Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Thomas Friedman (the Lexus and the olive tree)

[...] In many ways, the Lexus and the olive tree were the symbols of the post-cold war world. Some countries were emerging from the cold war intent on building a better Lexus, while others were emerging from the cold war intent on renewing ethnic and tribal feuds over who owned which olive trees. Some countries were obsessed with doing whatever it took to streamline and re-engineer their economies so they could better compete in a global marketplace, while others were consumed with internal strife over who owned which olive trees. In Japan, in Taiwan, in Singapore, in Maastricht, in Brussels, the future seemed to be burying the past. Yet in Sarajevo, in Rwanda, in Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia, in Hebron and Gaza, the past seemed to be burying the future.
Finding this balance between the Lexus and the olive tree is not easy. On the one hand, societies need to link up with the global economy and attract global investment in order to survive economically. But at the same time, the more societies ask their citizens to link up with distant, sterile economic structures—like GATT, NAFTA, or the EU—the more they need to find ways to give their people the ability to express their distinctly cultural, religious, and national identities. Countries are like people. They have bodies and souls, and both have to be nourished.

That quote comes from Friedman's 1995 memoir From Beirut to Jerusalem (a great read btw). He would later go on to write a follow-up book expanding on the Lexus and olive tree metaphor. Like all metaphors that try to explain giant trends it's a bit simplistic, but I think it does explain a lot of what's going on even today, with the rise of figures like Trump and Sanders, the Brexit vote, and the rise of various nationalist movements across Europe and the world. Perhaps "the establishment" (however you want to define that) has lost sight of the fact that countries, and their citizens, have souls.

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