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am 8. 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.
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am 22. März 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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am 27. Mai 2000
In the Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman succinctly describes the forces driving global finance and manufacturing with readable and entertaining anecdotes to illustrate his points. I believe he accurately describes the financial world's trend to rate credit risk through standardized comparison, and the manufacturing world's insatiable desire to reduce costs to provide more competively priced goods and services.
Many readers may react that this book is a shameless celebration of the export of a bland American culture through out the world. To do so would be to miss the book's most outstanding benefit - it provides a useful description of the forces which are driving global change. One can read this book and come away with ideas on how to harness those forces and channel that change. One can either act like a victim of change or take advantage of change to acheive one's goals. Friedman has many illustrations of those in both the developing and developed world who harnessed change to personally advance.
I think Friedman's book would make good reading for those who are trying to decide how to get ahead in their lives. Getting ahead might mean financially, spiritually, or academically. By understanding the underlying forces driving global change, one can adapt oneself and prosper.
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am 20. Mai 2000
"... Friedman has set the standard for books purpoting to teach Globalization."-Publishers Weekly. The re is definitely something special about this book as one can enjoy reading it as much as emotional fiction and at the same time receive as much structured knowledge as from a college textbook how to understand and use globalization for one's own benefit. At the very beginning Thomas Friedman shares his own experience of the 6D thinking. He expresses his concern that most of the contemporary spacialists think " in terms of highly sigmented expertise" losing the whole world from their view, which does not work anymore. Friedman strongly believes that "being a globalist[thinking in at least 6D] is the only way to systematically connect the dots, see the system of globalization and there by rder the chaos." His six dimensions include politics, culture, financial market dimension, environment, national security, and technology. Without any exaggeration, he can take credit forthe perfect application of his self-invented strategy: the book is the best example, where in his analysishe follows all of those 6D without omotting any. Thomas Friedman sees the connections, which means he sees the world. "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" is organized in four main chapters. First one is devoted to globalization as a completely new notion and phenomenon, wher the aothour intriduces exclusive categories of classification, necessary for understanding of a new reality, like Electronic Herd , Olive Tree, Golden Straightjaket etc. The second chapter "Plugging into System" he gives succinct prescriptions and guidelines for the countries willing to enter or, better to say, plug into the system. The moral of this chapter is that countries now can choose to be prosperous, there is no other vindication for not being prosparous than than the lack of thegenuine desire. Possible backlash against the new quality of the contemporary world is in the content of the next chapter. And finally, the narration reaches its controversial zenith in the "America and the System". The concept of the Olive tree and the Lexus is a common thread that goes through the whole book, ties pieses of information together and builds a unique prism of new categories, through which the contemporary system is being viewed. Highly systematic approach used by the author and multiple levels of analysis deserve the highest possible praise. Thomas Friedman descends from the supranational level of analysis to the very bottom-individual, and then climbs back, explaining every single issue in this manner. Describing the present state of the global economic environment Friedman introduces such categorical names as Short Horn cattle, alluding to the large segment of private investors who received direct access to the core of the system, creating certain danger of unpredictability; then he examines major qualities of the Long Horn cattle(foreigh direct investment) making a point that the incentives for the direct investment have changed dramatically since the Cold war time. Another distinctive feature of the globalized world is gradual but sure democratization of technology, finance, and information. Thomas Friedman views these three democratizations as sources, necessities and elephants upholding the disc of Globalization. From " The Lexus and the Olive Tree" one can easily generate a condensed version of doctor Friedman's prescription or in other words, practical manual under the title " How to become a prosperous country." One can strongly disagree with certain statements bt his vision entices a reader by its flawless logic and clear explanation with employment of tons of unique analogies and symbols. He breaks the requirements for the country into he three categories: appropriate hardwae, operating system and software. In these newly designed terms for a new system he analyses the Cold war diversity in the hardware and relative uniformity-free capitalism. The problem that he addresses is the premature globalization, or, in other words, the lack or underdevelopment of software(adequate laws and regulations) amd operational system( degree of governmental interference into the economic sector). In this context, Thomas Friedman looks at a major problem in the transitional society-high degree of corruption or kleptocracy. As a person who spent first 18 years of my life in a system where kleptocracy flourishes, I must confess that he has brilliant insightsinto the nature of phenomenon and impressive undersatnding of the ways taht can lead a suffering country out of this vicious circle. It i very true that globalization aggravatesthe trouble of kleptocracy. If a country is affected by this desease, globalization works against it: before, the robber barrons could not so easily go to the international markets and make fortunes using the stolen funds. At the same time it deprives the country of the opportunity to receive a decent amount of foreign investment. Thus, corruption narrows the opportunities for citizens of the affected country, at the same time, financial criminals have more ways to go. Thomas friedman thinks that globalization can be very helpful in resolving this problem He calles the phenomenon "globalution" or the revolution from beyond. He expalains that due to teh fact that only democracy can guarantee stability, predicatability,and transparency, the countries choosing to prosper will have to become more democratic, which means that they will be forced ( for their own good) to introduce high degree of transparency, general standards for different kind of transfer operations, will have to fight corruption, as it is much more expancive to tolerate it, and freedom of press will have to become an everyday reality. While reading the part about globalution, a formidable desire arises to make some world leaders read a chapter and make them pass a rigorous test. This is amazing how precisely Friedman describes the problem and immediately suggests a solution. However, he realizes and admits that most likely such countries will have to wait untill the millenium generation comes, or, in ortherwords, when most of the old style, obsolete and corrupt government officials and leaders will die out. After castigating corruption Friedman starts comparing countries and companies and comes to the conclusion that they have a lot in common. Using the criteria for successful companies, he challenges states asking them series of sharp questions: How wired are you? How fast are you? Are you harvesting your knowledge? How much does your export weight? Do you dare t be open, How good is your country's brand? Does you country management get it? Two last questions are the most appealing to me. First, I think that in most cases in the newly independent former republics of the USSR, which chose to follow the general trend and plug into system, these two last questions can not be answered in their favor. From what I've seen I deduced that management of of most of the countries does not get it, that is the country's leaders simply lack knowledge. They had been serving in the communist system and since then have not changed their methods. They did not go back to the University to "update themselves, nor have they been able to creat an efficient net of advisors with fresh knowledge and skills, and it is generally very difficult for a young spacialist to get a decent job. As for the country's brand, I must say that some countries are very successful in this sphere, for example Kazakhstan, whose embassy I visited not so long ago. However, I was unpleasantly surprised by the lack of any care about their country image in my own Ukrainian embassy in Washington DC. But as a representative of the millennium generation and a person able to evaluate the potential of my fellow students I am very enthusiastic about the future. Thomas Friedman identifies a new government "trillema": relations between an individual and Internet, individual and Supermarkets, and the latter with government. He sees the vacuum of governance in the sphere of these actors' interaction, which is becoming an additional dimension of national security. There definitely must be some kind and a very reliable kind of governance. One can observe a certain progress in this direction: after the recent hackers' attacks on the major web sites like yahoo, amazon.com, etc., Internet security became a major item on the President Clinton's agenda. At the beginning of May 2000, a major virus hit the system again. The unbelievable speed of the spread and the anticipated dangers alarmed countries all over the world. It is amazing to follow the yellow line on the screen tracing the spread of virus and realize that this was the result of one super empowered individual' caprice. We are the witnesses of the birth of a new aspect in national security-cyberspace security. In this context Friedman mentions common insecurity and unexpected equal vulnerability for all the countries in the system, which definitely adds to the feeling of common
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am 20. Dezember 2003
T.L. Friedman is an apologist for Bush and Sharon, for blind one-sided policies that damage the UIS and the rest of the world. We can identify him as the Rush Limbaugh of the pseudo-intellectual wing of the neo-conservative movement.
Written from an implicit neo-classical orientation, a believer in 'perfect markets' with internet as example (as antidote for this nonsense, see Mirowski's 'Machine Dreams'). Believes that networking alone explains everything, a viwpoint now popular in some quarters of statistical physics and represented by the recent popular books 'Linked' and 'Nexus'. The news from Lake Wobegon: networking does not explain it all, especially not the lopsided distribution of wealth. Networking cannot even explain the observed statistics of financial markets! For the history of the development of the Enron Society (globalization via deregulated free markets since the implosion of resistance from the now-defunct USSR), see 'Liar's Poker' and 'FIASCO' (I hereby recommend MD, LP, and F to the authors of Lexus-Nexus et al). Friedman might also have benefited from an orientation that is not purely Wall Street, Israel, and The Grand Hotel (try an alpine village, where olive trees still win over Lexus). The main error of today's popular belief in the US, even within the Democratic Party leadership: that unregulated free markets must be 'The Answer' because they won over Communism. Europe has a middle way, and since the news from Enron, WCom, et al, I suspect that that middle way (social safety net, rules that prevent Enronization of society, etc) will now tend to persist. Enron and Wcom have done more damage to US credibility than could have been done by any enemy government, all compliments of Reagan-Friedman era deregulation. This is today's prediction from Lake Wobegon...
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