The world is flat…

Here’s more on Thomas Friedman’s new book “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.”

Friedman makes some very good points, and I agree with him that anti-globalization folks have got their focus all wrong. They’re wrapped up in trying to protest the activities of corporations like Wal-Mart, Nike and MacDonald’s and waste their energy tossing bricks through the windows of Starbuck’s shops when they ought to be focused on what’s going on in their hometowns. Are your local schools actually teaching the kids (and more importantly, WHAT are they teaching the kids – and yes, that was pointed at you, Kansas)? Does your local law enforcement respect the rights of minority groups? Do your local employers operate a double-standard in wages for men and women?

One of the things I’ve learned from working in the business world is that change never comes from the top down. It is always a bottom-up exercise. Initiatives sponsored in the executive suite are greeted with eye-rolls and impatience. The workers ignore them until they go away – which they always inevitably do as soon as management gets distracted by some new shiny object or crisis. In contrast changes that start with requirements identified on the front line are lasting and are generally widely embraced and adopted by the entire organization. Government works the same way. We Americans are lazy with our Democracy and we forget that the way it’s supposed to work is that our Representatives in government act to respond to our needs, not the other way around. Throwing bricks through a Starbuck’s window or massing protestors at a G-8 conference is a waste of energy, time and effort. It’s like trying to chop down a tree with a fish.

For instance; One of the ways in which the US is likely to change substantially in the next decade has to do with healthcare. Why? Because it’s in the interests of corporate America for it to change. Right now big business is spending about $6000 per employee per year to pay for health coverage. If we had universal health coverage, funded through individual and corporate taxes, the bill would be about $800 per year per employee. Another way things are going to change has to do with energy consumption. Hybrid vehicles are going to become the norm very rapidly because it’s in the interests of business. My own employer is exchanging our fleet of vehicles for hybrids now in order to control our fuel expenses, and gas really isn’t all that expensive yet. Within five years it will likely be $5 per gallon. Anyone who is still driving a non-hybrid car or truck at that point is going to feel the pinch and businesses who depend on vehicles who haven’t switched will get creamed. Education reform (and I mean real reform, not the GOP sponsored gutting of public education that Dubya calls reform) is another issue that will make headway because of business. Business needs an educated workforce, especially in the face of the kind of competition that China and India now present to the production of intellectual property. Instead of tossing rocks at corporate leaders we should do like the natural resources defense council is doing with GM, Ford and other auto makers with regard to energy policy (they’re all pushing for government support for retooling of factories to get more hybrid vehicles on the road) and collaborate where we share a common interest to motivate government to make the right choices.

Anyway, read the interview with Friedman and pay special attention to the 10 items listed at the end of the interview that caused the flattening of the world he’s talking about.

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