Lexus and the Olive Tree
Globalization is an opportunity for some and a threat to others, and a good deal of attention has been paid to the meaning of globalization and to its ramifications. Thomas L. Freidman is a booster for globalization and sees the changes taking place as necessary. He expresses his views in his book the Lexus and the Olive Tree. Friedman’s basic idea is that globalization emerged became the new international economic system as the old system died with the end of the Soviet Union and the breaking down of the barriers of the Cold War. The change has not been smooth, however, and has required new solutions to economic problems around the world, solutions that take into account the global nature of the economy today.
Globalization is a particular way for business to look at the markets of the world and then to respond to international pressures. Companies are therefore reshaping their entire business structure to respond to global demands. Manufacturing can be done at different places around the world; and distribution is also shaped to different requirements. Products can be repackaged and even reformulated for different world regions; with marketing then devised to appeal to people in different parts of the world. This program also requires the development of an understanding of and a system for international human resource management, including specific policies geared to understanding hiring practices in the different countries in which a multinational corporation does business.
Globalization is most valuable in th way it crates new opportunities for a business in one part of the world to enter markets far away and succeed. One of the prime engines for the new global market today is the Internet, which itself crosses borders freely and provides anew means for marketing and distribution of some products and services. Globalization may create problems for some groups in the world, but in the main, it creates more opportunities that entrepreneurs can take advantage of ad achieve new levels of growth.
2. Friedman defines globalization in terms of the integration of capital and technology across national borders, and he finds that this is accomplished in a way that creates a single global market. There is also a political component the process may also be creating a true global village. In spite of the seeming even-handedness of such a process, in practice, globalization brings together actors of different relative size and power, with certain actors dominating and perhaps exploiting others. That is at least the charge made by critics of globalization. Friedman states that the system of globalization is constructed around three balances: 1) between nation-states, with the United States the sole superpower and all other states subordinate in some degree; 2) between nation-states and global markets; and 3) between individuals and nation-states, said to be the newest balance of the three:
Because globalization has brought down many of the walls that limited the movement and reach of people, and because it has simultaneously wired the world into networks, it gives more power to individuals to influence both markets and nation-states that at any time in history (12).
This is perhaps the most uncertain of Friedman’s claims about the structure of the new system, given that most individuals feel powerless rather than empowered in this new global system, which has also been a reason for the protests. As Friedman explains it, though, individual companies and wealthy individuals able to tap into some aspect of the global market can achieve this level of influence. Again, then, it is the new level of opportunity that is one of the major advantages of globalization, and this may also lead to a stronger bond for peace among nations as they become engaged more directly in trade with one another, even with countries so far removed from one another that in the past, they had little commercial interest in common.
3. While globalization has the power to bring different countries together, it also involves a degree of cultural imperialism as the more powerful nations take full advantage of the opportunities presented while smaller nations find themselves treated more markets than as sources for goods. It is interesting, though, that many groups in the more powerful nations see globalization as a threat to their old way of life and as a program that exploits smaller nations and transfers jobs out of the larger countries and into smaller countries where labor costs are less. This is the view taken by many who had formerly worked in the manufacturing sector in the United States, a sector that has been largely dismantled as the manufacture of many goods has been transferred to factories in other countries in order to reduce labor costs. Political developments like the passage of NAFTA only speeded up this process and created more tensions as people lost manufacturing jobs and blamed the process of globalization for that fact. The promise of retraining for newer and more high tech jobs has not been fulfilled an cannot cover everyone affected in any case. Manufacturing has not been the only sector so affected, with other shifts affecting white collar jobs, such as people working on compute help desks and in customer service jobs, jobs that are more and more outsourced to English-speakers in India and similar places, again for reasons of economy. Globalization is a process that moves quickly, and preparations to address the disruptions that can be caused have not kept pace with the changes being made. Some in developing countries also see these changes as exploitive and as not brining the benefits promised, and protests at the World Bank and other global institutions have shown how widespread this view is.
4. When Friedman refers to the Lexus and the olive tree, he is referring to the coming together of two worlds, the high-tech and advanced economies that produce marvels like the Lexus, and the world still tied more directly to nature and to traditions. He depicts the new world as a struggle between those seeking advancement and prosperity (through the Lexus) and those who want to bolster tradition, religion, and spirituality (the olive tree). The two traditions actually operate together throughout the world, but each side may be given greater ascendancy in some parts of the world.
When referring to the Golden Straitjacket, Freidman is referring to the new world order of globalization and to the fact that everyone simply has to accept it and find a way to make do. If an individual loses a job in one part of the country, he or she should move elsewhere to take a job that does exist. The Golden Straitjacket is his vision of capitalism and the many opportunities offered by capitalism. He sees the human being as empowered by the desire for a better life, and he does not see any value I being poor or in coddling the poor, given his belief that they can always find some way to make a place for themselves in the world if they will only do so. Friedman believes that all of the countries that accept globalization are putting on the Golden Straitjacket and that they then will benefit if they accept its strictures and act accordingly. Of course, acceptance of this new set of rules is not really voluntary, and Friedman sees it as a necessity that everyone will have to accept in time in order to participate in the global economy. The straitjacket decides the course for nations and individuals alike, and it is designed to expand the economy while reducing political resistance.
Friedman, Thomas L. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999.
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