Thomas Friedman: The Untouchables and New Middle Jobs

Thomas Friedman: The Untouchables and New Middle Jobs

In his international bestselling book “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century” first published in 2005 and republished in 2007 with a revised edition, American journalist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman introduced the concepts “untouchables” and “new middle jobs” alongside his lengthy discussion and analysis of globalization.

What is an untouchable? Who are the untouchables?

Globalization has paved the way for the practice of outsourcing labor from other countries. Workers in developed countries are now competing against their counterparts from developing countries for similar jobs albeit different wage levels. Globalization has also resulted in technological developments that have made certain jobs obsolete.

Hence, professionals in the United States and the United Kingdom, among others, have to hedge themselves against falling wage rates and downright job elimination. These are the unintended offshoots of the flattening of the world as described by Friedman. However, some individuals are seemingly unaffected by the process of globalization. They are called untouchables.

Friedman simply defined an untouchable as an individual who has a job that cannot be outsourced to other countries. Essentially, untouchables are professionals who have occupations that are irreplaceable not only in their organizations but also in the local industry and the labor market. An untouchable professional has a job that cannot be outsourced, as well as digitized or automated.

There are four broad categories of untouchables according to Friedman. Take note of the following:

1. Special Worker: A special worker is a professional who has a global market for his good or service. This global reach also commands large salaries in exchange. Examples of special workers include pop music celebrities, famous sports athletes, and iconic business leaders or corporate executives.

2. Specialized Worker: Another category of untouchables is the so-called specialized worker who has a specialized set of high-level competencies that can be obtained through education and practice. Examples of these include high-profile or high-achieving lawyers, surgeons, and financial managers.

3. Anchored Worker: An anchored worker has a specific type of work in which he or she needs to be physically present in a certain situation to perform his or her task. Examples of anchored jobs include those in the service industries such as waiters in restaurants or skilled workers such as plumbers, machinists, and technicians.

4. Adaptable Worker: Another category of untouchables is the adaptable worker. This individual has the capacity and motivation to acquire different competencies in relation to trends in the labor market. This acquisition allows the individual to be continuously valuable. Friedman considers this category as the safest among the other categories.

The Old Middles Jobs and the New Middle Jobs

Alongside the concept of untouchables are the so-called middle jobs concept introduced by Friedman. Take note that he argued that the flattening of the world is characterized not only by globalization and the outsourcing of labor but also of the growing influence of the middle class. However, due to the globalization process, the jobs of the middle class have been pulled out and displaced in different parts of the globe.

Friedman introduced the term “old middle jobs” to characterize those occupations that are at risk of becoming touchable or in other words, those jobs that can be soon outsourced to other countries. To promote the interest of the middle class and help middle-class workers remain relevant, he also introduced the term “new middle jobs” to characterize middle-class occupations that are untouchable.

Under the aforementioned concepts are eight categories of untouchable people occupying new middle jobs: Take note of the following:

1. The Great Collaborators of Orchestrators: Individuals who have the capacity to integrate markets horizontally and translate the products of a global company to a local market. Examples of these include jobs in senior and executive management, marketing, and sales.

2. The Great Synthesizers: Individuals who are capable of combining distinct or unrelated parts of market demands to create a product or introduce a solution. An example would involve innovators at Dell Corporation who successfully created an expansive value chain within the computer industry.

3. The Great Explainers: Individuals with the capability of explaining complex situation and phenomenon in simple terms or to different groups of people. Examples of these include teachers, writers and journalists, filmmakers, and managers.

4. The Great Leveragers: Individuals who have the capacity to maximize the advantage of using computers to benefit workers. They are able to design computers or computer programs that allow people to work faster and smarter. Essentially, they bring out the best in people by maximizing the benefits of using computers.

5. The Great Adapters: Individuals who are capable of a large set of high-level skills or competencies that can be applied in various situations. They are flexible and versatile. Furthermore, they can improvise and continue to learn and grow.

6. The Green People: Individuals who have educational and professional backgrounds pertaining to solving issues affecting the environment and energy production and consumption. They are becoming relevant as issues of sustainability are threatening the future of communities and economies across the globe.

7. The Passionate Personalizers: Individuals with the capability of reinventing typical jobs or established goods or services through the process of personalization. The process might involve adding novelty, personal touch, or any other unique selling propositions that are absent in mass-produced products. Essentially, personalization enables these individuals to create new demand or serve a niche market.

8. The Great Localizers: Individuals who are capable of competing globally by bringing in together new technologies, as well as innovative principles and practices to gain a competitive advantage needed to localize the global. They essentially use aspects of the global platform and turn them in a single local business or trade.


  • Friedman, T. 2005. The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux