Thomas Friedman’s “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” book explains the future of the global society with the end of Cold War, and the emergence of globalization. He said that for the future to be sustainable, the “Lexus” and the “Olive Tree” should be balance. The Lexus represents the fast changing international trade, and the Olive Tree represents the socio-cultural aspect of the society. He pressed that international trade should not erode social and cultural values of communities and countries. He mentioned his three points in balancing the Lexus and the Olive Tree which are the power balance among nations and states, the balance between nations and the global market, and the balance between nations and their people.
The power balance among nations and states is changing the current situation where the United States of America plays the global sole superpower and the other countries are its subordinates. After the Cold War, America has been playing its role as the ‘global police’ that intervenes even in the domestic security issues. This immense power that America possesses resulted to violence. It has justified the Central Intelligence Agency’s set up of secret detention camps in several countries. It has also justified the horrors that it stroke to communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, among others in its “war on terror.”
Friedman’s second point is the balance of nations and the global market. He mentioned that there is an “electronic herd” that is managing the gargantuan amount of money from countless investors all over the world. The herd he mentioned usually gathers in global supermarkets like Wall Street, Hong Kong, Frankfurt and London. The power they possess can destroy countries especially in the third world. They are managing the world’s economy like a game that they have mastered since the beginning of globalization. This “electronic herd” can oust a country’s president especially in the third world that is dependent on foreign aid in making their economies afloat. It happened in Indonesia in 1998 when Suharto was ousted. Friedman said that his ouster can be traced in the global market when the “electronic herd” cut their aid leading the country to cut its domestic spending. As a result, the rage of people’s movement in Indonesia ousted Suharto. It did not only happen in Indonesia but also in many countries in the third world.
The third point that needs to be balance is between nations and their people. Today, the globalization has curtailed the freedom to build social movements as it empowered individuals rather than communities. It spawned what Friedman said as “Super-empowered” individuals like Osama Bin Laden.
It is true that people did benefit from globalization. The formation of the global village has enormously advanced communication, trade and freedom of information. Money can now be moved from one country to another in seconds. However, these benefits cannot justify its social costs. For example, the fall of barriers in trade resulted to outsourcing labor from the “emerging markets” or the developing countries. While corporations and powerful governments are boastful in providing jobs for people who are suffering in dire need, they are amassing gargantuan profits from it. The Walton family in the United States as a case in point transferred its textile production area in Bangladesh with very low wage for women workers. Research shows that for a period of one year, a textile worker for Walton in Bangladesh earns less than what Walton is earning in one second. In the globalization system, it is difficult to make the Walton accountable for its human rights violations because business will always point back at the government’s labor policies as the culprit.
As for the freedom of information and advancement of communication, I think it is a whitewash. It is because of the un-imaginable control that the superpowers have in the flow of information. We are enjoying for example the Facebook as it made the world smaller. However just recently, the world is shock with the revelations of whistle blower, Edward Snowden regarding the surveillance programs managed by the National Security Agency with the help big telecommunications corporations. The social movements are enraged with the documents leaked. They concluded that the internet is a lucrative technology luring the social movements to maximize it for campaigns. It turned out that it is being used against them.
Friedman is a brave writer to explore and reveal the darkest areas in the globalization era. It is true that globalization is engineered to benefit the few powerful corporations and states. After a few decades, it has widened further the gap between the rich and the poor. It has drawn a line with the terms, “Global North” and the “Global South”. The economies of the countries in the Global North are pacing fast forward while the countries of the Global South are left behind to rot. The Lexus and the Olive Tree is helpful in analysing why development and empowerment are unreachable for the third world. It explained in detail the power relations happening in the global arena. It explored and revealed the co-optation on-going between corporations and poor countries through bonds and investments.
I believe in the assertions of Friedman that development should encompass both economic and socio-cultural empowerment. There is no development if the big corporations and the countries of the Global North are only the ones raking profits leaving billions of people in dire poverty. There is no development if the environment and people’s values are destroyed because of business. There is a need to balance who holds the economic, political and cultural power which is currently the 1% of the world’s population.
Friedman, T.L. (1999). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.