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Книга The World is Flat. Содержание - TWO: The Ten Forces That Flattened the World

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TWO: The Ten Forces That Flattened the World

The Bible tells us that God created the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested. Flattening the world took a little longer. The world has been flattened by the convergence often major political events, innovations, and companies. None of us has rested since, or maybe ever will again. This chapter is about the forces that flattened the world and the multiple new forms and tools for collaboration that this flattening has created.

Flattener #1: 11/9/89, When the Walls Came Down and the Windows Went Up

The first time I saw the Berlin Wall, it already had a hole in it. It was December 1990, and I was traveling to Berlin with the reporters covering Secretary of State James A. Baker III. The Berlin Wall had been breached a year earlier, on November 9, 1989. Yes, in a wonderful kabbalistic accident of dates, the Berlin Wall fell on 11/9. The wall, even in its punctured and broken state, was still an ugly scar across Berlin. Secretary Baker was making his first visit to see this crumbled monument to Soviet communism. I was standing next to him with a small group of reporters. “It was a foggy, overcast day,” Baker recalled in his memoir, The Politics of Diplomacy, “and in my raincoat, I felt like a character in a John le Carre novel. But as I peered through a crack in the Wall [near the Reichstag] and saw the high-resolution drabness that characterizes East Berlin, I realized that the ordinary men and women of East Germany, peacefully and persistently, had taken matters into their own hands. This was their revolution.” After Baker finished looking through the wall and moved along, we reporters took turns peering through the same jagged concrete hole. I brought a couple of chunks of the wall home for my daughters. I remember thinking how unnatural it looked-indeed, what a bizarre thing it was, this cement wall snaking across a modern city for the sole purpose of preventing the people on the other side from enjoying, even glimpsing, freedom.

The fall of the Berlin Wall on 11/9/89 unleashed forces that ultimately liberated all the captive peoples of the Soviet Empire. But it actually did so much more. It tipped the balance of power across the world toward those advocating democratic, consensual, free-market-oriented governance, and away from those advocating authoritarian rule with centrally planned economies. The Cold War had been a struggle between two economic systems-capitalism and communism-and with the fall of the wall, there was only one system left and everyone had to orient himself or herself to it one way or another. Henceforth, more and more economies would be governed from the ground up, by the interests, demands, and aspirations of the people, rather than from the top down, by the interests of some narrow ruling clique. Within two years, there was no Soviet Empire to hide behind anymore or to prop up autocratic regimes in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, or Latin America. If you were not a democracy or a democratizing society, if you continued to hold fast to highly regulated or centrally planned economics, you were seen as being on the wrong side of history.

For some, particularly among the older generations, this was an unwelcome transformation. Communism was a great system for making people equally poor. In fact, there was no better system in the world for that than communism. Capitalism made people unequally rich, and for some who were used to the plodding, limited, but secure Socialist lifestyle-where a job, a house, an education, and a pension were all guaranteed, even if they were meager-the fall of the Berlin Wall was deeply unsettling. But for many others, it was a get-out-of-jail-free card. That is why the fall of the Berlin Wall was felt in so many more places than just Berlin, and why its fall was such a world-flattening event.

Indeed, to appreciate the far-reaching flattening effects of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it's always best to talk to non-Germans or non-Russians. Tarun Das was heading the Confederation of Indian Industry when the wall fell in Berlin, and he saw its ripple effect felt all the way to India. “We had this huge mass of regulation and controls and bureaucracy,” he recalled. “Nehru had come to power [after the end of British colonial rule] and had a huge country to manage, and no experience of running a country. The U.S. was busy with Europe and Japan and the Marshall Plan. So Nehru looked north, across the Himalayas, and sent his team of economists to Moscow. They came back and said that this country [the Soviet Union] was amazing. They allocate resources, they give licenses, there is a planning commission that decides everything, and the country moves. So we took that model and forgot that we had a private sector... That private sector got put under this wall of regulation. By 1991, the private sector was there, but under wraps, and there was mistrust about business. They made profits! The entire infrastructure from 1947 to 1991 was government-owned... [The burden of state ownership] almost bankrupted the country. We were not able to pay our debts. As a people, we did not have self-confidence. Sure, we might have won a couple of wars with Pakistan, but that did not give the nation confidence.”

In 1991, with India running out of hard currency, Manmohan Singh, the finance minister at that time (and now the prime minister), decided that India had to open its economy. “Our Berlin Wall fell,” said Das, “and it was like unleashing a caged tiger. Trade controls were abolished. We were always at 3 percent growth, the so-called Hindu rate of growth-slow, cautious, and conservative. To make [better returns], you had to go to America. Well, three years later [after the 1991 reforms] we were at 7 percent rate of growth. To hell with poverty! Now to make it you could stay in India and become one of Forbes's richest people in the world... All the years of socialism and controls had taken us downhill to the point where we had only $1 billion in foreign currency. Today we have $ 118 billion... We went from quiet self-confidence to outrageous ambition in a decade.”

The fall of the Berlin Wall didn't just help flatten the alternatives to free-market capitalism and unlock enormous pent-up energies for hundreds of millions of people in places like India, Brazil, China, and the former Soviet Empire. It also allowed us to think about the world differently-to see it as more of a seamless whole. Because the Berlin Wall was not only blocking our way; it was blocking our sight-our ability to think about the world as a single market, a single ecosystem, and a single community. Before 1989, you could have an Eastern policy or a Western policy, but it was hard to think about having a “global” policy. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist now teaching at Harvard, once remarked to me that “the Berlin Wall was not only a symbol of keeping people inside East Germany-it was a way of preventing a kind of global view of our future. We could not think globally about the world when the Berlin Wall was there. We could not think about the world as a whole.” There is a lovely story in Sanskrit, Sen added, about a frog that is born in a well and stays in the well and lives its entire life in the well. “It has a worldview that consists of the well,” he said. “That was what the world was like for many people on the planet before the fall of the wall. When it fell, it was like the frog in the well was suddenly able to communicate with frogs in all the other wells... If I celebrate the fall of the wall, it is because I am convinced of how much we can learn from each other. Most knowledge is learning from the other across the border.”

Yes, the world became a better place to live in after 11/9, because each outbreak of freedom stimulated another outbreak, and that process in and of itself had a flattening effect across societies, strengthening those below and weakening those above. “Women's freedom,” noted Sen, citing just one example, “which promotes women's literacy, tends to reduce fertility and child mortality and increase the employment opportunities for women, which then affects the political dialogue and gives women the opportunity for a greater role in local self-government.”

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