May 01, 2014

Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and TCU’s Schieffer School of Journalism Series Dialoges. Credit: CSIS / Flickr Creative Commons


Tom Friedman has a confession: "I got it wrong. The world is so much flatter than I thought, and it happened so much faster."

Ten years ago, when the New York Times columnist sat down to write the book that would become "The World Is Flat," there were a few, not-so-small developments he couldn't have anticipated - from Twitter to the Great Recession to the iPhone.

"The cloud was still in the sky, 4G was a parking place, applications were what you sent to colleges," he jokes.

On Education

And all this connectivity means that the pressure on American students is even greater. But, for the most part, we're not rising to the challenge, according to Friedman.

He says there's no secret sauce when it comes to why other countries are beating us in math and science. Often, it's a combination of relentless focus on teacher training and parents who have a sense of ownership over their children's education. At least, that's what has worked in South Korea and Shanghai, China (where Friedman interviewed teachers).

The key, he says, is "something I actually learned covering energy: If you want to make big change, you need a system. And what a system allows is for ordinary people to do extraordinary things."

On Young People and Jobs

If the pressure to succeed in school is high across the world, the pressure to get - or create - a good job is even more acute. "When I graduated from college, I got to find a job. My girls will have to invent a job."

The days of working for 33 years for the same company are pretty much over, Friedman argues. "You no longer think of yourself as having a job – I think you have to think of yourself as an income entrepreneur."

Examples of this kind of entrepreneurship abound: AirBnB, Lyft, and Uber are all ways to pick up some extra cash.

But it isn't necessarily negative, he points out. "The upside is, it never occurred to me that I could start a global company overnight. That opportunity never existed."

On the Middle Class

While the recession of 2008 does bear some blame for all the instability in today's job market, "it's partly a function of changes in the economy now. This thing called a high-wage, middle-skilled job — which was the foundation of the American middle class, has really disappeared."

Jobs are going in three directions, Friedman says: They either require more skill, they're getting outsourced to robots or other countries, or they're just being made obsolete. But not everyone has let this fact sink in.

"We have leaders still telling us, if you work hard and play by the rules you should still be in the middle-class. Well good luck with that."

college, career, Education, Tom Friedman, students, Culture, globalization, work

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