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The Lexus and the Olive Tree
The Lexus and the Olive Tree
by Thomas L. Friedman
Edition: Hardcover
337 used & new from $0.01

36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and comprehensible, March 21, 2000
When dealing with a subject as broad as globalization, operational definitions can rarely communicate its scope. In May of 1997, The International Monetary Fund attempted to define globalization in World Economic Outlook as, "the growing economic interdependence of countries worldwide through the increasing volume and variety of cross-border transactions in goods and services and of international capital flows, and also through the more rapid and widespread diffusion of technology." Although this definition is operationally sufficient, it does not remotely begin to convey the primacy that the subject matter deserves in economic, political, environmental and social circles today. Fortunately for those of us that are not globalization experts, Thomas L. Friedman has penned what, quite possibly, might be the best book that has been published on the topic to date.
In The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman uses may analogies and illustrations from his travels as the foreign affairs correspondent for The New York Times to fashion a layman's understanding of the globalization process. Friedman initially notes that: "Globalization is not a phenomenon. It is not just some passing trend. Today it is the overarching international system shaping the domestic politics and foreign relations of virtually every country, and we need to understand it as such" (p. 7). The author argues that as a result of the end of the cold war, the world order has turned to globalization due to "the democratization of technology" (p. 41), "the democratization of finance" (p. 47), and "the democratization of information" (p. 54). Friedman goes on to point out that: "When it comes to the question of which system today is the most effective at generating rising standards of living, the historical debate is over. The answer is free-market capitalism... When your country recognizes this fact, when it recognizes the rules of the free market in today's global economy, and deciddes to abide by them, it puts on what I call 'the Golden Straitjacket' "(p. 86). It is the use of these clever analogies that makes the book so easy for Everyman to comprehend. By turning complex ideas into unforgettable memory aids, Friedman effectively makes the economic and political theories he examines intelligible.
Although Friedman spends the bulk of his 378 pages of main text purporting the benefits and advantages of globalization, he does a splendid job of reporting the downside of the process. Friedman cites: "There is no question that in the globalization system, where power is now more evenly shared between states and Supermarkets [Wall Street, Chicago Board of Trade, major foreign stockmarkets, etc.], a certain degree of decisionmaking is moved out of each country's political sphere, where no one person, country or institution can exert exclusive political control... Clearly, one of the biggest challenges for political theory in this globalization era is how to give citizens a sense that they can exercise their will, not only over their own governments but over at least some of the global forces shaping their lives" (pgs. 161-162). In addition, Friedman tackles the dissident arguments of "homogenization" of cultures (p. 238), that "income gaps between the haves and have-nots within industrialized countries widened noticeably" (p.248), and "instead of popular mass opposition to globalization, [what has been occurring] is wave after wave after wave of crime" (p. 273). Ultimately, however, the author concludes that: "Because we tend to think of globalization as something that countries connect to outside themselves, or something imposed from above and beyond, we tend to forget how much, at its heart, it is also a grassroots movement that emerges from within each of us. This is why we always have to keep in mind that... there is a groundswell of people demanding the benefits of globalization" (p. 286).
In my opinion, the most relevant truism in Friedman's work comes in the introduction. While explaining his feelings on the subject of globalization, the author states, "I didn't start globalization, I can't stop it... and I'm not going to waste time trying. All I want to think about is how I can get the best out of this new system, and cushion the worst, for the most people" (p. xviii). After reading this definitive work on the subject, one would have to conclude that Friedman succeeds in his goal.


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