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Online Study Guide: The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman

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America and the Flat World: Chapters 5 - 9



The second action area is muscles. In the flat world, employees will not stay with one company for their entire working lives. Friedman considers how the government and business can enhance each worker’s lifetime employability by replacing the “fat” of lifetime employment with the “muscle” that will make someone employable for life. Friedman provides several suggestions for developing this muscle, including: a universal pension plan, more stock options, a portable health-care program, and upgrading Americans’ educations to the tertiary level, by requiring at least two years of college.

The third action area is good fat, which refers to wage insurance. Wage insurance is for individuals who have lost their jobs and will not make as much money in their new jobs because of the shifting economy. To qualify for wage insurance a worker would have to meet three criteria: he would have lost his job through displacement (offshoring, outsourcing, etc); he would have held the job for at least two years; he could not collect on the insurance until he found a new job. When in the new job, a worker could collect payments for two years at a rate of half the decrease in his income from the previous job. Moreover, the government would pay half of the displaced worker’s health insurance premiums for two years.

The fourth action area is social activism. This social activism refers to the relationship between the global corporation and its moral conscience. Friedman argues that in a flat world, social and environmental activists and progressive companies can collaborate to make both the companies more profitable and the world more livable. Moreover, Friedman says that advocates of compassionate flatism need to educate consumers about how their buying power is ultimately political. Every time a consumer makes a purchase, he or she is ultimately making a political decision.

The fifth and final action area is parenting. Friedman argues that parents must do a better job of teaching their children the values of hard work and delayed gratification. Children will not become successful adults if they are protected from every discomfort and allowed endless hours of video games and television.


At this point in the text, it should be noted that American studies scholars generally agree that when discussing The United States of America, “America” is not accurate because nations in North America, Central America, and South America also define themselves as “American.” Properly, the nation should be referred to as The United States of America, the United States, or the U.S. Throughout The World is Flat Friedman uses “America” to denote the United States.

In this section Friedman continues the structure he established with the ten flatteners--breaking each chapter down into a list or a series of elements or examples. This is an effective writing style because it makes complex ideas more manageable for the reader. However, in an effort to neatly organize his ideas, Friedman sometimes stumbles. For example, the majority of this section establishes the significance of preparing students for the rigorous task of undertaking careers in the physical and mathematical sciences as well as engineering, which Friedman argues are essential to the U.S.’s survival as the world hegemony in the 21st century. Friedman briefly touches on the importance of other, non-science jobs when he encourages his readers to “do what you love,” in a rather abstract, flimsy section of the text. Friedman’s vague, clichéd instructions for non-scientists compared with his detailed statistics which highlight Americans’ declining capacity for science necessarily suggests their increasing irrelevance in this technology-driven brave new world. One might presume that Friedman, a journalist, does not actually believe artists or scholars of the humanities are insignificant; however, his lack of attention to their specific roles in the flattening world leaves room for debate.

Another curious moment in the text is Friedman’s treatment of his conversation with Yale graduate student Eric Stern, who remarks that the women at the dinner table (Yale undergraduates) never thought about careers in science. Friedman dismisses this assertion by attempting to make it gender neutral and pursues a discussion of why science and math are not that interesting for many students. However, in leaving the statement hanging, as he does, Friedman misses an opportunity to discuss the gender disparity in science-related professions. Here he could invoke expert testimony, as he so often does, which could consider debates about how girls are educated at the elementary level.

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The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman: Book Notes Summary

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