Thomas Friedman has chronicled, and occasionally carried the torch for, globalised free trade in the course of a long, decorated career in print. Here the Pulitzer-winning author argues, 12 years on from the book that made him famous, that the world is still flat.
MONOCLE: Globalisation is in crisis, the US is turning its back on free trade, Donald Trump is president. What went wrong for your way of thinking?
Thomas Friedman: China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation and massive automation took a bite out of middle-skilled blue and white-collar jobs. In the old days people could jump from farms to factories, factories to services, services to knowledge. But in this case middle-skilled workers were trapped in the middle – and many jumped into Trump’s arms.
M: In your latest book you talk about adapting to a globalised, connected world. But many people don’t want to adapt – they just want a good job and good schools.
TF: Well if horses could have voted there would never have been carts. The role of government is not to save jobs but to save workers and that happens via community. Not at the national level, not the single-family level but at the level of healthy community, to make workers more nimble, more flexible and able to engage in lifelong learning. That is where we are now; those are the requirements.
M: Can you point to a town or city in the US where that has actually happened?
TF: My hometown Minneapolis is one example: today it has 2.9 per cent unemployment. There’s Seattle, Portland, Austin, Charleston and Chattanooga. A lot of towns are building the tools to address exactly the challenges you are talking about – coalitions of local business that understand where the global economy is moving – and are partnering the public-school system and local government to create exactly the flexible, nimble education that thrives in today’s global economy. You can be more optimistic about America when looking from the bottom up than the top down.
The World Bank has released its latest Logistics Performance Index; it ranks nations on their timeliness and efficiency of getting goods moving. The UK ranks eighth and the US comes in at 10- here’s the top five.
Tucked away inside the red-brick Dutch embassy in London’s leafy Kensington neighbourhood, six people are working hard on a sensitive mission. Their compatriots in the building may be trying to build good relations with British PM Theresa May’s government but the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency is tasked with another agenda: to capitalise on a “hard Brexit” and persuade companies that they would be better off relocating across the North Sea.
Amsterdam is aggressively chasing anything to do with FinTech, IT, consumer goods and the creative industries, touting its excellent infrastructure, proximity to other European hubs and high standard of living as incentives. “There’s a reason our staff in London went from three to six last autumn,” says Michiel Bakhuizen, a spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, referring to how recent EU events have factored into their strategy. Whether it will work depends on just how hard Brexit actually ends up being.
Australia has enjoyed 25 years of consistent economic growth. However, economists are raising questions about how much longer that will last as China’s demand for the nation’s iron, minerals and other natural exports continues to slow. To give trade a push, a plan of much-needed infrastructure was unveiled in February, with the controversial Perth Freight Link the priority.
Ministers should also look to the smaller-scale success of individual states: Western Australia’s digital economy, with investment, could contribute as much as au$100bn (€72bn) to the state by 2025.