What Tom Friedman Means by "Flat"

‘What, Me Worry?’,” by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 29 April 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/29/opinion/29friedman.html (from Eschaton through tdaxp).

What to make of this Friedman quote on education?

India and China know they can’t just depend on low wages, so they are racing us to the top, not the bottom. Producing a comprehensive U.S. response – encompassing immigration, intellectual property law and educational policy – to focus on developing our talent in a flat world is a big idea worthy of a presidency. But it would also require Mr. Bush to do something he has never done: ask Americans to do something hard.

He’s talking about some sort of interpersonal connection — one that can be “flat” or “not flat” (let’s call that one steep). I earlier defiend the types of controls as

  • implicit-explicit
  • strong-weak
  • horizontal-vertical

At first glance Friedman’s “flat” just means “horizontal” — a relationship defined by a lack of nonconsentual violence. But that’s clearly wrong. A horizontal education system would mean one where students are there willingly, or maybe just that parents chose to send their kids to school. But I doubt Friedman truly supports that — what if parents do not want to send their children to school?

Let’s look at the other occurances of “flat” in Tom’s article

But on the home front, this team has no big idea – certainly none that relates to the biggest challenge and opportunity facing us today: the flattening of the global economic playing field in a way that is allowing more people from more places to compete and collaborate with your kids and mine than ever before.


Indeed, we can’t rely on importing the talent we need anymore – not in a flat world where people can now innovate without having to emigrate. In Silicon Valley today, “B to B” and “B to C” stand for “back to Bangalore” and “back to China,” which is where a lot of our foreign talent is moving.

To show what Friedman means by “flat,” let’s look at two very different groups: religious courts in Iran and hippie drum circles.

Sharia in the Islamic Republic looks like this:


The red bars show the flow of power from greater to lesser. “Higher-ups” have power over “lower-downs.” Being high means that you know the “right” way, while being low means that you need to be told the correct way.

Now, the hippies


The blue bars show friendship. The hippies are attatched to each other by common experiences, hopes, and desires. Additionally, there are no “higher-ups” or “lower-downs” — everyone is recognized as having the same amount of authority (if you don’t believe that’s possible, then assume these are drugged hippies).

So then, what would this be:


The red lines symbolize vertical power, so somone has police authority. Yet everyone is on the same level, so there are not leaders or followers. This is Friedman’s idealized school system — it is a flat vertical network

Friedman is not an anarchist or a libertarian. He believes in the importance of goverment. He also believes that the “top-down there are experts who know better” approach is now out of date. In Friedman’s philosophy, people should no longer “act steep” (externalize leadership to others) but should “act flat” (internalize leadership to themselves).

The opposite of a flat vertical relationship would be a steep horizontal one


The best example of this is the Catholic Church. There is a definite right way and a definite chain of command. But anyone can leave whenever they wish.

There is much more to say on flat-steep controls, but those are posts for another time…

Update: Twenty Onwards has posted a detailed review of The World is Flat. Good Reputation Sleeping also has thoughts.

May Day Blog Asia

Indian corruption, Japanese billionaire-murderers, Korean soccer shenanigans, and angry Chinese…

Bill at Dawn’s Early Light blogs on Indo-Japanese Connectivity and corruption in New Delhi’s arm purchases. Hopefully nothing like that is going on in Bollywood.

North of India, are good times returning to Nepal?

Is Japanese Billionaire Nobutada a serial killer?

The ever-friendly Norks fire a missile at the Sea of Japan, and are fined by FIFA for the Pyongyang Soccer Riot. Curzon at Coming Anarchy notes that South Kotea is stepping up to held its old “friend.”

Perhaps the Indo-Japanese deal isn’t for nothing.. Japan’s drilling very close to Chinese oil waters under the name Imperial Oil

Quizas notes that Taiwanese anti-KMT protestors were more violent than Chinese anti-Japanese protestors. And what to regular Chinese think of Koizumi?

Riding Sun takes a photo

David Brooks Wrong on Reid’s Deal for Frist

Let’s Make a Deal,” by David Brooks, New York Times, 1 May 2005, http://nytimes.com/2005/05/01/opinion/01brooks.html.

David Brooks describes a deal Democrat Minority Leader Harry Reid supposedly gave Republican Majority Leader Bill First

Last week, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, made an offer to head off a nuclear exchange over judicial nominations. Reid offered to allow votes on a few of the judges stuck in limbo if the Republicans would withdraw a few of the others.

But there was another part of the offer that hasn’t been publicized. I’ve been reliably informed that Reid also vowed to prevent a filibuster on the next Supreme Court nominee. Reid said that if liberals tried to filibuster President Bush’s pick, he’d come up with five or six Democratic votes to help Republicans close off debate. In other words, barring a scandal or some other exceptional circumstance, Reid would enable Bush’s nominee to get a vote and probably be confirmed.

Good deal? Brooks seems to think so

But Frist should have grabbed Reid’s offer. He should have done it, first, because while the air is thick with confident predictions about what will happen if the nuclear trigger is pulled, nobody really knows. There is a very good chance that as the battle escalates, passions will surge, the tattered fabric of professionalism will dissolve, and public revulsion for both parties will explode.

If you are leading one of the greatest democratic institutions in history, it’s irresponsible to lead it into this bloody unknown if a deal on the table will give you much of what you want. As one senator who supports changing the filibuster rules says, “Is this what you want on your obit?”

Judicial filibusters are new. My former Senator, Tom Daschle, basically invented them. There is no reason for Frist to allow the minority party this new weapon.

I recognize this fight started out with how Daschle was stressing the personal and professional lives of some Bush appointees for political gain. A native of Sioux Falls, because he cared about his family more than Tom’s games, left the process early. Doubtless countless more good men will never get a vote, because the Senate Opposition’s slow torture was oto much for them. However, there is a larger principal involved.

This is a fight to reclaim the last branch of government from “liberals.” This is an attempt by a fourth generation political movement to cement its hold on power. As Ma Jones and dKos reported, by 2009 all but 2 of the 13 federal district courts could have Republican majorities. This goal is too important and too central to the Conservative cause to risk one more election cycle than need be.

Now let’s look at Brooks’ other reason

Second, Frist should have grabbed this offer because it’s time for senators to re-establish the principle that they, not the outside interest groups, run the Senate. Right now, most senators want to avoid a meltdown. It’s the outside interest groups that are goading them into the fight.

Of course the groups want a fight. The activists get up every morning hoping to change the judiciary, dreaming of total victory. Of course they’re willing to sacrifice everything else for that cause. But senators are supposed to know that serving the interest groups is not the same as serving the people: it is serving a passionate but unrepresentative minority of the people. At some point, leaders are supposed to stand up to maximalists, even the ones they mostly agree with.

David Brooks is either a fellow traveler or behind-the-times. Brooks’ assertion that the Senate should not be factional rejects the reality of fourth generation politics. It also rejects the logic behind the federalists papers. The Constitution was actually designed for factional politics more than for partisan politics.

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, should know this.

Update: Apparently I’m psychic. Completely by coincidence, this entry channeled a Matt Margolis post at Blogs for Bush.