not only a new level of technical skills but also a certain mental flexibility, self-motivation, and psychological mobility (276).

The implicit theme is that there are no guarantees and there is no security in the “flat” world, slack off and you will be dragged “beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of capital” as Marx described in Capital Volume I.  The terror of the market will be visited on you swiftly, and you will lose all that you hold dear if you cannot prove your worth to it.  As Friedman states:

In sum, it was never good to be mediocre in your job, but in a world of walls, mediocrity could still earn you a decent wage.  You could get by and then some. In a flatter world, you really do not want to be mediocre or lack any passion for what you do.  You don’t want to find yourself in the shoes of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, when his son Biff dispels his idea that the Loman family is special by declaring, ‘Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!’ An angry Willy retorts, ‘I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!’ (277)

Friedman’s message is that you shouldn’t be a fool like Willy Loman and believe that your humanity has any value, because you are your labour power and nothing but your labour power. Your body and your intellect are tools to be bought and exploited. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can find validation in frenzied competition with your fellow workers and unending servitude to your masters.  If you are exceptionally fortunate you will be able to join the masters’ ranks, but don’t count on it. If this is the case, what exactly is Friedman’s “new middle?”  At one point in the text, Friedman makes a stunning admission for a bourgeois thinker, stating that “middle class is a state of mind, not a state of income. That’s why a majority of Americans always describe themselves as ‘middle class,’ even though by income statistics some of them wouldn’t be considered as such.”  The point being that the “middle class” is a fiction sustained by “keeping up appearances” with the continuous purchase of consumer goods by a significant portion of the working class.  The real “middle class,” that is, professionals and small business owners remains quantitatively small, as it always has.  The real middle class, who Friedman labels “untouchables” (because their jobs are too valuable to outsource) will be those who constitute Friedman’s “new middle,” while those portions of the working class who considered themselves middle class will be faced with a desperate struggle to join the shrinking middle, with most destined to fail.

Despite these grim facts, Friedman retains his characteristic sunny optimism and avuncular style throughout the World is Flat, with the shortcomings of globalization briefly addressed in tones of earnest concern for the little guy and then dismissed.  Friedman is able to dismiss these grim realities, for as a true believer in the neoliberal project he views them merely as the products of “…a transition phase in certain fields, during which wages are dampened…” and therefore we need only wait for neoliberalism’s true provenance to arrive.  This is because a flat world, created by a convergence of “ten flatteners,” namely “…the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of the PC, Netscape, work flow, outsourcing, offshoring, uploading, insourcing, supply-chaining, in-forming, and the steroids” (205) have created a global “level playing field” where steely-eyed entrepreneurs from any corner of the earth can seize their destiny, bequeathing upon the rest of the world the Promethean fruits of their genius.  Summarizing this view, Friedman quotes Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, stating that “The world is
flattening and rising at the same time” (231).  To be sure, Friedman’s argument cannot be totally dismissed.  Only obstinate nativists and reactionaries would argue that the tremendous melding of cultures that has characterized the neoliberal era is a blight upon humanity, and only a true curmudgeon would scorn those who joined the new middle classes of the Global South.  The question is whether these gains needed to be earned at the expense of mass suicides amongst the dispossessed peasantry (such as here), the immiseration of the working class in the Global North, and the wanton destruction of the natural environment which puts the long-term survival of the species at risk.  A further question is whether the chief beneficiary of the globalization process should be the numerically tiny capitalist class, whose renumeration is out of all proportion with their contribution to society, and who stand at the head of an inhuman, irrational, and brutal system that views these horrors as mere “externalities,” a point that Friedman never addresses, as he completely ignores the soaring wealth of the 1% in general and of finance capital in particular.  Indeed Friedman’s arguments largely focus on the expansion of the more palatable industrial and merchant capital, mentioning the explosion of financialization only in passing.

While in his account of the “flat” world Friedman largely is guilty only of omitting globalization’s worst horrors, when it comes to the “round” world, in which the neoliberal project remains insecure, he blatantly misrepresents his opponents.  Friedman’s main targets in his attack on neoliberalism’s opponents are: 1) The “antiglobalization” movement 2) European social democracies 3) Islamic fundamentalists 4) Socialists and the labour movement 5) Conservative nativists.  According to Friedman these groups are all guilty of “putting up walls” and he does not hesitate to paint them with a broad brush.  His attacks on the so-called antiglobalization movement are predictable and prefigure the anti-Occupy propaganda of today:

The global populist movement, better known as the antiglobalization movement, has a great deal of energy, but up to now it has been too divided and confused to effectively help the poor in any meaningful or sustained manner. It needs a policy lobotomy. The world’s poor do not resent the rich anywhere nearly as much as the left-wing parties in the developed world imagine. What they resent is not having any pathway to get rich and to join the flat world and cross that line into the middle class that Jerry Yang spoke about.

Let’s pause for a minute here and trace how the antiglobalization movement lost touch with the true aspirations of the world’s poor. The antiglobalization movement emerged at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle in 1999 and then spread around the world in subsequent years, usually gathering to attack meetings of the World Bank, the IMF, and the G-8 industrialized nations. From its origins, the movement that emerged in Seattle was a primarily Western-driven phenomenon, which was why you saw so few people of color in the crowds. It was driven by five disparate forces. One was upper-middle-class American liberal guilt at the incredible wealth and power that America had amassed in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dot-com boom. At the peak of the stock market boom, lots of pampered American college kids, wearing their branded clothing, began to get interested in sweatshops as a way of expiating their guilt. The second force driving it was a rear-guard push by the Old Left-socialists, anarchists, and Trotskyites-in alliance with protectionist trade unions. Their strategy was to piggyback on rising concerns about globalization to bring back some form of socialism, even though these ideas had been rejected as bankrupt by the very people in the former Soviet Empire and China who had lived under them longest. (Now you know why there was no antiglobalization movement to speak of in Russia, China, or Eastern Europe.) These Old Left forces wanted to spark a debate about whether we globalize. They claimed to speak in the name of the Third World poor, but the bankrupt economic policies they advocated made them, in my view, the Coalition to Keep Poor People Poor. The third force was a more amorphous group. It was made up of many people who gave passive support to the antiglobalization movement from many countries, because they saw in it some kind of protest against the speed at which the old world was disappearing and becoming flat.

The fourth force driving the movement, which was particularly strong in Europe and in the Islamic world, was anti-Americanism. The disparity between American economic and political power and everybody else’s had grown so wide after the fall of the Soviet Empire that America began to-or was perceived to-touch people’s lives around the planet, directly or indirectly, more than their own governments did. As people aroundthe world began to intuit this, a movement emerged, which Seattle both reflected and helped to catalyze, whereby people said, in effect, “If America is now touching my life directly or indirectly more than my own government, then I want to have a vote in America’s power.” At the time of Seattle, the “touching” that people were most concerned with was from American economic and cultural power, and therefore the demand for a vote tended to focus around economic rule-making institutions like the World Trade Organization. America in the 1990s, under President Clinton, was perceived as a big dumb dragon, pushing people around in the economic and cultural spheres, knowingly and unknowingly. We were Puff the Magic Dragon, and people wanted a vote in what we were puffing.

Then came 9/11. And America transformed itself from Puff the Magic Dragon, touching people around the world economically and culturally, into Godzilla with an arrow in his shoulder, spitting fire and tossing around his tail wildly, touching people’s lives in military and security terms, not just economic and cultural ones. As that happened, people in the world began to say, “Now we really want a vote in how America wields its power”-and in many ways the whole Iraq war debate was a surrogate debate
about that.

Finally, the fifth force in this movement was a coalition of very serious, well-meaning, and constructive groups-from environmentalists to trade activists to NGOs concerned with governance-who became part of the populist antiglobalization movement in the 1990s in the hopes that they could catalyze a global discussion about how we globalize. I had a lot of respect and sympathy for this latter group. But in the end they got drowned out by the whether-we-globalize crowd, which began to turn the movement more violent at the July 2001 Genoa G-8 summit, when an antiglobalization protester was killed while attacking an Italian police jeep with a fire extinguisher. The combination of the triple convergence, the violence at Genoa, 9/11, and tighter security measures fractured the antiglobalization movement. The more serious how-we-globalize groups did not want to be in the same trench with anarchists out to provoke a public clash with police, and after 9/11, many American labor groups did not want to be associated with a movement that appeared to be taken over by anti-American elements. This became even more pronounced when in late September 2001, three weeks after 9/11,  antiglobalization leaders attempted a rerun of Genoa in the streets of Washington, to protest the IMF and World Bank meetings there. After 9/11, though, the IMF and World Bank canceled their meetings, and many American protesters shied away. Those who did turn up in the streets of Washington turned the event into a march against the imminent American invasion of Afghanistan to remove Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. At the same time, with the triple convergence making the Chinese, Indians, and Eastern Europeans some of the biggest beneficiaries of globalization, it was no longer possible to claim that this phenomenon was devastating the world’s poor. Just the opposite: Millions of Chinese and Indians were entering the world’s middle class thanks to the flattening of the world and globalization.
So as the how-we-globalize forces drifted away, and as the number of Third World people benefiting from globalization began to grow, and as America under the Bush administration began to exercise more unilateral military power, the anti-American element in the antiglobalization movement began to assume a much louder voice and role. As a result, the movement itself became both more anti-American and more unable and unwilling to play any constructive role in shaping the global debate on how we globalize, precisely when such a role has become even more important as the world has gotten flatter. As Hebrew University political theorist Yaron Ezrahi so aptly noted, “The important task of enlisting the people’s power to influence globalism-making it more compassionate, fair, and compatible with human dignity is way too important to be wasted on crass anti-Americanism or left in the hands of only anti-Americans.” (387)

To any student of the antiglobalization movement Friedman’s intellectual dishonesty beggars the imagination.  More than anywhere else in The World is Flat, Friedman here declares his status as an organic intellectual of the capitalist class, free from any kind of commitment to intellectual integrity, or perhaps as a journalist in the worst sense of the term.  Reading this passage I could not help but be reminded of Orwell’s words from Homage to Catalonia:

This, then, was what they were saying about us: we were Trotskyists, Fascists, traitors, murderers, cowards, spies, and so forth. I admit it was not pleasant, especially when one thought of some of the people who were responsible for it. It is not a nice thing to see a Spanish boy of fifteen carried down the line on a stretcher, with a dazed white face looking out from among the blankets, and to think of the sleek persons in London and Paris who are writing pamphlets to prove that this boy is a Fascist in disguise. One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. The P.S.U.C. militiamen whom I knew in the line, the Communists from the International Brigade whom I met from time to time, never called me a Trotskyist or a traitor; they left that kind of thing to the journalists in the rear. The people who wrote pamphlets against us and vilified us in the newspapers all remained safe at home, or at worst in the newspaper offices of Valencia, hundreds of miles from the bullets and the mud. And apart from the libels of the inter-party feud, all the usual war-stuff, the tub-thumping, the heroics, the vilification of the enemy–all these were done, as usual, by people who were not fighting and who in many cases would have run a hundred miles sooner than fight.

At any rate, Friedman’s account is clearly calculated more to cast his opponents into disrepute than to debate their ideas.  To begin with, while the figure of the trust-fund kiddie stricken with White guilt is singularly unappealing for its self-indulgence and lack of real commitment to politics, these were not the sort of individuals who started the antiglobalization movement.  The movement may have erupted into the popular consciousness in Seattle, but its roots can clearly be traced back to the struggle against neoliberalism that began in Latin America in the 1980s, and gave rise to the most vibrant socialist movements of the late 20th century.  Friedman does not mention these movements in The World is Flat, because they contradict his claims that socialism is a dead ideology and that the Global South has spontaneously and universally embraced capitalist modernization theory as the path to its salvation.  Indeed Friedman never mentions the World Social Forum once, except as the “Coalition to Keep Poor People Poor,” a title that the movements of the dispossessed participating in the WSF would have almost certainly disputed.  Friedman furthermore makes the ludicrous claim that well-meaning and “serious” NGOs were pushed out of the movement by “anti-Americans,” when the fact is that corporate-sponsored NGOs have played a consistent role as the enforcers of neoliberalism and threatened to marginalize the involvement of the dispossessed in the WSF. As for the purported “violence” of the movement, the activities of agents provocateur in Genoa is well documented.  Perhaps most importantly, while Friedman is eager to portray the antiglobalization movement as essentially reactionary, it is important to emphasize that the activists of this movement preferred to be known as the “alterglobalization movement,” referring to their slogan “another world is possible” with its explicitly globalist and revolutionary implications. The antiglobalization label was preferred by capitalist apologists like Friedman, because it implied a reaction against the positive effects of globalization I described above, which they could exploit to their advantage.

If Friedman’s description of the antiglobalization movement is dishonest in the extreme, his descriptions of the labour movement are universally dismissive, and he continuously singles out Germany as an example of European social democracy (Perhaps Scandinavia was too positive an example to attack?) as in the following passage:

The easier it is to fire someone in a dying industry, the easier it is to hire someone in a rising industry that no one knew would exist five years earlier. This is a great asset, especially when  you compare the situation in the United States to inflexible, rigidly regulated labor markets like Germany’s, full of government restrictions on hiring and firing (246).

In contrast to dour and outdated Germany, Friedman holds up the “leapin’ leprechauns” of Ireland as neoliberalism’s golden boys in Europe:

One of the best examples of a country that has made a huge leap forward by choosing development and reform retail of its governance, infrastructure, and education, is Ireland.  Here’s something you probably didn’t know: Ireland today is the richest country in the European Union after Luxembourg.  Yes, the country that for hundreds of years was best known for emigration, tragic poets, famines, civil wars, and leprechauns today has a per capita GDP higher than that of Germany, France, and Britain.  How Ireland went from a sick man of Europe to the rich man in less than a generation is an amazing story.

Given the dire straights Ireland finds itself in today, with its people betrayed to the banking sector in the name of the much vaunted neoliberal governance that Friedman espouses, dour Germany today appears in a somewhat better light.

When Friedman turns his attention to the Global South, he manages to turn it into a morality play, with virtuous India contrasted to the sinful and backwards Middle East.  Friedman’s account is a classic example of the discourse of modernization theory, with highly motivated, Western-trained elites leading a project of national modernization and combating obstinate socialists in India, while corruption and barbarism rules in the Middle East.  Friedman’s paradigm of Indian success is the enriched working class that has grown out of the IT industries of Bangalore.  These industries were founded by American-educated or American-employed Indians who returned to India and took advantage of underemployed Indian engineers who had been trained in India’s technical institutes.  The newly returned Indian entrepreneurs first acted as a kind of comprador class for American capital, fulfilling a broker role to India’s vast pool of cheap labour, however as their businesses grew they soon became full members of the transnational capitalist class (TCC).  Friedman carries on expansively about how wonderful it is that Indian labour not only works for less, but is also happier to do the same job that American workers would be grumbling about.  The cost of the reproduction of labour falls and the intensity of work increases, for free! The reasons for the popularity of off-shoring should be clear.

In contrast the Middle East is a land of tyranny and corruption where opportunity goes to die.  Only a few heroic examples of entrepreneurship are to be found in this barren land, overrun with despots and the “Islamo-Leninists” (394) of Al-Qaeda.  Young men are driven to become fundamentalist revolutionaries because they are humiliated by the greatness of America, and the comparative weakness of their own countries.  Oil revenues are squandered and the people suffer.  The contrast with India could not be more stark.

While there is a considerable amount of truth to both of these accounts, they are oversimplified.  The case of India because it ignores first how Communist Party of India (Marxist) itself became a force for neoliberalism under the influence of the Chinese model of state capitalism (Therefore the problem of a sclerotic state in India cannot be solely attributed to socialist causes), and how outside of the Bangalore IT parks the image of India as the democratic and inclusive country that Friedman portrays is problematized by  such issues as the popularity of the neo-fascist BJP, the dispossession of the peasantry, the occupation of Kashmir, and the war on the Naxalites, which have been famously cataloged by Arundhati Roy.

In the case of the Middle East, the problem with Friedman’s analysis is quite simple.  It has no theory of imperialism, which is denounced as a “crass” concept.  While Friedman appears sympathetic to the plight of the people of the region in The World is Flat, his reaction to the Arab Spring in an article titled “Tribes With Flags” gave the lie to this notion by arguing that even during the upsurge of incredible democratic self-organization in this region, the people of the Arab world were little more than primitive tribes in need of American tutelage.  His description of the failed Bahraini revolution, where peaceful demonstrators were massacred by Saudi security forces as a tribal conflict and not a struggle for democracy is offensive in the extreme, and clearly refuted by evidence such as that offered by Al-Jazeera’s documentary “Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark.”  Friedman’s analysis only appears to offer a serious diagnosis of Middle Eastern problems, and in fact seeks only to offer further reasons for American domination of the region.

While in 2005 Friedman’s book may have offered a convincing ideology of legitimation for global neoliberal capitalism by bringing together neoliberalism, informationalism, and development theory, it appears severely dated in today’s context.  As Richard Wolff has stated, neoliberal apologetics like those offered by Friedman only remained plausible so long as capitalism “delivered the goods” to the working classes of the Global North.  Friedman at least seems to have been aware of possibility, urging for the implementation of “compassionate flatism,” a kind of bare minimum of the welfare state to give neoliberalism a human face.  In order to give force to this argument he states:

If you are not a compassionate flatist – if you’re just a let’er rip free-market flatist – you are not only cruel, you are a fool.  You are courting a political backlash by those who can and will get churned up by this flattening process, and that backlash could become ferocious if we hit any kind of prologed recession (379).

In the aftermath of the post-2007 crisis neoliberalism has become, as Neil Smith has stated “dead but dominant.”  How can an ideology discredited by the ongoing collapse of the capitalist system remain dominant in the face of its widespread rejection by the working class? One important factor is the TCC’s successful worldwide “insulation” of fiscal and trade policy from democratic debate, which was carried out over the roughly thirty years of ascendancy of neoliberalism.  This insulation is a symptom of “de-politiciz[ing] economic development,” which Friedman praises in his analysis of Ireland.  As long as capitalism was delivering the goods objections to the progressive withdraw of democracy from government policy making met with objections only from the far left, as mainstream parties progressively gravitated towards a neoliberal consensus regardless of their historical political roots (For example, see the political parties of the UK).  Thirty years of neoliberalism have not only captured the leadership of political parties, but also those of international institutions, as well as the profession of economics in general.  Because of the insulating efforts of neoliberals there is no effective avenue for democratic participation in economic decision making today, and elites remain profoundly hostile to relinquishing their privileges and corresponding power.  A demonstration of how far they are willing to go to prevent any convergence of democracy and economics was offered last week, when the Troika of the IMF, ECB, and EU, engineered a coup in Greece to prevent a referendum on “austerity” measures introduced by the nominally Socialist government on the Troika’s behalf.  Despite the proliferation of encampments and other protests that reject everything that neoliberals like Friedman stand for, their ideas remain a deeply held orthodoxy amongst the TCC and their associated government bodies.  Even as the protests rage, free trade pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and intellectual property treaties like ACTA proceed largely undebated.  The globe spanning power of the TCC and the daunting problems that face the world today may appear overwhelming, but we may take heart in knowing that Thomas Friedman and other neoliberals’ attempt at ideological closure has failed.

The people are in the streets, the struggle is being conducted openly, and the lies of the ruling class are met with scorn, that is a victory in itself, and one that was scarcely conceivable even just last year.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Review of The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman

  1. I feel like printing this off and mailing a copy to Friedman. Nice work.

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