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April 6 • 2006
n my role as col-
umnist, my job is
to keep you, the
reader, informed of cer-
tain current events and
And the news I have
been following is filled
with doom, and I'm not
talking about Osama
bin Laden and the War
on Terror, Barry Bonds
and steroid abuse, or even Paris Hilton
and a lip-gloss mishap.
After reading halfway through Tom
Friedman's new book The World is
Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First
Century, I discovered that, contrary to
. the author's belief, computer technol-
ogy's effect on leveling the workforce
playing field — hence flattening the
world — might not be a good thing.
When companies like Reuter's can
cheaply hire a very eager and moti-
vated person in Bangalore, India,
to enter data like earnings report
announcements, so a "real journalist"
in America can take the time to do the
analysis story, it means one less way
for one of our slackers to break into
To become a commodity trader in
Chicago a few decades ago, I learned
the ropes by starting as a runner
—, the equivalent of a job in the mail-
room — on the trading floor. After
a few years of working on the floor,
I didn't need a finance degree; I had
learned enough of the business to take
a chance and lose money in my own
Now the trading floor is virtually
non-existent. Computers have taken
over, creating an electronic trading
floor, and you can be a trader by click-
ing on a screen with your mouse.
You can't get from runner to trader
anymore, because the floor doesn't
exist. And you can't get from the mail-
room to the executive's desk if the
mailroom's in India.
Friedman writes that although the
United States will lose some service
jobs to India, "total exports from
American-based companies to India
have grown from $2.5 billion in 1990
to $5 billion in 2003. India's grow-
ing economy is creating a demand
for many more American goods and
It's also drawing away our talent.
The flattening world also
includes China. China is to
Japan what India is to the
United States. The same rules
apply: Chinese graduate stu-
dents are doing the grunt work
for Japanese companies.
I've read as many stories
about China and India becom-
ing the industrial leaders of the
world as I have about global
warming, and linking the two
In a recent 60 Minutes segment,
James Hansen, the world's leading
global warming researcher and head
of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space
Studies, said that if greenhouse gas
emissions are not reversed within the
next 10 years, global. warming will
reach an irreversible "tipping point:'
and the planet will not recover.
Although he chided the Bush
administration for editing his dire
warnings, America isn't the sole prob-
lem here. We could practically stop
using our cars and return to riding
in a horse and buggy, and it wouldn't
matter. China is becoming a formi-
dable manufacturing center for the
world with cheap labor and not much
in the way of emissions regulation.
Whatever we reduce, they'll make up
for it, and then some.
I was going to come up with a
world-to-save-the-planet solution to
end this column, but I was scooped.
According to a story I saw on the
Drudge Report Web page, Eric Pianka,
a University of Texas professor, said,
"Earth would be better off with 90 per-
cent of the human population dead."
"Civilization is on the brink of its
downfall," he said, according to a
Seguin Gazette story from Texas,"like-
ly at the hand of widespread disease."
And the disease he's thinking of isn't
a mutated avian flu virus with its lousy
50 percent mortality rate. It's a similar
mutation to the Ebola virus, which kills
90 percent of those infected.
So take your pick for the near
future: drown when the polar ice caps
melt, die of acute respiratory distress
from avian flu, bleed to death inter-
nally and externally from Ebola, or
apply for a job in Bangalore.
Harry Kirsbaum's e-mail address is