Don’t you just love it when someone who is supposed to be an authority on something puts into words exactly the thoughts you’ve had going in wordless circles in your mind? I’m reading Thomas L. Friedman’s "The Lexus and the Olive Tree", and I get that feeling with every page.
This book about globalization was originally written in 1999 and expanded and updated in 2000, so it’s a little out of date. Not just because it was written before 9/11 (each one of my globalization text books for last year was updated end of 2001 or beginning of 2002), but because he writes sentences like "now anyone can just go down into their basement and get on the internet". These days, it’s more like: "why not just open the laptop in front of you that’s already on the internet?" Families don’t need to have a "computer room" anymore; each family member can have their own computer and do everything online. So I’m looking forward to moving on to "The World is Flat".
After a year of International Studies, not to mention living and paying attention to the world for the last six years, I can’t say I’ve learned a whole lot of facts from this book that I didn’t already know – but he writes it so well. Friedman’s central idea is that globalization is the system that took over after the Cold War ended. The internet is not a trend or a toy; it is the most important tool shaping this new system. We – leaders of both countries and companies, who increasingly think in the same way – must not only live with that, but adapt in order to make the most of it.
Friedman is able to see the whole picture, acknowledging the unfortunate environmental and cultural side effects of economic globalization without renouncing the economic upside. The Lexus represents the drive for progress and modernization – globalization. The olive tree represents the feeling of security, tradition and home – local culture. The Cold War was a struggle between olive trees, but these days, the threat to your olive tree is more likely to come from the Lexus. Friedman writes that a global homogeneous culture would mean a less interesting world, but that "to tell people in developing countries they can’t have [McDonald’s] because it would spoil the view and experience of people visiting from developed countries would be both insufferable arrogant and futile." Fortunately, it is possible to "use globalization against itself" by convincing countries and companies that they can actually make more money in the long run by preserving culture and nature. In general, it is usually better to give someone a real incentive to do something rather than just appeal to his or her sense of responsibility and good will. Call it selfishness, but it works, and the fact that not only the anti-capitalist movement, but also shareholders, can mobilize all over the world instantly can really provide people with the right incentives. When it comes to culture, Friedman hopes that Americans will enjoy sushi and Japanese will enjoy McDonald’s, but that they will both remember which of the two is from their own country.
In short, I recommend this book. I would advise Internet/globalization sceptics to read it carefully. Anyone who already has a pretty good idea what this is about, should skim it in order to get a good review of the whole picture.