Ed's Reviews > The Lexus and the Olive Tree

The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman
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May 29, 08

Recommended for: Robber Barons

For reasons I cannot understand, this book is treated as canonical in high school economics classrooms across the country. Friedman presents an argument that is not only exceedingly hypocritical but asserted almost entirely through a jungle of personal anecdotes. The Lexus and the Olive Tree is not so much an explanation of globalization as it is a laundry list of interesting people that Friedman knows and you do not. Methodology aside, the arguments Friedman makes are more often than not deeply flawed. Many of the ideas Friedman babbles about are considered debatable (the "Electronic Herd") at best, or flat-out absurd (the "Golden Straitjacket") at worst. This "straitjacket" is the focal point of his argument, and it takes him a few hundred pages to get around to the crux of it. To summarize: Having spoken to 50 or 60 of his friends, Friedman declares that economic growth, specifically in emerging markets, demands a paring down of any form of social safety net, open arms to foreign investment, and a deregulatory fiscal policy on the part of the government in question. Friedman disregards the fact that heavily subsidized agricultural exports from the United States, for example, undercut domestic prices in many of these emerging markets and bankrupt local agricultural industries. The United States' own tariffs and quotas were what allowed U.S. industry and agriculture to flourish in the first place, but present-day emerging markets are somehow expected to open their borders and allow their markets to be flooded with development-stifling imports from first world economies and subsidy driven low prices. All of this aside, perhaps the most grating element of The Lexus and the Olive Tree is Friedman's penchant for creating ridiculous names for existing and well-defined economic and political phenomena. The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention stands in as the fat sister of Democratic Peace Theory (Heard of Israel and Lebanon, Thomas? Give Russia and Georgia a few more months, perhaps.). DOScapital (a witticism perhaps overheard in a middle-school remedial English program) is a ridiculous way of describing what most have deemed the global economy; i.e. capitalism. The Electronic Herd? Capitol investors. Microchip Immune Deficiency? Insufficient decentralization and technophobia. In summation, The Lexus and the Olive Tree attempts to explain the nature and processes of globalization by combining a long list of people with whom Thomas Friedman has had lunch, kitschy jargon, five or six thousand poorly-chosen metaphors, a smattering of jingoism, a dedication to the unregulated free market that would make Lady Thatcher blush, and no formal education in economics whatsoever. It's good for a laugh, I suppose.
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