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!