Everything and its opposite. That's how New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman defined globalization in his best-selling book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (full citations for all books mentioned in this essay can be found in the Chronological Bibliography). Globalization is the Lexus, Friedman wrote - expensive, high-tech and luxurious. It's the soft life or maybe the fast life to which billions of people, whose lives are hard and unyielding, aspire. But globalization is also the olive tree, he said, with cultural, historical and environmental roots that no one can afford to lose. Globalization isn't one or the other, Freidman wrote. It is or needs to be both.
It is easy to criticize this definition of globalization for its vague simplicity. If globalization is everything, then nothing is excluded (or not excluded, technically, since nothing is the opposite of everything). And yet there is something to be said for it. The Lexus and the Olive Tree is perhaps the best selling and most read globalization book of all time, so Friedman's definition has probably done more to shape the way the world thinks about globalization than any other.Michael Veseth is Professor and Director of the International Political Economy Program at the University of Puget Sound. He is author, editor or co-author of more than a dozen books, including Globaloney: Unraveling the Myths of Globalization (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), The New York Times's Review of the 20th Century: The Rise of the Global Economy (Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2002), and Selling Globalization: The Myth of the Global Economy (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998). Globaloney, was named a Best Business Book of 2005 by Library Journal. Photo courtesy of the University of Puget Sound