am 28. Juli 2000
I am an economist by profession and my job is to analyze the economic and political risk of countries. I have found Friedman's book extremely useful in helping me understand the factors shaping today's global economy. Some people, as I have read in this website reviews, may find Friedman's analysis cold hearted, as the book argues, quite well, that free market capitalism is here to stay, and countries, companies, and individuals need to adapt to the system, or run the risk of being left behind. Not only does the book describes the new system masterfully, but also dares to make recommendations and tries to explain the trends of this new global system. The book's conclussion is one of hope: We do not necessarily need an all encompassinng global government to police the world; the power given by the democratization of technology (internet and widespread information) can create all sorts of organizations that will find all sorts of solutions (and excert pressure) to end corruption, increase transparency and democracy, all of this with market base remedies. It is an excellent book, probably the best I have read on globalization. Don't read "One World, Ready or Not" as one reviewer recommended. The author doesn't have a clue about economics and totally misses the picture. Other than "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" I recommend "ButterFly Economics", which explains why current economic theory is outdated and the author introduces Chaos Theory in order to better explain behavior in today's markets.
am 12. Juni 2000
Before reading and listening to the book I thought some of the negative reviews had to be unfair. Then I read and listened to this book, and it was worse than any review had indicated. The opening story about oranges sets the stage. Here is a person so accustomed to luxury and so insulated from the real world, he misses the point himself. Poor communication. and a lack of cultural understanding leads to not getting what you want in the globalized world. His whole thesis is based on being rich and making lots of money. He never mentions going to places like Italy where this is seldom a priority. He judges the "olive tree" culture harshly. He assumes everyone wants a Lexus.
am 16. Juli 2000
The impossibility of restricting information in the Internet age, the impracticality of slowing down innovation in the computer age, and the futility of forbidding foreign investment in the international-banking age are the main themes that run through this wise and witty study of globalization and its consequences for our increasingly fast-paced, increasingly smaller planet.
Journalist Thomas L. Friedman's "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" uses a host of metaphors to housebreak international business, finance, culture, technology and the environment for his readers. Flows of capital are controlled by an "Electronic Herd" of investors who flow into lucrative markets (and slosh out just as quickly if they sense trouble, as several southeast Asian countries found to their chagrin in the 1990s). Friedman opines that a country has to have an advanced "operating system" (a predilection to capitalism) to increase its standard of living. The USA and Britian are at the top, followed closely by France and Germany. Korea is just below. These societies can put on the "Golden Straitjacket" of capitalist restraint and watch their economies zoom. But not, say, Russia. They've spend too long under a system by which the success of a bedframe factory is not profit, consumer satisfaction, quality or good shipped but amount of steel consumed, the most absurd, downside-up measure of success possible.
But any society--even one as free-market oriented as the USA's--can't leave tradition behind in the dust. Hence the tension between the "Lexus" (high-tech innovation) and the "olive tree" (tradition, pride, tribalism). Note well the current opposition to the WTO.
Our go-go technological climate even finds living application in this very book. In between the hardcover issue of "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" (1999) and the new paperback (spring 2000), computer maker Compaq lost its innovative edge to upstart Dell--Friedman explains why in the paperback.
This is fun, lively reading. It gives wonk subject matter like business & finance a good name. The amount of research is astonishing, most of it collected on-site, and surely generated enough frequent-flier mileage to get the author a free trip to Mars when the time comes. Friedman is a bit of a true believer--he is SURE that the American way is the right way--but he offers good arguments for his opinions. Time spend on this book will be time well spent.
am 4. Juli 2000
Readers familiar with Thomas Friedman's consistently superb work for The New York Times - first reporting from the Middle East and now writing a column on foreign affairs - know him to be exceptionally bright and articulate. Since 1994, Friedman has specialized in covering the intersection between foreign policy and international finance, so he is an ideal interpreter of globalization - the trend toward international economic integration through free-market capitalism. This book is a fine introduction to events profoundly impacting on our world, written in Friedman's characteristically clear and crisp prose. The "Lexus" in Friedman's title stands for "the drive for sustenance, improvement, prosperity and modernization," whereas the "olive tree" "represents everything that roots us, anchors us, identifies us and locates us in the world - whether it be belonging to a family, a community, a tribe, a nation, a religion or, most of all, a place called home." Much of Friedman's book is devoted to the theme of the Lexus and olive tree wrestling with each other in order to find a healthy balance. According to Friedman: "The challenge in this era of globalization - for countries and for individuals - is to find a healthy balance between preserving a sense of identity, home and community and doing what it takes to survive within the globalization system."
In Friedman's view, the "slow, fixed, divided Cold War system" is readily distinguishable from the "new, very greased, interconnected" world of globalization, in which free-market capitalism is spreading throughout the world. According to Friedman: "While the defining measurement of the Cold War was weight - particularly the throw weight of missiles - the defining measurement of the globalization system is speed - speed of commerce, travel, communication and innovation." In contrast to the Cold War's "overly regulated, walled up system," Friedman explains that globalization's three "democratization" - the democratization of information, the democratization of technology, and the democratization of finance - are changing the way business and everything else is done. In Friedman's view, "what is new...is the sheer number of people and countries able to partake of today's globalized economy and information networks, and to be affected by them." According to Friedman, "the Internet offers the closest thing to a perfectly competitive market in the world today." Friedman explains: "In the 1980s the Internet was a novelty. By the 1990s it was a useful technology. By the time the new millennium rolled around it was an indispensable tool for doing business." Friedman writes at some length about what he cleverly calls "the Electronic Herd," which is "made up of all the faceless stock, bond and currency traders sitting behind computer screens all over the globe, moving their money around from mutual funds to pension funds to emerging markets, or trading on the Internet from their basements." According to Friedman: "Countries cannot thrive in today's world without plugging into the Electronic Herd." Friedman explains that, with "the end of the Cold War system and the fall of walls everywhere, there suddenly emerged a vast global plain where investor herds from many different countries could roam freely." Friedman acknowledges that the effects of globalization are not entirely positive. For instance, Friedman acknowledges that the Electronic Herd is "potentially more volatile" than previous models, and that makes markets less stable. According to Friedman, "today, in the globalization era, the ability of the herd to transmit instability from bad countries to good countries has vastly increased." In addition, Friedman predicts that the system of globalization will "both environmental disasters and amazing environmental rescues." The prospect of environmental problems in the new world order is especially troubling. Friedman asks: "Can we develop a method of environmentally sustainable globalization?" He answers: "One hope is clearly that technology will evolve in ways that will help us preserve green areas faster than the Electronic Herd can trample them." Friedman adds: "But technological breakthroughs alone will not be enough to neutralize the environmental impact of the herd, because the innovations simply are not happening fast enough - compared to how fast the herd moves, grows and devours." Friedman places his hope in "super-empowered environmentalists" "who, acting on their own, can now fight back effectively against both the Electronic Herd and governments...[M]ore and more multinationals are realizing that to preserve their global reputation and global brands in the face of Internet activism, they need to be environmentally responsible." Friedman also offers this cautionary observation: "[I]n 2000 we understand as much about today's system of globalization is going to work as we understood how the Cold War system was going to work in 1946." Friedman's point, I believe, is that, although we have been able to give a name - globalization - tothe most powerful force changing the world, that does not mean that we are close to fully comprehending it. Some aspects of the globalized world are fully comprehensible and frightening. Notwithstanding the manifest benefits of globalization, there is an ongoing backlash against it. In particular, Friedman warns about "the real, immediate national security threat" from what he calls "the Super-Empowered Angry Man," such as the Aum Shinrikyo sect in Japan, the Unabomber, Osama bin Laden, and the Ramzi Yousef group in New York. Friedman implies, quite correctly I believe, that, the globalized world may be very exciting, but it also remains a very dangerous place. Friedman obviously believes that most of the globalization process is beneficial, and he probably is correct, but he also is not entirely objective. Friedman is not merely a pundit. He is a proponent for globalization. He writes: "You cannot thrive today without plugging into the Electronic Herd."
This book is excellent, and, all things considered, I believe it is superior to John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge's A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization, another introduction to globalization which I recently read and reviewed. However, I would recommend either. Whether one is a globalization proponent or opponent or neutral, the system is changing the world, and that behooves all of us to understand it better.
am 1. Juli 2000
Like his earlier book, "From Beirut to Jerusalem," Tom Friedman displays a mastery over his subject like few authors. In "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," the conquered subject material is economic globalization. What makes Mr. Friedman such a unique voice on this topic is his career as a foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. Over the past few years, Mr. Friedman has traveled the world many times over, collecting first-hand accounts of how globalization works, who benefits from it, and its multiple consequences. His understanding of this issue radiates through scores of personal narratives and anecdotes which not only raise the reader's awareness but seriously educate him on a subject of immense importance. At the beginning and conclusion of his book, Mr. Friedman claims that he is no an advocate of globalization, per se. I do not doubt the author's sincerity when stating this belief. The balance of information, however, tilts heavily in favor of globalization. That is because, in sum, globalization has been a largely positive development. In the last two decades, many Third World governments have relaxed the grip they possessed on their nations' economies and opened themselves to the ideas and industry of the West. As a result, these nations have enjoyed an unprecedented explosion of wealth. Many of them are experimenting with political democracy for the first time as well. That is not a coincidence. But the impact of globalization extends far beyond Seoul, Bangkok, and Mexico City. The United States has also been a prime beneficiary of globalization. The growth of world trade, combined with the adaption of information technologies, has been responsible for America's economic resurgence in the last decade. Near the end of the book, however, the author starts to wax sentimental. He expresses his fear that in this burst of affluence we will lose our "olive trees" - our communities, our traditions, our values. Mr. Friedman need not worry. What makes capitalism so revolutionary is not that it destroys "olive trees." Rather, it creates new "olive trees" of our own free choice. We choose our community; we choose our faith. It is no coincidence that the while the United States is the greatest engine of capitalism, it is also one of the world's most religious countries. And it is not just a diverse faith - Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims - but an intensely personal faith where people choose to make God a central part of their daily life. I also have to disagree with Mr. Friedman on one final point. I do not share his view that the globalization process is inevitable. In the early 1960s, the twin pillars of democracy and free-market capitalism had reached an incredible level of success and popular acceptance. Within a few years, however, national leaders managed to undermine both systems. Welfare crippled the national economy while affirmative action created needless animosity between the races. As we enter the twenty-first century - and as the challenges to globalization mount - we must not go back to the past. We must not reverse the process that gave us this burst of wealth and freedom out of some misplaced guilt. Our sympathy for the poor can not delude us into stripping them of their sole opportunity for advancement. The recent anarchist demonstrations in Seattle and Washington should give us pause. Hopefully those protestors will read Tom Friedman's fine book and take a more informed perspective.
am 6. Mai 2000
Thomas Friedman was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. He actually believes that people would pay attention to what he has to say, even if he weren't a columnist with the New York Times with rich and powerful friends.
The basic thesis of this book is very simple and not terribly original: the Internet and other forces of globalization are breaking down barriers in an uncontrollable process. The unfettered market, with billions of consumers and tens of millions of producers are calling the shots. The days of government control are over.
While Friedman has concerns about this future, he sees the basic picture in a positive light. The real problem is the people who want to turn back the clock, the wallbuilders. According to Friedman, these are people who would try to erect trade barriers to slow the process of globalization. In doing so, they hope to maintain a greater degree of economic security. The villians Friedman has in mind are largely unions that try to preserve decent jobs and wage for auto workers, steel workers, textile workers and the like. But, according to Friedman, these types of protectionist barriers are futile in the days of globalization.
While Friedman can express sympathy for the plight of these workers, he won't shrink from his conclusion that their efforts at protectionism are misguided, and harmful to the most needy people in the world, the poor in developing nations.
Friedman's arrogance on this point is difficult to stomach, since it is so thoroughly encased in ignorance. Friedman is a man who makes his living entirely as a result of the existance of "walls" or protectionist barriers, specifically copyrights. If the heavy hand of the state were not there to enforce Mr. Friedman's copyrights, no one would pay for his books. They could freely xerox them, or better yet, download them off the Internet. Similarly, the New York Times would not fare particularly well without copyright protection. Anyone could instantly reproduce any or all of its content and sell their own ad space (at a much lower price) in a New York Times clone.
Remarkably, while engaging in tirades against the African-American or Hispanic women who want to protect their $8 an hour textile jobs, Friedman never seems to recognize that he profits immensely as a result of a much more inefficient form of protectionism. Tariff barriers or quotas in the United States rarely raise the price of an item by more than 15-20 percent. By contrast, copyright raises the price by several hundred percent. We all know that copyrights provide an incentive to engage in creative work, but there are other, more efficient ways to create such incentives.
Friedman's professed concern for the poor in the developing world is directly at odds with his silence on this issue. A major thrust of recent U.S. trade policy has been to enforce U.S. type copyrights and patents throughout the developing world. This will be a huge drain on the economies of developing nations, as it will drain tens of billions of dollars in royalty payments and licensing fees from the world's poorest nations. Even worse, it will be a death sentence for millions of people suffering from AIDS and other diseases, as patent protection raises the price of life-saving drugs well beyond the means of the poor in the developing world.
If you want to hear the main argument in this book, find some Yuppie male, buy him a few beers and ask him about the state of the world. You'll get all the main points, but in a manner that will probably be more cogent and succint.
If you really feel you need to read this book, in the interest of simple justice, do not buy it. Borrow a copy from a friend or the library. Get it scanned into your computer, and then read it on screen or print it out. Also, e-mail copies to friends who feel a similar need to read the book. A man who is so anxious to see the forces of the Internet and globalization tear down barriers, should not be allowed to profit from those barriers.
am 5. März 2000
As I read the Lexus and the Olive Tree, I was reminded of the story of the blind men each of whom described what an elephant was like from his own limited perspective. The one who happened upon the tail knew the elephant to be like a rope; the one who walked into its side found the elephant to be rather like a wall, etc. Friedman has written this book much like a blind reporter might have interpreted and written about the stories these blind men told. But instead of an elephant, the subject of misunderstanding in this book is globalization. Friedman is able at reporting moments of keen insight from those with first hand knowledge of the impacts, drivers, and scope of globalization, for example: p. 10: quoting James Suroweiecki, business columnist: "[M]ost people prefer some measure of security about the future to a life lived in almost constant uncertainty... We are not forced to re-create our relationships with those closest to us on a regular basis. And yet that's precisely what...is necessary to prosper [today]." p.45, quoting former NBC president Lawrence Grossman: "Printing made us all readers. Xeroxing made us all publishers. Television made us all viewers. Digitization makes us all broadcasters;" p. 76: quoting Robert Shapiro, Chairman of Monsanto: "any hierarchy that bases itself on denying information to its citizens or employees is not going to work;" p. 110: quoting Yousef Boutros-Ghali, Egyptian Minister of Economy: "In the old days you panicked in a room with a hundred bankers, now you panic everywhere. Panic has been democratized." p. 299 quoting venture capitalist John Doerr: "it is OK to fail and in fact it might even be important that you failed before on someone else's money;" p. 304: quoting Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers: "The only thing we have to fear is the lack of fear itself;" He really misses the whole point of globalization with his little vignette about a Vietnamese woman (p. 285) who charged him a dollar each day to weigh himself, a service he found inaccurate and not informative. Yet he continued to purchase the service. Somehow he viewed this as a 'groundswell' of free-market capitalism. I think it more clearly demonstrates a lot more about Friedman than it does about that woman's impact on globalization. He's easily sucked in, and not just for a woman with a defective scale. Although he mentions it over and over, he never seems cognizant of the fact that globalization is about one thing: efficiency. The rewards go to the efficient. The motto isn't: (p. 285): "Whatever you've got, no matter how big or small - sell it, trade it, barter it, leverage it, rent it, but do something with it to turn a profit." That's just what the blind man sees. The visionary knows the Fast World is the hierarchy of efficiency. It's motto is "Beat Entropy!" Friedman is a reporter, and many reporters pride themselves on not losing their objectivity by gaining too much knowledge of an issue. Friedman points out that (p. 293) "sometimes the news is actually in the silence." Likewise, the truth on a subject can be in what the blind man misses. Friedman is technology blind. Technology is the root of efficiency improvement, that's why the internet is so important to globalization: it improves efficiency, dramatically. Friedman only knows technology like a blind man knows an elephant. He doesn't even know what entropy is, let alone how you beat it (or that you can't). There's a line that Harrison Ford says in the movie the Mosquito Coast that explains the relationship between the science of thermodynamics and society: "Ice is civilization." The ability to produce and use ice demonstrates an understanding of how to beat entropy in a way that allows civilization to occur. In that same way, the internet is globalization.
What is irritating in Friedman's writing is his condescending, sometimes preachy, sometimes smug style (p. 294: "let me share a little secret I've learned from talking to all these folks: With all due respect to revolutionary theorists, the 'wretched of the earth' want to go to Disney World"). He also exposes the obvious as if it is somehow profound, and then labels it with some cutesy buzzword (p. 62: "Microchip Immune Deficiency Syndrome;" p. 83: "Golden Straitjacket; p. 90: "Electronic Herd;" ), as if the regular terms of everyday use that describe the concept much better are somehow inadequate. It's as if he knows that buzzwords sell books and help on the lecture circuit.
Moreover, Firedman's practice of self-aggrandizing, name-dropping, and taking the liberty of making ethnic slams - jokes? - I found a little distracting if not outright annoying. He's no bigot, but if he really were the celebrity he holds himself out as, and made these backhand ethnic comments, he'd find himself in the same hot water that John Rocker, Kerry Collins, and many real celebrities before have. (p. 316: "To be a French-educated Arab intellectual is the worst combination possible for understanding globalization. It is like being twice handicapped").
Without a doubt though, his most annoying literary practice is putting words in people's mouths who never said them, and attributing ideas to people who never expressed them. (p. 288): He tells the story of a woman who wasn't wearing shoes who said she had invested in a local bank that failed. He proceeds to speculate a series of wide-ranging unrelated questions to explain this contrast, and then concludes "something tells me" one of his questions is the right question, from which he somehow thinks that supports his following statement: "That's the groundswell at work." (p. 93): Part of a three page rant directed at Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad attributed to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin: "excuse me Mahathir, but what planet are you living on?"). Myself, I imagine Robert Rubin reading this, and calling Friedman on the phone and saying "Excuse me Tom, but are you writing fiction or non-fiction?" Irritating style, isn't it?
am 24. Mai 2000
If you'd like a sample of what you'll be getting in Friedman's book, here's one of the high points, his "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention":
"...[A]s I Quarter-Poundered my way around the world in recent years, I began to notice something intriguing. I don't know when the insight struck me. It was a bolt out of the blue.... And it was this:
No two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's."
That's what passes for an insight, in what passes for the mind of Thomas Friedman. Now why would a hegemonic world power like America hire ....(Friedman).... as spokesman? As poor old Jimmy Carter used to ask, Why Not the Best?
There can only be one answer: because the very stupidity of Friedman's analyses serves America's purposes. The slogans Friedman develops in this book are pure gloating. Like the taunts of a high-school jock after a victory, these taunts don't have to be, aren't meant to be clever. Friedman simply repeats, via many crude metaphors, his triumphalist view that there are only two ways left: the American Way or the highway. He loves to dramatise via metaphor the utter helplessness of the un-American, as with "The Golden Straitjacket"-- his name for the state-model created by Thatcher and Reagan
It's an offensive metaphor, and a very crude, simplistic model of the world. But then, that's Friedman's job: to dumb down and shout out the triumph of what he calls "Globalization-Americanization," smugly certain that these are synonyms. It's a job which would make an intelligent, sensitive writer cringe. That's why Friedman is so good at it.
am 28. Mai 2000
I read this fantastic book which really show many of the implications of the new world order: Globalization. The book is written in a simple style, comprehensible by everybody. However, I've read the book from both the lexus, which i felt was Friedman's favourite view and the olive tree, which represents my perspective. And i can say that Friedman's points, even very consistent is less empathical with the most important claims of the "olive trees people", which are also true. I liked the part of the book where he stressed the role that the US should be playing as a socialistic force. It should not only pour the developing countries with loans(that they will anyway never pay back! and just loose further to bad policies and inapropriate decision making). Rather, the US should be converting the debt/loans into valuable investments which might have greater benefits over developing countries and make sure that any ongoing projects will be performed properly. At the end, i fully agree with Friedman regarding the following fact: those who will get "aligned" in the most global sense with United States will definitely succeed. Those who will not, will be the loosers of the next century. The question remains: how a "meanless" developing country can balance the lexus and the olive tree, meanwhile even developed countries with all the means they got can hardly afford it! Again, Friedman's book is fantastic and poses real world issues.
am 8. Juni 2000
On the whole Friedman succeeds in meeting the two objectives he sets for this book. First, he provides a valuable framework for discussion of the causes and course of globalization that is more comprehensive than previous attempts and is useful regardless where you stand on globalization. Second, Friedman provides examples that bring this phenomenon to life.
This more than compensates for the negatives, which include: (1) there is not as much substance as one would expect from the length of the book, (2) the personalization that may be appropriate in Friedman's New York Times column tends to come across as being full of himself in book length, (3) the new terms Friedman coins and the analogies are sometimes just plain silly, and (4) about page 300 Friedman switches from descriptive to prescriptive and looses credibility and his sense of conviction.
Freidman has also sparked useful debate. While his detractors have tried to position him as an unfeeling cheerleader for globalization what really gets to them his is assertion that for the first time countries can choose to be prosperous provided they are willing to play by the rules of the global markets. As people come to understand this, the advocates for old "ism's" or new "third ways" will be challenged to come up with more compelling cases for their alternatives.