Thomas Friedman, lead New York Times op-ed writer on international affairs, can drive most any class partisan to pull his or her hair out. Like some preachers who visit a picket line to denounce both corporate greed and picket line militancy, Friedman can be counted upon to plant his feet squarely on both sides of nearly every question.

He’s a Bush critic — but Iraq occupation supporter; he’s a critic of Israel’s policies — but an occupation supporter; he sympathizes with the poor — but prefers to dine with the rich; he suspects globalization’s “losers,” including the “terrorists,” have some real grievances — but ‘understands’ Bush may have to kill them.

Friedman has a sharp and intuitive interviewing talent. He draws out compelling stories of the momentous changes technology intertwined with globalization have wrought. He composes a “big picture” out of these stories that is provocative, despite a proclivity for self-inflicted platitude and second-rate analysis.

The next stage

In his latest book, “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century,” Friedman surveys what he calls “Globalization 3.0” — globalization’s next stage. Through a series of interviews with some key players in the global economy, he makes a persuasive argument for the following ideas:

• If you thought the dot-com bust had slowed down globalization, you were wrong. The material basis for globalization is expanding, and so is its pace.

• The combination of the Internet revolution and the zillion miles of fiber-optic cable laid in the ’90s have enabled China, India, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Russia, several former Soviet republics and others to plug directly into global supply chains.

• Technologically supercharged supply-chaining is truly revolutionizing global production, making it possible for even an individual, a home or small business to access global markets and resources. It has also challenged the notion that only “resource-(aka, oil)-rich” countries can find a niche in the global economy.

• Investments in “knowledge” are growing rapidly in the emerging economies, alongside supply-chain integration. They think they are in a race to the top, not the bottom.

• The new growth triggered by Globalization 3.0 can lead to world war over energy resources if global, cooperative Manhattan-style alternative energy development projects are not undertaken.

• For U.S. workers, like workers worldwide, the watchword is unending change. The only insurance against becoming “losers” in the vast global economy — if there be any at all — is intensive investments in education and R&D, combined with a government takeover (in some form) of retirement and health care costs from corporations.

Those are the thoughtful points. Unfortunately Friedman stumbles frequently on his ignorance. The existence of class discord is constantly wrecking the otherwise charmed future he would like to paint. He just does not understand why people get soooo upset when their lives are wrecked in one of capitalism’s “creative destruction” phases.

Quoting the Communist Manifesto

Friedman’s account of his “startling discovery” (with the assistance of a Harvard professor) that none other than Karl Marx authored the most telling and prophetic depiction of capitalism’s globalizing and dynamic features way back in 1848 may leave you laughing for the author’s naiveté. But it’s a great quote he cites from the “Communist Manifesto”:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. … Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois [capitalist] epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Leaving us with these speculations and many more questions than answers, Friedman wishes us all good luck in the flat world (he confesses knowing it is not really flat). He’s off to have dinner with another king or CEO.