The World is Flat

   16 August 2005, mid-morning

Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?

There are those timid souls that say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree. We have the power to shape the civilization that we want. But we need your will and your labor and your hearts, if we are to build that kind of society.

Those who came to this land sought to build more than just a new country. They sought a new world. So I have come here today to your campus to say that you can make their vision our reality. So let us from this moment begin our work so that in the future men will look back and say: It was then, after a long and weary way, that man turned the exploits of his genius to the full enrichment of his life.

—Lyndon B. Johnson, Great Society Speech

I wonder if America can recapture the ideals it once had, or if it has become so arrogant and confident in itself and its stature that it can’t see any of its flaws. (Actually, I don’t wonder these things at all, I have an opinion I’m sure those who read this site are well aware of.)

I’ve been reading The World is Flat, which I am enjoying immensely. The book’s premise is that technology has made the world flat—that is to say people from any part of the globe can collaborate with one another easily and cheaply. We can see this today with the growth of labour markets in the developing world. Anything that can be turned in to a stream of digital data can be worked on from anywhere in the world. And the reality is that this work is going to be sent to those places that can do it the best, and for the best price.

This is good for those of us in countries currently outsourcing work because it should free up our labour pools to do exciting new things. Well, that’s the idea anyway, things are never that simple. A society must provide a way for its citizens to improve their training and education. More than that though, citizens have to be willing to adapt and improve themselves. It isn’t enough to be average anymore, because there is a world full of above average people ready and willing to do your job. There was a time when we in the west were insulated from the East, but that time is coming to an end.

So, back to my original point. I think the end of the American empire is near. Friedman, author of The World is Flat, is fearful of the fate of America and tries to suggest ways in which America can turn itself around. His ideas are all interesting and valid, but I don’t see them being implemented. America doesn’t have a Lyndon B. Johnson or a John F. Kennedy who is willing to marshal the collective energy of the country and put that energy towards improving the society as a whole. And, as far as I can tell, many American’s themselves do not want to do such work.

Of course, America has all the guns, so we’ll have to see what happens.

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Comments

  1. Have you read Guns, Germs & Steel. The “flatness” of certain parts of the Earth is a principle reason Jared Diamond suggests Western Europe emerged as a dominant force. Of course that was at a time when the information traveling across was about grains, livestock & language.

    It’d be interesting to see how that plays out in a modern era. I fully expect China (& India if she can get her act together) to emerge as dominant superpowers as a direct result of (North) American, and European complacency.

    Oh, and it’s Lyndon… [ed. Typos fixed.]

  2. I really think India has all the means to do well in the coming years. Hopefully it will use the wealth it is pulling in currently to improve the prosperity for all its citizens. India has a crap load of educated hard working people. Reading the interviews in the book, you get the feeling the people there are hungry for a better life. I think things could really turn around for the country.

  3. The sun sets on every civilization. And its not just America, but the entire western civilization.

    Don’t hold high hopes for India. In idealism vs bureaucracy there is only one winner.

    Was that speech before or after he decided to try a ‘Great Society’ in Vietnam?

  4. And yeah, anybody who figures out a solution for the upcoming energy crunch, will be the new leader. Yes, it doesn’t look like the US at the moment.

  5. This would be a few months before the war in Viet Nam really got underway.

  6. The way I see it, there’s just so much wealth in America right now (and it’s so concentrated) that it has nothing else to do but spill across borders.

    I would have a lot more faith in America if they weren’t arguing about crap like Intelligent Design. Stuff like that is such a shocking step backwards.

    I’m really interested to see what happens once it’s crunch time in America. I think the response would be “More like Bush” instead of “More like FDR”. And, shit, that can’t be good.

  7. Forget Intelligent Design, when stuff like Michael Jackson’s attendance at his various lawsuit trials is one of the top ten stories of the day on both sides of the Atlantic, you know society’s priorities are truly f*cked up.

    BBC:

    OTHER TOP STORIES
    1. Jackson fined over court no-show

    CNN:

    MORE NEWS
    7. Michael Jackson fined for missed hearing

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