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Thomas L. Friedman: The World in 2019
2 April @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
We live in uncertain times. From Brexit and Donald Trump’s election as US president, to Russia’s revisionism and China’s stagnating economy, international affairs are increasingly unpredictable. Thomas L. Friedman will answer questions including: What are the forces reshaping the world today? How has the West to responded to these? And what more should the West do?
By kind invitation of Lee Rowley MP, the Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to join Thomas L. Friedman for an in-depth discussion about the world in 2019.
Thomas L. Friedman is the bestselling author of The World is Flat and New York Times foreign affairs columnist renowned for his direct reporting and sophisticated analysis of complex issues facing the world. According to Foreign Policy magazine, “Friedman doesn’t just report on events; he helps shape them.” Winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, he has covered the monumental stories from around the globe for The New York Times since 1981. Vanity Fair called him “the country’s best newspaper columnist.”
Lee Rowley MP is a Conservative Party politician and former management consultant who was elected as the MP for North East Derbyshire at the 2017 general election. Before becoming an MP, Rowley worked in financial services and management consultancy. He has held positions at Barclays, KPMG, Santander, and Co-op Insurance, where he was Head of Change at the time of his election to Parliament. Rowley had also contributed research on welfare and housing to the centre-right think tank, the Centre for Social Justice.
On Tuesday 2 February the Henry Jackson Society had the honour to host Thomas L. Friedman in Parliament, to speak about his new book Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.
Tom started by explaining the reason for the book’s title; that, in this increasingly fast-moving world, whilst meeting contacts and colleagues in Washington DC, he realised how valuable it was when someone was late and he had 20 minutes to observe passers-by, get his thoughts in order and connect ideas he’d been mulling over. The premise of the book came to Tom when he struck a deal with a parking attendant, who was from Ethiopia and wrote a blog on his birthland, to teach him how to write a newspaper column in exchange for the attendant’s story. Tom told the attendant that he needed to try to both stoke passion for and illuminate a topic, whilst keeping in kind the global “machine”, as Tom phrases it. But what is this “machine”?
For Tom, the machine is the world and its five realms: the climate, geopolitics, politics, ethics and the community. The machine is then shaped and transformed by three accelerations: the market, mother nature and Moore’s Law. Tom argued that all the turmoil we are witnessing today – Trump, Brexit, climate change etc. – is of a level that we have never seen before, because we are being bombarded by all three of those accelerations at once.
Tom explained Moore’s Law first: the law that states that within a microprocessor chip, “the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years”, making it ever smaller, cheaper and more powerful. When something can double repeatedly that fast, one can get to big numbers very fast and the level of technological ability then “funky things start happening” – i.e. driverless cars etc. Moore’s Law is the driver of it all, as it enables both the market and climate accelerations. It’s what brought about 2007. What happened in 2007? In 2007 came the foundational software VMware, Hadoop and GitHub, as well as the iPhone, YouTube, Android, Kindle, Netflix, Bitcoin thesis, AirBnB and more. In 2007 DNA genome sequencing costs fell rapidly, solar energy took off, the cost of data fell whilst speeds increased, and cloud computing came into being. Cloud computing was a particular “supernova” of energy released into the world. How did we miss 2007? Because of the 2008 financial crash. What does this mean? When we should have been focusing on better adapting to these changes driven by technology, we have actually fallen behind.
Moving onto politics, Tom pointed out that every party in the industrial world has “blown up” in the last 5 years. This is because of three climate changes: of the climate, where ‘later’ is now too late; the globalised world, where we are now totally interconnected and interdependent; and, technology is transforming every aspect of the modern world. In today’s world, what political party does one belong to, when things aren’t simple as being ‘left’ or ‘right’? Tom asked: what would mother nature do? She’d form a party that was adaptable, entrepreneurial, pluralistic (diversity), sustainable, experimental, open to coalitions, a lifelong learner and believes in bankruptcy.
What about geopolitics, Tom asked. The great geopolitical divide today is not East vs West, or developed vs developing, but between order and chaos. Today, no superpower wants to step in and help your country, because the bill costs too much; population growth is out of control; and climate change is already wreaking havoc. For example, Senegal has already hit two degrees of extra warming! So, the three great accelerations are blowing these countries away, because they don’t have the foundations to stand strong.
Finally, Tom took a quick look at ethics and introduced the question that was asked of him: “Is God in cyberspace?” After thought and consultation, Tom told the crowd his answer was that the traditional conception of God does not exist in cyberspace, but that we can bring god into cyberspace by our own actions. Tom elaborated on his point by stating that at some point a few years ago we started living 51% of our lives in cyberspace. But in cyberspace no one is in charge. God is not there. It’s up to us to establish the rules in cyberspace and perhaps in doing so, bring a conception of god into cyberspace.
Tom concluded by referencing a Brandi Carlisle lyric, that you can only dance in a hurricane if you are in the eye of the storm, and this is what we must do now. We must create dynamic platforms, systems and communities that form an eye, from which we can survive the hurricanes.