Thinking globally -- or else

Globalization: a big word to describe our brave new world, and a concept we'd do well to comprehend.

May 16, 1999|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,Sun Staff

Information, Thomas L. Friedman informs us, is the new wealth. The old, traditional ways of acquiring wealth, such as land ownership and good old-fashioned hard work, are giving way to the economy of the modem -- and, more importantly, to the fastest modems, he says in his new book, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $26), a breathless run-through of globalization and its effects on us all. Get your information out there faster than anyone else, and you win.

The game is open to just about anyone with a computer. The traditional barriers to wealth and success are tumbling down, says Friedman, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author. And woe to the fellow -- or nation -- who stockpiles missiles over information. They will be left behind in this new era. But those speeding ahead must beware of possible collisions between the Lexus (his symbol for the global economy) and the olive tree (nationalism and cultural identity).

Friedman was in Baltimore recently to kick off a national tour for his book, and sat down for a few questions.

Why should we be interested in the message of "The Lexus and the Olive Tree"?

For the last 10 years, we have been speaking about the "post-Cold War." We have been describing the world by what it isn't, because we didn't know what it was. The argument is that we are in a new system that has replaced the Cold War system. And that system is called globalization.

What exactly is globalization?

It's the integration of the financial markets, technologies and information systems in a way that is shrinking the world from a size medium to a size small and making it possible for each of us to reach around the world, farther, faster and cheaper than before.

What are the biggest dangers of globalization?

I believe [this shift toward globalization] will be too hard to understand and keep up with for a world without walls. The people who can't make microchips may make trouble.

What about other social implications?

I believe that in this new system, you dare not be a globalizer and advocate of free trade and open borders without being a Social Democrat, without being ready to really bring the "have-nots," "know-nots" and "left-behinds" into this system. Otherwise, you will never be able to maintain the political consensus for openness. But you dare not be a Social Democrat without also being a globalizer. Because without free trade, more openness and more integration, you are never going to have the growth, the competitive edge, the knowledge edge and the immigration to produce the sort of incomes you need to redistribute to those who need a little help in this system.

By the end of your book, what should people know that they didn't know before?

I want them to say that I now understand that I am living in a new world, and I now have some idea of what I need as an individual, as a parent, as an employee, to succeed in this new system.

Pub Date: 05/16/99

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