I read yet another op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman in the Seattle Times this morning. In it Friedman repeats the idea that has been the subject of several of his books, that national boundaries are increasingly irrelevant to corporations. He clearly believes that this process is inevitable, irreversible and maybe not the worst thing in the world. Remarking on the process, Friedman states:
“It is also both a huge challenge and opportunity. It has never been harder to find a job and never been easier — for those prepared for this world — to invent a job or find a customer. Anyone with the spark of an idea can start a company overnight, using a credit card, while accessing brains, brawn and customers anywhere. It is why Pascal Lamy, chief of the World Trade Organization, argues that terms like “made in America” or “made in China” are phasing out. The proper term, says Lamy, is “made in the world.” More products are designed everywhere, made everywhere and sold everywhere.”
Friedman also believes that the term “outsourcing” is also out of date.
“Indeed, there is no “in” or “out” anymore. In the hyperconnected world, there is only “good,” “better” and “best,” and managers and entrepreneurs everywhere now have greater access than ever to the better and best people, robots and software everywhere. Obviously, this makes it more vital than ever that we have schools elevating and inspiring more of our young people into that better and best category, because even good might not cut it anymore and average is definitely over.”
Friedman first started exploring globalization in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree. He returned to this topic in his book The World is Flat. A reviewer of that book wrote, “For Friedman, cheap, ubiquitous telecommunications have finally obliterated all impediments to international competition, and the dawning ‘flat world’ is a jungle pitting ‘lions’ and ‘gazelles,’ where ‘economic stability is not going to be a feature’ and ‘the weak will fall farther behind.’ Rugged, adaptable entrepreneurs, by contrast, will be empowered. The service sector (telemarketing, accounting, computer programming, engineering and scientific research, etc.), will be further outsourced to the English-spoken abroad; manufacturing, meanwhile, will continue to be off-shored to China. As anyone who reads his column knows, Friedman agrees with the transnational business executives who are his main sources that these developments are desirable and unstoppable, and that American workers should be preparing to ‘create value through leadership’ and ‘sell personality.'”
Now, don’t get me wrong, Friedman is clearly a smart, successful guy. I mean he has won the Pulitzer prize after all. But I always get a bit nervous when people throw around terms like “create value through leadership.” It makes me feel like I wandered into a motivational seminar. For the overwhelming majority of people in this country who are not best-selling authors, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or the chief of the World Trade Organization, such an exhortation rings a bit hollow. Most people in this country will never be a manager and entrepreneur. Rather, they will try to create a career for themselves that will involve them working for some one else and attempting to earn a living so they can support themselves and their families. There is honor in that, just as there is honor in becoming a manager or an entrepreneur.
Friedman’s comments regarding there being no “in” or “out” anymore may be true for multinational corporations, but it most certainly is not true for nations. Last time I checked, the Federal Government was still collecting data on trade between the U.S. and every ever nation in the world and the data is not good. In 2010, the U.S. had a goods trade deficit of $633 billion. We imported $78 billion worth of clothing, $20 billion worth of shoes, $31 billion worth of furniture, $137 billion worth of TVs and other electronics and $30 billion worth of toys, games and sporting goods. Not surprisingly, China topped the list of countries with whom we ran a trade deficit in goods, coming in at a whopping $273 billion. We did run surpluses with the following economic superpowers whose countries name began with an A: Afghanistan, Andorra, Anguilla, Aruba, and Australia.
Finally, while CEOs of multinational corporations may be comfortable with phasing out “Made in America”, I for one am not. Buying products made by members of our extended American family provides them with the dignity of work and the income to support themselves, their families and their communities. I have made a commitment to buy more products made in this Country and I encourage you to do the same. You can start by visiting the firms listed on the right side of my home page. And it is a lot easier than “creating value through leadership”, whatever that means.
- Tom Friedman and the Fattening of the American Center (esquire.com)