"In his book
"The world is Flat" Friedman tries desperately
to argue that Globalisation is a leveller of inequalities in
societies. But when you only look at the worldwide Web of
information technology, and refuse to look at the web of life,
the food web, the web of community, the web of local economies
and local cultures which Globalisation is destroying, it is easy
to make false and fallacious arguments that the world is flat.
When you look at the world perched on heights of arrogant, blind
power, separated and disconnected from those who have lost their
livelihoods, lifestyles, and lives - farmers and workers
everywhere - it is easy to be blind both to the valleys of
poverty and the mountains of affluence. Flat vision is a
disease. But Friedman would like us to see his diseased,
perverse flat view of globalisations polarisations as a
revolution that aims to reverse the revolutions that allowed us
to see that the world is round and the earth goes round the sun,
not the other way around. "
The project of corporate Globalisation is a project for polarising
and dividing people - along axis of class and economic inequality, axis
of religion and culture, axis of gender, axis of geographies and
regions.Never before in human history has the gap between those who
labour and those who accumulate wealth without labour been greater.
Never before has hate between cultures been so global. Never before has
there been a global convergence of three violent trends - the violence
of primitive accumulation for wealth creation, the violence of "culture
wars", and the violence of militarized warfare.
Yet Thomas Friedman, describes this deeply divided world created by
Globalisation and its multiple offspring's of insecurity and
polarization as a "flat" world. In his book
"The world is Flat" Friedman tries desperately
to argue that Globalisation is a leveller of inequalities in societies.
But when you only look at the worldwide Web of information technology,
and refuse to look at the web of life, the food web, the web of
community, the web of local economies and local cultures which
Globalisation is destroying, it is easy to make false and fallacious
arguments that the world is flat.
When you look at the world perched on heights of arrogant, blind power,
separated and disconnected from those who have lost their livelihoods,
lifestyles, and lives - farmers and workers everywhere - it is easy to
be blind both to the valleys of poverty and the mountains of
affluence.Flat vision is a disease. But Friedman would like us to see
his diseased, perverse flat view of globalisations polarisations as a
revolution that aims to reverse the revolutions that allowed us to see
that the world is round and the earth goes round the sun, not the other
Friedman has reduced the world to the friends he visits, the CEO's he
knows, and the golf courses he plays at. From this microcosm of
privilege, exclusion, blindness, he shuts out both the beauty of
diversity and the brutality of exploitation and inequality, he shuts out
the social and ecological externalities of economic globalisation and
free trade, he shuts out the walls that globalisation is building --
walls of insecurity and hatred and fear -- walls of "intellectual
property", walls of privatization.
He focuses only on laws, regulations and policies which were the
protections of the weak and the vulnerable, on barriers necessary as
boundary conditions for the exercise of freedom and democracy, rights
and justice, peace and security, sustainability and sharing of the
earth's precious and vital resources. And he sees the dismantling of
these ecological and social protections for deregulated commerce as a
But this flattening is like the
flattening of cities with bombs, the flattening of Asia's coasts by
the tsunami, the flattening of forests and tribal homelands to build
dams and mine minerals. Friedman's conceptualization of the world as
flat is accurate only as a description of the social and ecological
destruction caused by deregulated commerce or "free - trade". On every
other count it is inaccurate and false.
Take Friedman's description of their waves of globalisation. According
to him, globalization 1.0 which lasted from 1492 when
Columbus set sail to 1800 and shrank the world from a size large to
a size medium, with countries and governments breaking down walls and
knitting the world together. Globalisation 2.0 which lasted from 1800 to
2000, which shrank the world from a size medium to a size small, and the
key agent of change was multinational companies. Globalisation 3.0
started in 2000, is shrinking the size small to size tiny, and it is
being driven by individuals.
This is a totally false view of history.
From our perspective in the south, the three waves of
globalisation have been based on the use of force, they have been
driven by greed, and they have resulted in dispossession and
For native Americans globalisation 1.0 started from 1492 and has
still not ended. For us in India the first wave of globalisation was
driven by the first global corporation, the
East India Company, working closely with the British team, and
did not end till 1947 when we got Independence.
We view the current phase as a recolonisation, with a
similar partnership between multinational corporations and powerful
governments. It is corporate led, not people led.
And the current phase did not begin in 2000 as Friedman would
have us believe. It began in the 1980's with the structural
adjustment programmes of
World Bank and
IMF imposing trade liberalisation
and privatization, and was accelerated since 1995 with the
World Trade Organisation at the end of the
Round of the General Agreement of Trade and Tariffs.
Friedman's false flat earth history then enables him make two big
leaps - results of coercive, undemocratic "free trade" treaties are
reduced to achievements of information technology and corporate
globalisation and corporate control is presented as the collaborations
and competition between individuals. The WTO, World Bank and IMF
disappear, and the multinational corporations disappear. Globalisation
is then about technological inevitability and individual innovativeness,
not a project of powerful corporations aided by powerful institutions
and powerful governments.
Neither e-commerce not walmartisation of the economy could take place
without the dismantling of trade protections, workers protections,
environmental protections. Technology of communication do not make long
distance supply of goods, including food products cheaper than local
supply. Low wages, subsidies, externalisation of costs make Walnut
cheap, not its information technology based supply chain management.
In 1988, I was in Berlin before the Berlin wall fell. We were part of
the biggest ever mobilisation against the World Bank. Addressing a rally
of nearly 100,000 people at the Berlin wall I had said that the Berlin
wall should be dismantled as should the wall between rich and poor the
World Bank creates by locking the Third world into debt, privatising our
resources, and transforming our economies into markets for multinational
corporations. I spoke about how the alliance between the World Bank and
global corporations was establishing a centrally controlled,
authoritarian rule like communism in its control, but different in the
objective of profits as the only end of power. As movements we sought
and fought for bringing down all walls of power and inequality.
Friedman's flat vision makes him blind to the emergence of corporate
rule through the rules of corporate globalisation as the establishment
of authoritarian rule and centrally controlled economies. He presents
the collapse of the Berlin wall as having "tipped the balance of power
across the world toward those advocating democratic, consensual,
free-market-oriented governance, and away from those advocating
authoritarian rule with centrally planned economies."
Citizens' movements fighting globalisation advocate democratic,
consensual governance and fight W.T.O, the World Bank and global
corporations precisely because they are undemocratic and dictatorial;
they are authoritarian and centralized. The W.T.O agreement on
Agriculture was drafted by Amstutz, a Cargill official, who led the U.S
negotiations on agriculture during the Urguay Round and is now in-charge
of Food and Agriculture in the Iraqi Constitution. This is a centrally
planned authoritarian rule over food and farming.
That is why the democratic and consensual response of citizens'
movements and Third world governments in Cancun led to the collapse of
the W.T.O. Ministerial. And it was the so called "flatteners" who were
erecting walls - the barricades at which the Korean farmer Lee took his
life, the walls that the U.S Trade Representative Robert Zoellick tried
to create between "Can do" and "Can't do" countries. What Zoellick and
Friedman fail to see is that what they call "can't do" is the "Can do"
for the defense of farmers in the face of dumping and unfair trade.Their
world is shaped by and focussed in Cargill - our world is shaped by and
focussed on 300 million species and 6 billion people.
The biggest wall created by W.T.O is the wall of the trade related
Intellectual Property Rights Agreement. (TRIPS). This too is part of a
centrally planned authoritarian rule. As Monsanto admitted, in drafting
the agreement, the corporations organised as the Intellectual Property
Committee were the "patients, diagnosticians and physicians all in one."
Instead of telling the story of TRIPS and how corporate and WTO led
globalisation is forcing India to dismantle its democratically designed
patent laws, creating monopolies on seeds and medicines, pushing farmers
to suicide and denying victims of AIDS, Cancer, TB, and Malaria access
to life saving drugs, Friedman engages in another dishonest step to
create a flat world.
He presents the open source Software Movement initiated by Richard
Stallman, as a flattening trend of corporate globalisation when Stallman
is a leading critic of intellectual property and corporate monopolies,
and a fighter against the walls corporations are creating to prevent
farmers from saving seeds, researchers from doing research, and software
developers from creating new software. By presenting open sourcing in
the same category as outsourcing and off shore production, Friedman
hides corporate greed, corporate monopolies and corporate power, and
presents corporate globalisation as human creativity and freedom.
This is deliberate dishonesty, not just result of flat vision. That is
why in his stories from India he does not talk Dr. Hamid of CIPLA who
provided AIDS medicine to Africa for $ 200 when U.S. corporations wanted
to sell them for $ 20,000 and who has called W.T.O's patent laws "genocidal".
And inspite of Friedman's research team having fixed an appointment with
me to fly down to Bangalore to talk about farmers' suicides for the
documentary Friedman refers to. Friedman cancelled the appointment at
the last minute.
Telling a one sided story for a one sided interest seems to be
Friedman's fate. That is why he talks of 550 million Indian youth
overtaking Americans in a flat world. When the entire information
Technology/outsourcing sector in India employs only a million out of a
1.2 billion people. Food and farming, textiles and clothing, health and
education are nowhere in Friedman's monoculture of mind locked into IT.
Friedman presents a 0.1% picture and hides 99.9%. And in the 99.9% are
Monsanto's seed monopolies and the suicides of thousands of wars. In the
eclipsed 99.9% are the 25 million women who disappeared in high growth
areas of India because a commodified world has rendered women a
dispensable sex. In the hidden 99.9% economy are thousands of tribal
children in Orissa, Maharashtra, Rajasthan who died of hunger because
the public distribution system for food has been dismantled to create
markets for agribusiness. The world of the 99.9% has grown poorer
because of the economic globalisation.
And it is their rights we fight for. We work to build alternatives for a
just, sustainable, peaceful world - a shared and common world - in which
our common humanity and universal responsibility links us in earth
democracy. The walls of exclusion and discrimination that globalisation
has strengthened are made by men in power. Like the Berlin wall, they
too must dissolve, because authoritarian rule is inconsistent with free
societies, and corporate globalisation is a form of authoritarianism and
dictatorship which is robbing us of our fundamental freedoms and our
full human potentials.
And the world we are reclaiming and rejuvenating is not flat. It is
diverse democratic and decentralised, it is sustainable and secure for
all, based on cooperation and sharing of the earth's resources and our
skills and creativity. The freedom we seek is freedom for all, not
freedom for a few. Free-trade is about corporate freedom and citizen
What Friedman is presenting as a new "flatness" is in fact a new caste
system, a new Brahminism, locked in hierarchies of exclusion. In
Friedman's caste system, the "Shudras", are all whose livelihoods are
being robbed to expand the markets and increase the profits of global
corporations. They are shut out by invisible social and economic walls
created by globalisation while it dismantles walls for protection of
people's livelihoods and jobs.
The Indians being drawn into the U.S economy through outsourcing are not
the new Brahmins. They must be satisfied with one-fifth to one-eighth of
the salaries of their U.S counterparts, and what is outsourced is "grunt
work" "number crunching", standardized, mechanical operations.
Outsourcing is Taylorism of the information age.
The control is in the hands of the corporations in U.S. They are the
Brahmins who monopolise knowledge through intellectual property.
Outsourcing and off-shoring is like the "putting out" work in the
industrial revolution. These are old tools for maintaining exploitative
hierarchies - not new flat earth linkages between equals, equal in
creativity and equal in rights.
Free trade freedom is flat earth freedom. Earth democracy is full earth
freedom and round earth freedom - freedom for all beings to live their
lives within the abundant, renewable but limited bounds of the earth. We
do not inhabit a world without limits where unbounded corporate greed
can be unleashed and allowed to destroy the earth and rob people of
their security, their livelihoods, their resources. Full earth freedom
is born in free societies, shaped by free people recognizing the freedom
of all. Diversity is an expression of full earth freedom. "Flatness" is
a symptom of the absence of real freedom. Facism seeks flatness.