In last month’s issue of World News and Prophecy (see article, “What to Watch to Discern the Times”), I referred to a book about globalization called The Lexus and the Olive Tree, written by the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, New York, 1998). Since then several have commented about the book and its value in helping to understand the world economy. It is a fascinating subject and an important one for our readers to understand. In this issue I’d like to review Friedman’s book and another called The Great Betrayal. This second book is written by Pat Buchanan and gives another perspective. Read together, these books can help us see globalization as more than an economic system.
The One Big Thing
Friedman states: “I believe that if you want to understand the post-Cold War world you have to start by understanding that a new international system has succeeded it-globalization. That is ‘The One Big Thing’ people should focus on.” The lens which Friedman uses goes back to the 19th century to show that the world had a previous period of globalization. What we see today is another round of a continuous cycle of the world economy.
The last period of globalization started in the mid-19th century and lasted through the 1920s. The amount of trade and capital flows between nations was similar to today. Then, Great Britain was the dominant global power as its empire reached its zenith. The steamship, telegraph, railroad, telephone and transatlantic cable helped to transport people, goods and even crises from one continent to the other in a period when one could go between countries without the need of a passport. Indeed, the world did shrink in size during this period.
It took World War I, the Great Depression and World War II to bring this period to a close and lock the world in place with the period called the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 the rush was on again to renew this process and create a global economy. This new era of globalization is turbocharged in comparison to the last. “The previous era of globalization was built around falling transportation costs. Today’s era of globalization is built around falling telecommunications costs-thanks to microchips, satellites, fiber optics and the Internet. These new technologies are able to weave the world together even tighter” (page xv).
Here is how Friedman describes this new period of globalization: “the globalization system (is) a dynamic ongoing process: globalization involves the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before-in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before, and in a way that is also producing a powerful backlash from those brutalized or left behind by this new system. The driving idea behind globalization is free-market capitalism-the more you let market forces rule and the more you open your economy to free trade and competition, the more efficient and flourishing your economy will be. Globalization means the spread of free market capitalism to virtually every country in the world. Globalization also has its own set of economic rules-rules that revolve around opening, deregulating and privatizing your economy” (page 8).
If the earlier period of globalization was dominated by Great Britain, then this latest is dominated by American culture. Mickey Mouse, McDonalds, CNN and iMacs symbolize today’s period. The Internet, another American invention, circles the globe and brings instant communication to those who are attached. It is like we are all connected but no one is in charge. This is a two-edged sword. While many people want the wealth and image projected by the American culture, there is also an envy bordering on jealousy that goes alongside. America’s economy is the main engine of today’s world economy. This is a blessing which comes from the hand of God.
So what does the title The Lexus and the Olive Tree mean? It is the contrast between a modern global culture, such as Japan which builds the Lexus automobile, and a Middle Eastern culture where they are still fighting ancient battles over the land known for its olive trees. Friedman explains, “It struck me then that the Lexus and olive tree were actually pretty good symbols of this post-Cold War era: half the world seemed to be emerging from the Cold War intent on building a better Lexus, dedicated to modernizing, streamlining and privatizing their economies in order to thrive in the system of globalization. And half of the world-sometimes half the same country, sometimes half the same person-was still caught up in the fight over who owns which olive tree” (page 27).
The Other Side of the Coin
This is a good point to jump to the Buchanan book, The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy (Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1998). Pat Buchanan is a former speech writer for President Richard Nixon and a cable television talk show host. Twice he has sought the Republican Party nomination for president. As the title shows he is not terribly excited about our new global world. He advocates protectionist tariffs, is against NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association), and traded in his Mercedes Benz for a Lincoln Navigator.
Buchanan admits that early in his career he supported free trade. He wrote articles in support of any bill Congress passed which opened up the borders of trade among the nations. But within the last 10 years after seeing many U.S. based businesses close their doors and take jobs to cheaper international labor markets, he has changed his tune and now passionately shouts a warning that America should wake up to the dangers of the new global economy. Americans, he says, are taking for granted the inherent freedoms they’ve come to expect.
Writing with the fervor of a secular evangelist, Buchanan’s book traces the historical development of American trade practices. Beginning with the Revolutionary War period he shows how America’s separation from England centered on the friction created by unfair trade practices imposed by the government of King George III. The events of this period, such as the Boston Tea Party and the Stamp Act, were economic in origin and fueled the passions which ignited the war.
The colonists’ dependence on Britain for goods became a major problem. To gain more control over his finances, George Washington stopped growing tobacco for export to England and grew wheat for Americans. His business prospered and he opened other projects such as weaving and milling for local consumption. Thomas Jefferson saw that Virginia planters were indebted to British mercantile houses and needed to take control of their distribution channels to escape financial servitude and insure their financial futures.
Buchanan argues that the American move for independence was firmly rooted in a desire to control its economic destiny just as much as its political future. It is a sound argument since the two are always intertwined in the story of a nation. When George Washington spoke the first presidential oath in 1789 he determined to wear a new suit of clothes fashioned from cloth ordered from a mill in Connecticut. “Buy American” was the signal given by the hero of Valley Forge.
“Spitting into the Wind?”
While Buchanan acknowledges he is fighting an uphill battle against the tide of globalization, his book is valuable for two reasons. First he shows that nations ultimately will act to protect their own self-interest. He attacks the argument that free trade will break down the barriers of nationalism, religion and race that divide people and lead to conflict.
He quotes Richard Cobden, a 19th century English Quaker who was a vigorous advocate of free trade. Cobden is to free trade ideology what the apostle Paul is to Christianity. “It has often struck me that it would be well to try to engraft our free trade agitation upon the peace movement. They are one and the same cause. It has often been to me a matter of surprise that the Friends have not taken up the question of free trade as the means- and I believe the only human means-of effecting universal peace” (emphasis ours). Again Cobden is quoted: “Free Trade! What is it? Why breaking down the barriers that separate nations; those barriers behind which nestle the feelings of pride, revenge, hatred, and jealousy, which every now and then burst their bounds and deluge whole countries with blood” (pages 58, 61). The same theme was echoed as recently as 1997 in President Bill Clinton’s State of the Union Address: “By expanding trade, we can advance the cause of freedom and democracy around the world” (page 60).
History proves these sentiments wrong. In the 19th century England was involved in conflicts all over the globe. In 1914 World War I broke out among the free trading nations of the European heartland. Nations are inherently tribal. One of the first principles of geo-politics is that no nation enters any form of agreement with another without insuring its interests will be protected and promoted. When either of those fail, the agreements end and armed conflict often is the result.
The second value of this book lies in the material he cites which shows the historical development of free trade theory. The modern world’s ideas spring from the Enlightenment, that age where man began to shed religion in favor of a more reasoned and scientific view of the world. The writings of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill stirred intellectual minds and promoted free trade ideas as a new, secular gospel of salvation.
“As early as 1836, classical liberal Henry Fairbairn had looked into the future and seen free trade coming on the wings of angels: ‘Seeing then, that in the natural order of things the triumph of Free Trade principles is now inevitable, magnificent indeed are the prospects that are opening for mankind. Nations will become united in the golden bands of peace; science, liberty and abundance will reign among the inhabitants of the earth; nations will no longer be seen to descend and decline, human life will become prolonged and refined; years will become centuries in the development of the blessings of existence; and even now the eye can reach to the age when one language, one religion, and one nation alone will be existing in the world’ ” (page 187).
The Age of Enlightenment hastened the demise of religious influence among the leaders of Western nations. No longer did established religion hold the minds of men and control nations in the same way. God and religion were removed from the center of the universe and replaced by man. The search for the kingdom of God on earth would now be done through the efforts of human creativity apart from the shackles of religious dogma. In time the field of economics contributed its ideas to this goal in the form of free trade. Free trade would be the way in which man would create utopia on earth.
This is the reason we should understand the basics of this concept called globalization. In the past 10 years it has come to dominate the world’s economies. It is certain to form the basis for what we see described in Revelation as a one world economic colossus called Babylon the Great. These two books will help you to watch with understanding. WNP