Saturday, August 11, 2018

Another Lesson from Tom Friedman

In 2000, Thomas Friedman published an expanded paperback edition of his 1998 book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which looked at the ways in which globalization was replacing the Cold War as the dominant organizing principal of international politics, economics, and culture.   Writing almost two decades ago, Friedman described a new world order.  “Globalization,” he wrote, “is not just some economic fad, and it is not just a passing trend.  It is an international system—the dominant international system that replaced the Cold War system after the fall of the Berlin Wall” (p. 7).  Friedman defined “globalization” this way: 
“. . . it is 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 enabling the world to reach into individuals, corporations and nation-states farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before” (p. 9).

            Globalization is different from the old Cold War era in several ways. Friedman notes that, while the most frequent question in the Cold War era was “Whose side are you on?” the most frequently asked question in the global world is, “To what extent are you connected to everyone?” (p. 10)  Innovation replaces tradition.  The present/future replace the past. 
Nothing matters so much as what will come next, and what will come next can only arrive if what is here now gets overturned” (p. 11). 
            Notably, Friedman paraphrases German political theorist Carl Schmitt, noting that “the Cold War was a war of ‘friends’ and ‘enemies.’ The globalization world, by contrast tends to turn all friends and enemies into ‘competitors’” (p. 12).
            This last bit attracted my attention.  Two decades ago, Tom Friedman had noted this idea—that national enemies would be replaced by global competitors.  Now, we are hearing the same language being used by Donald Trump to describe why he turned away from our NATO allies and turned toward Russia.  In essence, he is saying that we have no allies, only competitors.  It is what Trump means when he says “America first.”
            However, what Trump and his collaborators don’t take into consideration is that we are also living now in a globalized economy (and, more importantly, a global society).  In the Cold War, influence and security were based on the power of the nation state.   In this new age, however, the power of nation states has been replaced by the power of association.  Friedman argues that the new society is powered by three “balances.”  They are:
·      The traditional balance of power between nation states.
·      The balance between nation states and global markets.
·      The balance between individuals and nation states.
As Friedman notes, the last of these balances is key:
“Because globalization has brought down many of the walls that limited the movement and reach of people, and because it has simultaneously wired the world into networks, it gives more power to individuals to influence both markets and nation-states than at any time in history” (p. 14).
In the two decades since Friedman wrote these words, that vision has become the new reality for many of us.  This new environment is a special challenge to industrial workers whose efforts drove the Industrial Revolution and who responded to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.  The Industrial Revolution stimulated several generations of urbanization and European immigration—Germans, Irish, Italians, and others—to provide the manpower that drove the United States to become the world’s greatest industrial power.  They have been the backbone of America’s industry for well over a century.  Today, however, they are feeling forgotten as industry responds to the new balances of globalization.  Today’s manufacturing companies—many of them international in scope these days—must balance the prospect of global markets with the cost benefits of international supply chains.   The public policy goal must be to ensure that our workers—regardless of when and how their families came here—are able to contribute the new global balance and benefit from it.
Trump and his Republican collaborators use immigration as a rallying cry.  However, the problem is not that workers are losing jobs to new immigrants.  It is that they are losing jobs to international supply chains.  The real policy challenge is to strengthen the ability of U.S. companies and their workers to participate in this new environment by encouraging international collaborations that open new markets for American-made goods and to invest in innovations that give American companies and workers a competitive advantage in an ever-changing market driven by technological innovation.
In an earlier posting about Friedman’s most recent book, Thank You for Being Late, I noted Friedman assertion that the situation called for a national commitment to lifelong education.  That is just one of several national initiatives that are needed to bring us into a new balance as Americans.  We also need a political and social commitment to community redevelopment, support for start-up companies, and encouragement of innovation—all elements of revitalization of work—and new opportunity for the workforce—in this new environment.  I write this on the first anniversary of the neo-nazi, white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville, VA.  I hope that, in the coming months, we will hear more about positive steps we can take together across political and social divides to build viable opportunities for American workers and communities.  We cannot re-live the past.  We need to work together to create the future.
Friedman, Thomas.  The Lexus and the Olive Tree.  New York: Anchor Books, 2000.

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