A review of Friedman's "The world is flat." (.pdf)
April 10, 2006 10:36 PM   Subscribe

UCLA Economist Ed Leamer reviews Thomas Friedman's "The world is flat." (.pdf) When the Journal of Economic Literature asked me to write a review of The World is Flat... I shipped it overnight by UPS to India to have the work done. (via)
posted by Kwantsar (39 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This sounds interesting, but it's 51 pages long. Could you sum it up for us? Possibly provide a supporting link?
posted by Afroblanco at 10:42 PM on April 10, 2006

Consecutive alike vias unintentional.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:42 PM on April 10, 2006

Only an economist would write a short book and call it a 'book review'. :)
posted by Malor at 11:09 PM on April 10, 2006

Afroblanco: that Friedman is a breathless hack who speaks in nonsensical metaphors and thinly-veiled self-congratulation.

I think. All I know is that it's flat. FLAT. FLAT.

Thomas Friedman: INTERNETS!!!!!
posted by basicchannel at 11:12 PM on April 10, 2006

John Naisbitt says many of the same things in _Megatrends_ (1984). He wrote the book in three months.
posted by mecran01 at 11:17 PM on April 10, 2006

it's 51 pages long

It looks like a really good 51 pages. He mentions some theories and models of economic geography in preparation for (I hope) tearing into Friedman - then actually explains them. Really interesting stuff. Anyone can excoriate Friedman for his byzantine mixed metaphors (though Leamer does it unusually well), but not many can get me excited about economic theory in the process. A summary would just be a comment about Friedman, this article is an education.

I'm only at page 5 thus far, but it looks to be worth reading the whole thing. Excellent post, thanks.

Awesome - skipped ahead, saw "Is the Computer a Forklift or a Microphone", some math, and the following wonderful cautionary tale for model builders:

"The Tale of the Three-Legged Dog
Before we begin to look at some facts, I have to tell you a story about the use of theory
and evidence to guide decision-making.

When asked to determine what would happen if a dog lost one of it's front legs, one
group of researchers went to Toys R US and purchased a toy model of a dog that bounced
around and barked when turned on. After many hours of play with this mechanical
marvel, these researchers developed an affection for their toy model that was as deep and
intense as for the real thing. They were deeply saddened to discover, when they removed
the front leg, their dog pitifully lay on the ground wiggling in a circle, though still
barking as it had before.

Another group of researchers searched for real examples of three-legged dogs, and found,
to their amazement, that those real three-legged dogs could run and jump, and seemed
hardly different from real four-legged dogs.

I am the proud owner of a three-legged dog, that has been teaching me about life and
economics. "

Again, great post.

posted by freebird at 11:20 PM on April 10, 2006

Does anyone else see the smiley face on page 7? I think I'm freaking out.
posted by jmhodges at 11:26 PM on April 10, 2006

Yes, i saw it, jmhodges, and it freaked me out a little too. :)
posted by Malor at 11:40 PM on April 10, 2006

Well, there goes the rest of my afternoon. Thanks!

Also, he was making a small economist joke: "Mundane economics training is centered in Cambridge, Mass. Creative economics education is in Los Angeles."

He's in LA, I think. So: smiley.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:00 AM on April 11, 2006

Thank god. I was sitting there considering the interplay of mathematics and literature in Leamer's ideas on metaphor and then BAM.

Smiley face.

I scanned forward. I scanned backwards. It was still there. I scrolled down. I scrolled up. Still there. So I started rereading the text next to it, hoping something there would reference it. No. Not at all. Mundane economics training is centered in Cambridge, Mass. Creative economics education is in Los Angeles. Not at all. Its lopsided head driving its cruel, pointy eyes deep into my skull.. I can feel it touching my brain and wiggling it like Jello.

Like Jello. Like Jello.

Wobbling Jello, shaking my world. The world is not Flat, but Jello-molded! This is the deep truth the smiling man tells me. This is the eye-pyramind on the back of one dollar bills, the illumination in Illuminati, the effervescence of Efferdent. The bubbles between the lies, sliding up the clear, clean glass that is our universe.

Jello. Bubbles.

So, yeah. Still working on the paper. I have a feeling like I saw it here before but didn't get a chance to read it. Thanks, Kwantsar.
posted by jmhodges at 12:04 AM on April 11, 2006

Yes, the whole thing is worth reading, IMO. If you want to get the gist of what he's saying, I recommend pp. 45-49. Especially the bit about whether computers are more like forklifts or microphones.

A really enjoyable, informative essay. Great post!
posted by LooseFilter at 12:25 AM on April 11, 2006

Just finished it, and well worth the time. Some of the graphs made me drink coffee, but I like coffee, so hey hoopla. Again, thanks for the linkage.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:49 AM on April 11, 2006

Fan-friggin-tastic. I'm halfway through it now. I love the cognitive dissonance you get when the hot-shot economist criticizes the columnist by suggesting that instead of funding more R&D, we should built nicer parks.
posted by gsteff at 1:04 AM on April 11, 2006

An excerpt:

Friedman’s “aha” flat moment came on a golfing outing during a Discovery Channelexcursion to Bangalore, India where, surrounded by buildings emblazoned with US technames, he was told to “Aim at either Microsoft or IBM.” (p3). Friedman recounts that Columbus, sailing in search of India apparently on the premise that the Earth is round, encountered exotic native Americans unlike the Europeans with which he was familiarand pronounced them Indians, allowing Columbus to carry the news back to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella: the Earth is round. Likening his Discovery Channel crew to the sailors on the Nina and the Pinta and the Santa Maria, when Friedman found in Bangalore not Indians but Americans in name and speech and business practices, he “shared my discovery only with my wife, and only in a whisper. ‘Honey.’ I confided, ‘I think the world is flat.” (This made me wonder: If Columbus had found Italians in the New World would he have concluded the Earth is flat??)

I'm only on page three but this is, so far, hilarious.
posted by delmoi at 1:16 AM on April 11, 2006

Wow, this is actually great stuff. He gets into the geographic modeling used in economics.
posted by delmoi at 1:26 AM on April 11, 2006

huh, Freedman considers the internet 'born' on 8/9//95. The day netscape went public. Does that mean he thinks the internet died when netscape was bought by AOL?
posted by delmoi at 2:09 AM on April 11, 2006

A less erudite, but very effective Friedman bashing by Matt Taibbi.
posted by talos at 2:17 AM on April 11, 2006

Thomas Friedman: INTERNETS!!!!!

it's not really ha-ha funny but it made laugh a lot, thanks. and yeah, I jump too on the Friedman-bashing bandwagon
posted by matteo at 2:19 AM on April 11, 2006

I'm going to read this next time I'm on a plane. I read several pages, and it's infinitely more interesting than Friedman's work.
posted by I Love Tacos at 3:18 AM on April 11, 2006

Wow, this guy actually used the word "Dude" in a totally un-ironic manner on page 19.

While the beginning of the essay was solid, it seems to suffer from a lack of editing towards the middle. Still interesting stuff, though.
posted by delmoi at 4:07 AM on April 11, 2006

Three-legged dog, bah - they only need two.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:01 AM on April 11, 2006

Finally an economist not taking himself too seriously...sounds good, interesting reading so far ...it's interesting enough not to skip so it will take a while.
posted by elpapacito at 6:05 AM on April 11, 2006

My Lexus ran over Freidman's olive tree.
And I laughed at his silly shit.
Basichannel got it right, Freidman is a total hack.
posted by nofundy at 6:21 AM on April 11, 2006

Man, people love to tear apart this book. Oh well, it's not like he doesn't deserve to be taken down a few pegs.
posted by fungible at 6:22 AM on April 11, 2006

Man, people love to tear apart this book. Oh well, it's not like he doesn't deserve to be taken down a few pegs.

Or as Friedman would say, flattened a few notches. How do you flatten by a notch? Doesn't matter!
posted by delmoi at 6:27 AM on April 11, 2006

Page 27: first witnessed academic citation of Wikipedia.

Truly The Flattening is upon us.
posted by dgaicun at 7:02 AM on April 11, 2006

Man, people love to tear apart this book.

Any Friedman book, really. Fucking "Golden Straightjacket" indeed.
posted by youarenothere at 7:17 AM on April 11, 2006

Like I said upthread, the "Flatten Friedman" part is probably the least interesting aspect of the article. It's like a crash course in all the cool stuff I knew must exist in Economics.

And BTW, thanks for turning me on to Marginal Revolution. Interestingness aboundeth!
posted by freebird at 9:25 AM on April 11, 2006

I read several pages, and it's infinitely more interesting than Friedman's work.

I agree, but almost anything is
posted by matteo at 9:31 AM on April 11, 2006

I skipped to the conclusion and chuckled... it does sound like a great read. Thanks!
posted by funambulist at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2006

More amusing review of Thomas Friedman, with a focus on his unconscionable torture of the metaphor.
posted by fermion at 11:27 AM on April 11, 2006

A lot of it is fun, though I didn't like his off-hand dismissal of open source:

Thus, open-sourcing has the same problems and the same probable longevity as the communes of the 1960s – they worked great for a while, but the participants chose other ways to live once they got to know the people in the community.

I think comparing open source software development to 60s-era communes is about as valid as comparing it to communism. Which is to say, not at all valid.
posted by wheat at 12:29 PM on April 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

I just realized that syntax was a bit misleading...I meant to say more [amusing review], as in "additional reviews that are also amusing", not [more amusing] review, as in "here is a review that is funnier than that one."

Bloody ambiguous grammars.
posted by fermion at 12:58 PM on April 11, 2006

Thomas Friedman "a-ha" moments is like hanging around with a bunch of stoners:

"I played with my iPod (made in Indonesia and Taiwan) driving in my Mercedes AMG (German) and I realized, not even the Pirelli tires were American and my mechanic is hispanic!"

Then insert an anecdote about talking to the hispanic mechanic and him saying something very pro-American, very pro-capitalist and then giving a big grin to Friedman who just had an epiphany and then somehow sums up the experience by relating it to a piece of Western history.
posted by geoff. at 1:10 PM on April 11, 2006

This was my favorite thing linked from the Blue in a long, long time. Thanks for posting it; my head feels pleasantly sated right now.
posted by COBRA! at 1:14 PM on April 11, 2006

Way to go, Kwantsar! (I got the Friedman book from well-meaning but clueless members of my girlfriend's family for Xmas, and have still not been able to read it).
posted by klangklangston at 3:36 PM on April 11, 2006

Is there an html version of this thing? When I click on the link it makes my firefox and explorer crash.
posted by zorro astor at 8:27 PM on April 11, 2006

Right-click-->Save As. Open it from your desktop. It's a pdf, which means you need Adobe Acrobat reader, which you probably have installed already.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:31 PM on April 11, 2006

HTML version from the Google cache.
posted by klangklangston at 7:25 AM on April 12, 2006

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