Japan and Friedman`s Globalization 3.0

After thinking more about this conversation on globalization, I re-read Tom Friedman`s The World is Flat over the winter break. The book is out in paperback, of course, and Friedman calls this updated and expanded version "3.0" in the introduction. It`s about 650 pages, but it`s a really quick read. Especially the second time around. Friedman tells lots of excellent stories that take you right along on his own personal journey around the world. There is a lot of talk of China and India, of course, but Japan comes up from time to time, too. And that`s what hit me this time around. Japan.

Some brief background first. Friedman breaks down the history of globalization into to three gigantic meta categories -- countries, companies, and individuals. Basically, globalization 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. And we are just now entering 3.0, the era of individual globalization, where everyone who has access to technology (that`s Friedman`s "flat-world platform") has to compete with everyone else in the world who has access to technology. Now, it took 500 years of globalization to get here, but that`s where we find ourselves now. And I think the key point to the book is that globalization 3.0 is very, very different from globalization 1.0 and 2.0 because 3.0 is based on, in part, the individual. That`s where Japan comes on.

Although Japan comes up from time to time while Friedman discusses globalization 2.0, I could find very few (if any, actually) references to Japan and globalization 3.0. Friedman goes to great lengths to talk about how individuals can compete in the new flat world, but that discussion seemed to be focused primarily on the United States and Western Europe and the emerging markets in Eastern Europe, India, and China. That`s when it hit me that Japan seems vulnerable under Friedman`s theory since Japan is not based on the concept of the "individual" at all and it`s certainly not an emerging market. It`s all about "groups" here, and individuality is somewhat rare among the average Japanese -- certainly among the millions of workers that make up corporate Japan in and around Tokyo. I didn`t think about this when I read the book the first time since I hadn`t lived in Japan yet. It`s obvious now, though.

So, can Japan, which is famous for its vertically integrated corporations (the exact opposite from Friedman`s open and horizontally flat world), compete in globalization 3.0? How would "groups" of people even recognize this as a problem? And how would these groups of people transform Japan`s various corporate global supply chains into an economy that recognizes individual global competition? This is not as great a problem for the west since most western cultures are based much more on the concept of individuality -- especially the United States. Friedman hints at this cultural issue when he quotes various Chinese leaders who recognize this very problem in China. China (and Korea, for that matter) shares with Japan some of these East Asian characteristics of groups. But China seems to be changing specifically to compete on all levels -- country, company, and individual. That third part is most fascinating here in East Asia. Will China pull it off? Will Japan recognize the issue and engage down at that level?

Some Friedman flat world videos here at MIT and here on Charlie Rose and here at the NYT.

People seem to either love or hate Friedman. I enjoyed "The Lexus & The Olive Tree" but feel his seat at the NYT gives him more exposure than he might otherwise deserve. Matt Taibbi has a scathing critique of Friedman at NYPress that was interesting to me.


Posted by Gen Kanai on January 07, 2008 at 04:54 PM JST #

hey, Gen. Yah,that`s one nice review, eh? :) It`s a bit over the top for me, just as Friedman is in places. But I certainly agree that Friedman gets more attention than he may deserve. However, I cut him some slack here because he really is writing for a general audience and people who are no aware of this issue at all. And yes, I can see now how some love him and some hate him. I`m someplace in the middle, I suppose.

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on January 08, 2008 at 12:40 AM JST #

it's a really nice book, i've actually listened as i have it in audio book format, and i could not help noticing that what friedman describes for india applies now to Argentina and Brazil

Posted by nacho on January 08, 2008 at 01:22 AM JST #

He presents good arguments for free trade but on other hand, presents the anti-free traders as not deserving a voice. He's definitely one of the smartest journalists out there that covers economics, international relations...

Posted by Doron Aronson on January 08, 2008 at 01:24 AM JST #

[Trackback] Bookmarked your post over at Blog Bookmarker.com!

Posted by japan on January 08, 2008 at 11:34 AM JST #

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