How Flat Is the World, Really?

Joshua Clover writes in opposition to Thomas Friedman’s thesis that the world is flat in the Village Voice.

“If Friedman’s no global economist, one might expect him to check in with one who works his beat: Fernand Braudel, say, or Giovanni Arrighi, highly regarded “world systems” scholars who study interlocking histories of capital accumulation. They agree, commonsensically, that with each cycle—Renaissance Italy to the Dutch East India Trading Company, Britannia to the United States’ “Long Twentieth Century”—the relative power of a given era’s leading military-industrial regime, compared to the rest of the world, has increased steadily. That is, they believe the exact opposite of The World Is Flat. Alas, Arrighi and Braudel appear in the book’s index a combined total of zero times, 49 fewer than Microsoft.

But if Friedman’s in search of common sense he needn’t look far afield; this spring, The New York Times featured a series called “Class Matters.” In the May 15 flagship essay, his colleagues Janny Scott and David Leonhardt noted that class mobility in the United States is now less likely than it has yet been in our lifetimes. This simple, empirical fact—the playing field is tilted, and rolling uphill is harder than ever—cannot coexist with the book’s thesis.”