Review: The Lexus and the Olive Tree

Please bear with me as I attempt to review a non-fiction book, something I’ve been telling myself for ages that I need to do more of, but never quite seem to get around to.

Tomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization was a book required for my Sociology of Globalization class (understandably enough) and does, in my opinion, a wonderful job of outlying some of the key components of globalization, as well as how it differs from the old Cold War system. Friedman hits on such topics like the Electronic Herd (those millions and millions of unseen people moving money around on the internet, whether through banks, online shopping, hedge funds and other investments who have a not-to-be-underestimated power over the political and financial markets), the Long and Shorthorn Cattle of Investment (long horn being those companies who invest in state infrastructure and similar things that promise great dividends but require a time investment, rather than short-horns, who invest in things like the stock market and futures because of the promise of quick turn around with riskier dividends) and, most interestingly, his Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Resolution that says that no two countries that have a McDonald’s have ever gone to war with each other (this isn’t really a hard and fast rule but is more used by Friedman to show the politically stabilizing effect that the globalized economic force can have).

But this isn’t to say that I didn’t have some MAJOR problems with the arguments that Friedman made or, more rightly, the justification he has behind making these arguments. He presents good ways of understanding globalization, and he’s right to point out that globalization is an inevitable force, but he seems to forget that there is a large gap between the hypothetical and the light of reality. Friedman refers to the United States a number of times as the “benign Hegemon” (scary ties between this and the Orson Scott Card Ender books popped up immediately) and states clearly that tantamount to globalization is Americanization. He says these things as though they’re not a problem and perhaps for many they’re not, but just the idea that America somehow as the right or responsibility for the rest of the world rubs me the wrong way. Don’t misunderstand me – America can’t help but get involved and thus has a responsibility to clean up the messes it makes, I just wish it would stop making so many damn messes to begin with!

Another key issue I had with Friedman is that he basically ignores the existence of any kind of global third world or a population with the desire but not the ability to join the globalization race. He states in a number of chapters that one of the drawbacks of the globalization system is that it doesn’t do much but keep the rich richer and the poor poorer (sure, there is this idea of “the best to succeed will do so” and “the market is so huge, anyone can join”, but be honest – what chance does a poor, disconnected country really have of successfully cracking into the burgeoning global market) but, again, this doesn’t seem to bother him. He takes it as a part of globalization, and the only question that ran through my mind through most of the book was DOES IT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY?!?!?! Sure, globalization isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But there HAS TO BE some kind of happy medium between the full-on embracing of globalization and thus it’s lack of social conscience, and spurring it completely and giving up all hope at economic prosperity. Then again, if I knew the way there I’d already have my Nobel Prize in Economics.

If you’re looking for a book to outline some of the basics of the globalization system, Friedman’s metaphors really do a good job of putting everything into it’s proper scope and format. However, be forewarned that, like I outlined above. Friedman is pretty staunchly free-market capitalist and as such turns more of a blind eye to silly “leftist-psuedo-hippy-social-welfare”, as my darling grandfather likes to refer to social issues. The choice of politics is up to you, but it’s probably best to know where Friedman stands before you get ready to tussle with him!

Happy reading!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Jul 29, 2011 @ 21:44:49

    I found myself in a similar situation; having to read an assigned reading for class and then provide feedback in the form of a disagreement. However, instead of reading the book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, I had to read Thomas Friedman’s luncheon address transcript that addressed his book at a national conference that promulgated the concept of globalization.

    I have two major concerns with Friedman’s theory on globalization. The first one you covered well and that is the gap between the have and the have-nots or as you so eloquently stated, “The population with the desire but not the ability to join the globalization race”. To further solidify your point the Global Energy Institute Network reports 1.6 billion people do not have electricity in the world. The last time I checked you needed electricity to connect to the internet.

    The second major concern I have with Friedman’s theory on globalization is whether or not globalization is a trend or fad. Friedman says it is not a trend or fad but I disagree and feel because globalization relies on the balance of powers (Friedman describes 3 powers: the power of the state, the power of the supermarket and super empowered people) it certainly has the potential to lose its intense enthusiasm when one of the aforementioned powers loses balance. A power losing balance may include a state falling from super power status to a second rate state due to political suicide, or the super market crashes and leaves behind an irretrievable intertwined international monetary system that creates such animosity among multinational corporations or states that relationships are severed, or a super empowered person hacks into a states weapon system launching an international attack creating an ultimate loss of balance between the states, the supermarket and people. Although Friedman discusses three powers, the following discussion will focus on the loss of balance when the power of the state diminishes. Balance of a state has historically been lost to economic instability. For example, the Great Depression, “was an economic slump” and “the most severe depression ever experienced by the industrialized Western world”. 1 Can the speed and endurance of globalization hold up to another Great Depression? How about the fall of the Soviet Union? One day a superpower and the next day a second rate state. How stable is the U.S. economy? The U.S. Department of Labor reports the U.S. unemployment rate at 9.2%. This figure has more than doubled in the last decade. Another issue questioning the economic stability of the U.S. is the national debt crisis. Headlines are blurting out the U.S. is losing credibility in the world. This has the potential to trigger a new economic crisis. The fall of Bear Stearns in 2008 is yet another example of the questionable vulnerability of the U.S. economy. Who saw that coming? Bear Stearns was one of the largest global investment banks on Wall Street. This fiasco even got the Federal Reserve involved. Without the help of the Federal Reserve the fall of Bear Stearns could have spread to other investment banks, creating a worsening national or even international crisis. Lastly, the 2025 Global Landscape from the National Intelligence Council projects that “although we will remain the single most powerful country we will be less dominant”. This is by far a subtler example of the instability of the U.S. economy but never the less worth noting.

    The unfolding path of globalization remains speculative, mainly due to the unpredictable nature of the economy of states but it is also related to the unequal distribution of wealth. It is just foolish to say a poise of international power cannot lose its balance and cause a major setback in the speed and direction of globalization and thus mark another time period (fad) in history. MAJ Susan Frisbie, ILE, Class 11-003. These are my personal views and are not the official views of the U.S. Army.

    1 Global Energy Network Institute, http://www.geni.org (accessed July 23, 2011).

    Reply

  2. Susan Frisbie
    Jul 29, 2011 @ 21:46:18

    https://wereadtoknow.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/review-the-lexus-and-the-olive-tree/

    I found myself in a similar situation; having to read an assigned reading for class and then provide feedback in the form of a disagreement. However, instead of reading the book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, I had to read Thomas Friedman’s luncheon address transcript that addressed his book at a national conference that promulgated the concept of globalization.

    I have two major concerns with Friedman’s theory on globalization. The first one you covered well and that is the gap between the have and the have-nots or as you so eloquently stated, “The population with the desire but not the ability to join the globalization race”. To further solidify your point the Global Energy Institute Network reports 1.6 billion people do not have electricity in the world. The last time I checked you needed electricity to connect to the internet.

    The second major concern I have with Friedman’s theory on globalization is whether or not globalization is a trend or fad. Friedman says it is not a trend or fad but I disagree and feel because globalization relies on the balance of powers (Friedman describes 3 powers: the power of the state, the power of the supermarket and super empowered people) it certainly has the potential to lose its intense enthusiasm when one of the aforementioned powers loses balance. A power losing balance may include a state falling from super power status to a second rate state due to political suicide, or the super market crashes and leaves behind an irretrievable intertwined international monetary system that creates such animosity among multinational corporations or states that relationships are severed, or a super empowered person hacks into a states weapon system launching an international attack creating an ultimate loss of balance between the states, the supermarket and people. Although Friedman discusses three powers, the following discussion will focus on the loss of balance when the power of the state diminishes. Balance of a state has historically been lost to economic instability. For example, the Great Depression, “was an economic slump” and “the most severe depression ever experienced by the industrialized Western world”. 1 Can the speed and endurance of globalization hold up to another Great Depression? How about the fall of the Soviet Union? One day a superpower and the next day a second rate state. How stable is the U.S. economy? The U.S. Department of Labor reports the U.S. unemployment rate at 9.2%. This figure has more than doubled in the last decade. Another issue questioning the economic stability of the U.S. is the national debt crisis. Headlines are blurting out the U.S. is losing credibility in the world. This has the potential to trigger a new economic crisis. The fall of Bear Stearns in 2008 is yet another example of the questionable vulnerability of the U.S. economy. Who saw that coming? Bear Stearns was one of the largest global investment banks on Wall Street. This fiasco even got the Federal Reserve involved. Without the help of the Federal Reserve the fall of Bear Stearns could have spread to other investment banks, creating a worsening national or even international crisis. Lastly, the 2025 Global Landscape from the National Intelligence Council projects that “although we will remain the single most powerful country we will be less dominant”. This is by far a subtler example of the instability of the U.S. economy but never the less worth noting.

    The unfolding path of globalization remains speculative, mainly due to the unpredictable nature of the economy of states but it is also related to the unequal distribution of wealth. It is just foolish to say a poise of international power cannot lose its balance and cause a major setback in the speed and direction of globalization and thus mark another time period (fad) in history. MAJ Susan Frisbie, ILE, Class 11-003. These are my personal views and are not the official views of the U.S. Army.

    1 Global Energy Network Institute, http://www.geni.org (accessed July 23, 2011).

    Reply

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