Westmont Magazine An Evening of Global Proportions
“Where else in the world does an Evangelical college invite a Jewish New York Times columnist to speak at a breakfast where a Presbyterian minister gives the invocation and the choir sings in Swahili? Is this a great country or what?” asked Thomas Friedman at the start of his talk for the second annual President’s Breakfast Feb. 28. About 830 people attended the popular event, which sold out in three hours. David McCullough spoke last year.
The three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author discussed his latest book, “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.” It came about by accident, he says. After 9-11, he focused primarily on the Middle East. Then he traveled to India for a documentary exploring the question, “Why do they hate us?” Meeting entrepreneurs there surprised him; they wanted to write software for American companies, do American tax returns, read American x-rays and trace lost American luggage — all from India. “The global economic field is being leveled, and you Americans are not ready for it,” an Indian told Friedman.
When he returned to New York, Friedman took a leave of absence to update his view of the world, and the book reveals the revolution he nearly missed. A “perfect storm” had distracted him: 9-11, the dot-com bust, and the Enron scandal.
Friedman refers to the flattening of the world as the “mother of innovations, as big as the invention of the printing press. Whatever can be done, will be done. The question is, will it be done by you or to you?” He summarized the leading levelers listed in the book, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Internet, a revolution in software, outsourcing and uploading. When he referred to Washington as “brain dead” he drew applause, but he is not down on the United States. “The country is alive,” he said. “There is an incredible free market that empowers individuals to do what can be done. We will not win in the 21st century by default, but we won’t lose automatically either. Never cede a century to a country that censors Google.”
After the breakfast, Friedman answered questions by a panel of students on campus. Sonja Egeland ’08, Andrew Franklin ’07 and Teri Tan ’08 have all traveled or lived overseas and brought an international perspective to their comments. In his responses, Friedman praised social entrepreneurs, “MBAs with the soul of Peace Corps workers,” who are not only making money but a difference in developing countries. “If it’s not happening, it’s because you’re not doing it,” he said. “The only thing standing between you and being a great social entrepreneur is you.”
According to Friedman, 9-11 is about humiliation. “Young Muslims are raised to believe that Islam is God’s most perfect and complete message. But they see followers of inferior religions living more democratically, powerfully and profitably, and that creates a huge dissonance. Think how humiliated you have to be to blow yourself up. They suffer from a poverty of dignity.” Friedman noted that if you don’t visit a bad neighborhood, it will visit you in a flat world. He is less concerned about WMDs than PMDs, people of mass destruction.
Friedman also praised liberal arts education, which allows students to take different specialties and “mash them together to make something new.” He encouraged the audience to “know the world you are living in, where individuals are empowered, and let your imagination run riot.”