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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.
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