In other news, I'm reading Thomas Friedman's much less optimistic sequel to The World Is Flat, titled Hot, Flat, and Crowded. The argument in this one is basically that globablization is causing global resource consumption to grow much, much faster than population growth would suggest, and if this trend continues, we're all pretty much fucked. He claims he will outline a way for the U.S. to solve its national malaise (which he mentions here and there but takes as basically a given) by reinventing itself as a model of a nation in which economic growth is fostered by an increase in the efficiency, rather than volume, of resource consumption.
My main criticism of Friedman so far is that he treats globalization as an inevitability. It's true that, if it can be accomplished without environmental disaster, globabilization represents an opportunity to bring every country on Earth up to the standards of living of the richest countries, which is a Good Thing. But it's hardly inevitable: history is contingent, and any of countless events could derail the process.
I was talking this over with Economist Jim down the hall (he's featured in my posts once or twice before), and he argued that globalization has been tried and failed before. I am skeptical of a number of major points in his example, but find it interesting and potentially instructive nonetheless, so I shall share it.
He made the claim that the industrialization and construction of infrastructure in the Third World was begun in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, citing examples such as railroads in India and Africa and the big canal projects in the Middle East and Latin America. Yes, this was all done for the benefit of the major colonial powers, but it still required building infrastructure and pumping large amounts of money into Third World economies, which could have used it to industrialize. What happened instead, in his model, is that Europe decided they'd rather fight the two World Wars, the U.S. decided they'd rather go isolationist and protectionist, Africa and South Asia (and, to a lesser extent, Latin America) decided they'd rather work on political independence first, and Russia, China, and much of Latin America decided they'd rather be Communist.