Thomas Friedman speaks on new, flat world

By Angela Whited

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman spoke Tuesday in Kagin Commons to over 600 Macalester community members, distinguished alumni and donors about his book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.

Friedman discussed how globalization continues to change the world and the way we live in it.

The speech, the inaugural event for the new Institute for Global Citizenship, packed Kagin, with less than 20 empty seats at the back of the room separating the Macalester crowd from the press, which stood in the back of the ballroom. Three hundred sixty-five students received tickets for the event from the lottery conducted by Card Services and an additional 150 picked up tickets for the live broadcast in the John B. Davis lecture hall. One hundred tickets for faculty and staff members were also given out, Dean of Students Laurie Hamre said.

“It was the best attendance I’ve seen for any on campus lecture since I’ve been at Mac and it got the school some press coverage, which I think was good,” Caleb Jonas ’07 said.

President Rosenberg gave the introductory remarks, which included mention of the Institute for Global Citizenship, the college’s developing foundation that focuses on educating students on what it means to be a global citizen. He also spoke of Macalester’s continued commitment to bring “speakers of the highest quality on issues of the greatest importance” to the college.

The exact cost for Friedman’s lecture has not been released, as Hamre signed a “non-disclosure” clause on his visit’s price. However, New York Magazine’s salary guide for 2005 lists Friedman’s speaking fee at $40,000.

Friedman addressed the ways in which globalization has made the world flat by leveling the economic playing field for all individuals in all countries. He made a point to explain that a flat world does not mean an equal world. A flat world refers to a world that works horizontally through people connecting and collaborating rather than a vertical world determined by command and control, he said.

Speaking for an hour, Friedman explained the 10 world-flattening events and the eight categories of new middle jobs listed in his book. In a story about getting a bad seat on a plane to visit his daughter he also described the sort of convergence that marks this current “mother of all inflection points” in history.

“[When Southwest added online ticketing], you, the individual, became your own ticket agent,” he said. “You, the individual, became an employee of Southwest Airlines. You, the individual, are paying Southwest to be their employee!”

Student response to the speech was mixed. Aditi Naik, ’07, waiting in line to buy a copy of the book, said she enjoyed it, but as she said, “[I] thought he could have done more to address the current political situation.”

Zach Teicher ’07 said he had expected more from Friedman’s speech.

“I was really disappointed,” he said. “His address was really standard….The fact is, this was supposed to be one of the kickoff events for the Center [for Global Citizenship], and it was supposed to be monumental, and it wasn’t.”

But Kabir Sethi, ’09, also in the book line, was pleased. “As an Indian student… at Macalester,” he said, “[I think] the message needs to be sent out that globalization can sometimes do more good for poor countries than for rich ones.”

Friedman took several questions from Macalester students who lined up at two microphones, and appeared impressed by the questions. “Great questions….I was searching for answers, it wasn’t an automatic response,” he said in an interview. “They really made me think.”