The Lexus and the Olive Tree Paperback – 17 Apr 2000
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One day in 1992, Thomas Friedman toured a Lexus factory in Japan and marvelled at the robots that put the luxury cars together. That evening, as he ate sushi on a Japanese bullet train, he read a story about yet another Middle East squabble between Palestinians and Israelis. And it hit him: half the world was lusting after those Lexuses, or at least the brilliant technology that made them possible, and the other half was fighting over who owned which olive tree.
Friedman, the well-travelled New York Times foreign-affairs columnist, peppers The Lexus and the Olive Tree with stories that illustrate his central theme: that globalisation--the Lexus--is the central organising principle of the post-cold war world, even though many individuals and nations resist by holding onto what has traditionally mattered to them--the olive tree. Problem is, few of us understand what exactly globalisation means. As Friedman sees it, the concept, at first glance, is all about American hegemony. But the reality, thank goodness, is far more complex than that, involving international relations, global markets and the rise of the power of individuals (Bill Gates, Osama Bin Laden) relative to the power of nations.
No one knows how all this will shake out, but The Lexus and the Olive Tree is as good an overview of this sometimes brave, sometimes fearful new world as you'll find. --Lou Schuler
‘Friedman provides an excellent bird’s-eye view of globalization’
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With evangelical fervour, Friedman explains how the end of the Cold War unleashed American capitalism around the globe. While "free market" capitalism had been a weapon in those years of missile diplomacy, the breakup of the Soviet Union left the American economic model without a major opponent. The collapse of the Berlin Wall, coinciding with the rise of the high speed digital communications, led to a new era of global finance. Once, "the sun never set on the British Empire." Now the Internet allows investment activity continuously and without hindrance. The market is never closed as international financial transactions occur constantly, and at light speed. And the market is open to anyone wishing to participate. Anyone possessing the resources, that is.
Friedman argues that the American model of capitalism is the ideal version. Government must play a minimal role. "No one is in charge" simply means no overseer to represent the community's interests. Labour unions are to be quelled. No favours are to be shown to any not meeting the new performance standards. The "wounded" firm must be killed off to allow the successful to continue. There will be disruptions in peoples' lives, but emerging new businesses will pick up any slack. The reward will be growth and enhanced living standards. The system is so well established now, according to Friedman, that it can, is and will be exported successfully around the planet. Anyone it touches need only accept it without question.
Global acceptance, of course, is the rub. The world isn't [yet] American. Scattered around our planet are numerous cultures who either haven't seen the light or resist its premise. These are the peoples who cling to their "olive trees" in defiance of Americanization. Friedman recognizes their concern over losing what they feel is valuable. He should, his interviewees have told him so often enough. He doesn't want them subjugated to an American ideal, he wants them to buy into the system voluntarily. Many want what the new economic system offers, he stresses. They simply have to learn how to adjust their values enough to bring America's financial methods into their own culture. How are they to achieve this feat? Replace restrictive or unresponsive governments. How this is to be achieved in the face of the pace of globalization is left unexplained.
Friedman's eagerness is contagious. It seems cruel to refute a man who presents his case with such honesty and in such a readable style. He carries you along with finesse and you have no feeling of being duped by someone so forthright. He wants everybody to accept his assertions because he sincerely believes those who do will benefit from the new economics. He addresses every objection, meeting each head-on with convincing arguments. He admits, for example, that not everyone has access to the digital communications making globalization possible. Easily solved, he says. One cell 'phone per village is a good start. Even the environmental concerns are [very briefly] touched - conservationists adopting capitalist tactics will save the rain forest. I'm not making this up! He means what he says.
What he fails to recognize is that high speed communication, instantaneous finance and rapid economic growth carries an exacting price. Consumption at the American pace over the whole planet means production to meet the demand. That level of production is reflected in the inroads being made on the world's resources. The pace of growth is faster than "environmentalists" can cope with. Environmental issues are brought to view only when it's too late. If people sit back, allowing unfettered capitalism to buy off their future, there won't be a world left for enjoyment of that enhanced lifestyle. Friedman rejoices in the assertion that "no one is in charge" because it means no fetters to American capitalist ideals. That lack of control may sound the knell of the ideal. Capitalism, as a philosopher once noted, carries the seeds of its own destruction. Sprouts from those seeds may be found in Mark Hertsgaard's "Earth Odyssey." Read Friedman, then immediately take up Hertsgaard. Only then can you realistically assess your own attitude. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Worth reading along with Klein's No Logo since they are both emotive and polemical, choose a side, but if you want to even begin to understand Klein or Friedman are only starting points on a long journey.
In summation then, if you are looking for a readable and entertaining guide to the world today this is worth buying, as it is undenaibly well written, but it is more a collection of stories about a journalist's travels, than a rigourous explanation for the current global paradigm it claims to be.
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