In this book, Friedman describes the phenomenon of globalization that has taken place after the Cold War Era. Friedman brings out the differences characterizing the two eras; globalization and Cold War Era. During the Cold War era, the international system had a structure of power that divided the globe into two. One side consisted of the United States and the countries supporting it and the other with the Soviet Union and its followers. The era was characterized by division as the overarching feature. The two superpowers could not encroach on each others sphere or allow the movement of their people to either region. The defining technologies of the day were to do with nuclear weapons, and the environment was one of tension. There were the communist and capitalist ideologies that were in constant conflict. With the fall of the Berlin Wall that marked the end of the Cold War, Globalization Era emerged. The era is characterized by integration as the overarching feature. Globalization involves a free global integration of markets and individuals. The defining technologies are computerization and digitization that allow global access to products, services, and information. Unlike the cold war era that had a frozen system, globalization era is dynamic.
Friedman refers to the period between World War I and the end of Cold War as a time out for globalization. According to him, the globalization era, which began with the end of Cold War Era, defines the beginning of the New System. In other words, the world was born with the introduction of globalization and the era of the internet. The experiences of the Cold War Era paved the way for the establishment of globalization through adopting a system meant to erase the division that was caused by the Cold War Era. This is evidenced in the defining ideologies guiding globalization which are the complete opposite of those driving the system of the Cold War era.
Being a reporter for foreign affairs, Friedman offers his opinion on how world affairs can be explained today. Friedman equates the world affairs to a Lexus and the olive tree. The Lexus represents globalization and the aspects surrounding it such as modernizing, streamlining and privatizing economies. It is the drive that propels the world affairs to sustenance, improvement, prosperity, and modernization. The Lexus constitutes all the tools that work together to establish a higher standard of living in the world today. On the other hand, the olive tree represents all the aspects that give people a sense of belonging and roots to a place they can call home. This is where one finds his roots, be it in a family, community, tribe, religion, or a nation. It is on the olive tree that individuals and countries are anchored, identified, and find themselves in the world.
In the face of globalization and the definition by Friedman, olive trees are of great importance. As mentioned earlier, olive trees form the root on which individuals and institutions are anchored. Depending on the characteristics of the olive tree (home), individuals, institutions, and countries are ranked on the world map. The olive tree provides a sense of belonging as it defines where we all belong as relates to all factors on which definition is based such as language, geography, and history. The olive tree is, therefore, fundamental in that it is the basic point from which every participant of globalization originates. It forms the pillars of existence and rankings depending on the different endowments. Additionally, this sense of belonging ensures that nation-states remain by binding the people with a common home together. Wherever one is on the globe, there is that one place he or she refers to home, a nation with which one identifies.
The olive tree is rooted in an olive grove both of which are of significance as relates to globalization. The olive tree sets up a platform on which globalization can be founded. It is the starting point. After being identified and ranked on the world map, nations can now begin strategies to advance from the position they are into a better position. For instance, historically, nations have been ranked as first, second, and third countries depending on their economies and how they have grown. As an aspect of the olive tree which defines the history of a country, nations can decide to change the narrative and put strategies in place that catapults them from say, the third country to a first, commonly known as developed countries. The geography of a nation can be of importance in providing opportunities for growth. For example, if a countrys geographic placement is on a coastline, it is advantaged to conduct economic activities such as fishing or establish a port on which trade is carried out. This is an advantage over another country that is landlocked. The opportunities for growth lie with the endowments present in our homes, be it family or nation. All the olive trees are rooted in an olive grove. The significance of the olive grove is to provide the common ground for all the different homes from which people originate. Even with the differences, individuals and institutions find common ground in the face of globalization.
There could arise problems if the olive tree is taken to the extreme. According to Friedman, taking the olive trees to excess would result in a situation that provides strong bonds among people with a commonality and causes exclusion for others. This is a situation whereby people are reluctant about integration to other areas of the globe. This extremity could lead to conflicts with the excluded groups as one tries to maintain and hold onto the aspects of the place they call home. People who can be said to take olive trees to the extreme are those that are not ready to embrace globalization but wants to focus on building their economies from their homes. The result is slowed growth and drawbacks on the achievement of the globalization goals.
As mentioned earlier, Lexus represents globalization and its drivers. It is concerned with the achievement of sustenance, improvement, prosperity, and modernization. The driving force behind globalization that propels its attainment including the transnational, homogenizing, standardizing market forces and technologies that constitutes the globalizing economic systems. The global markets have been opened up under a free market capitalism. Anyone can participate in the global market especially through the internet. The financial institutions have been opened up globally, and computer technologies have been adopted to drive the process of globalization. All these are in an attempt to improve the living standard of today from that of the past.
The biggest threat to ones olive tree is the conflict with the Lexus. All the anonymous, transnational, homogenizing, standardizing market forces and technologies that make up todays globalizing economic system. With globalization, the traditional setup is lost and replaced with a new setting that constitutes adopting a lifestyle that is possibly different from ones olive tree. Although globalization is a positive development, a balance needs to be established between the olive tree and the Lexus to ensure that one does not wipe out the other. In particular, the olive tree is the one at the risk of being overwhelmed by the Lexus and, therefore, a balance needs to be established.
Globalization, as good as it is, faces some challenges. The major challenge identified by Friedman is finding a healthy balance between the Lexus and the olive tree. A lack of balance would affect the success of globalization either by slowing it down or distorting it all together. Some of the drivers of globalization (Lexus) could be posing a challenge on the homes (olive tree) of individuals and institutions. Another challenge is the uncertainty behind globalization. While most countries, especially the developing nations, have embraced globalization as the new order, others have the belief that it is a means by which the United States, which exercises dominance in globalization, are employing to keep other countries down. With this mentality, they are reluctant to embrace globalization. Another challenge has been the lack of a clear understanding of what drives globalization. While it is a technology-driven initiative, some countries understand it as being trade-driven.
In summary, The Lexus and the Olive Tree is a book that illustrates the understanding of globalization and the challenges facing it. A healthy balance between the Lexus and the olive tree will ensure an efficient progress in globalization.
Friedman, Thomas L. "The Lexus and the olive tree: understanding globalization." Journal of Macro marketing 21.1 (2001): 96-103.
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