Thomas Friedman’s Flat Earth

The Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Talks Wednesday Morning at Westmont's President's Breakfast

The Internet revolution has “flattened” the world from India,
China, and Russia to the U.S. and we’d all better pay attention or
be left behind, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (pictured)
told Santa Barbarans today. friedman.JPG And there’s “one iron rule” about this,
the Pulitzer Prize-winner warned more than 900 locals who attended

Westmont College’s annual President’s Breakfast
at Fess Parker’s Doubletree
: “When the world is flat, what can be done will be done
and the only question is whether it will be done by you or to

The author of the best-seller The World Is
quoted an Indian entrepreneur who told him, “The
global economic playing field is being leveled and you Americans
are not ready.” If we think we are king of the hill, Friedman was
saying that there is no longer a hill. If the 19th
Century belonged to England and the 20th to the U.S., will the 21st
be dominated by China, as some predict? “Maybe, maybe not,” said
Friedman. He quoted his grandmother in Minnesota, who plays bridge
by computer with someone in Siberia: “Never cede a century
to a country that censors Google.
” (As China does.)


So what’s being done in the U.S. to thrive in this flat earth
world? “Washington is brain dead,” Friedman
charged, to strong applause from the breakfast crowd. The nation’s
political leaders are not preparing the country for the new world,
but “the country is alive with individual innovation,” and where
once countries led the way, then businesses, now individuals have
the freedom to innovate, thanks to a “wired world” and a wireless
one as well. They’re connecting individually and “that is the new
thing today.” Individuals, he said, are now “authors of their own

“I’m not ready to give the 21st Century to anyone,” said
Friedman, explaining that the Internet has brought in “three
billion new players” in China, Russia, and India to help shape the
century. He likened the Internet revolution to Gutenberg’s
printing press
, which allowed knowledge and information to
be spread widely. Where we once had the Encyclopedia Britannica in heavy
books, then Encarta online
encyclopedia with 38,000 entries, we now have Wikipedia, where
people “are writing their own encyclopedia” to the tune of 1.2
million entries.

A huge part of the flattening is the supply chain, he said.
Wal-Mart is the largest
retailer in the world but it doesn’t make a thing,” and instead
orders items from around the world. He marveled that his taxi
driver in Budapest, Hungary, has a personal website in several
languages, plus music. Where his parents warned him to clean his
plate because there are starving people in China, he now advises
children to “do your homework” because people in China and India
“are starving for your jobs.”

Unfortunately, Friedman added, the flat world “platform” also is
used by terrorists.

Taking the stage after the
Westmont College Choir
, Friedman asked, “Where else in the
world” can an evangelical college invite a Jewish New York
columnist to speak at an event with an invocation
delivered by a Presbyterian minister (the Rev.
Harold Bussell
of El Montecito
Presbyterian Church
) and a choir singing a song in Swahili?
“Is this a great country or what?”

The Westmont Foundation needed all the help it could get from
heaven and earth, plus a hefty fee, to snag in-demand Friedman. The
second annual President’s Breakfast (historian
David McCullough
was last year) sold out in 3 ½ hours when
first announced.

(Barney Brantingham can be reached at or call


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.