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The Lexus And The Olive Tree

The major theme of The Lexus and The Olive Tree is the reality of globalization.  Friedman declares that this system is the only viable alternative for economic viability.  Globalization is the international system that, more than anything else, is shaping world affairs today.

Thomas Friedman describes the growing tension in the world between the Lexus and the Olive Tree.  It is a modern day version of the story about Cain and Able.

There is the "Lexus."   While visiting a Lexus factory in Japan, he was amazed that robots were essentially putting the car together. The parts come from all over the world.   The Lexus is a metaphor for the marvels of technological development and global integration.  

The "Olive Tree" serves as a metaphor for cultural heritage, identity, spirituality, ritual, conventional, old ways, community, values, home, national identity and all the things that provide a person's meaning and value in life.

All Lexus and no Olive Tree result in people with no sense of identity or self.   People that have only the Olive Tree are either going to become poor or remain cut off from the major sources of economic growth in the world today.

Half the world lusts "the Lexus."  Half of the world fights over the olive tree.  

The major theme of the book is the reality of globalization.  Friedman declares that this system is the only viable alternative for economic viability.  Globalization is the international system that, more than anything else, is shaping world affairs today. Globalization is the integration of capital, technology, and information across national borders, in a way that is creating a single global market and, to some degree, a global village.

The system richly rewards winners while harshly punishing losers.  It is good news for those who want to take risks while it threatens to destroy both cultural heterogeneity and environmental diversity.

If nation states ignore the system, they face impoverishment.  If nation states ignore the olive trees, they face angry, nihilistic backlashes.
He claims one can't possibly understand the morning news without some grasp of the system.

At the same time, Friedman is very sympathetic with the impact on those who are brutalized by the system.  He details the powerful backlash that is occurring.  

Friedman concludes his book with reflections on the Tower of Babel where people standardized everything, integrated their cultures, had a common language and cooperated to reach heaven.

What did God do? He destroyed the tower and made the people speak of diverse languages and dialects because the concept was good but it turned out to be dehumanizing.

Friedman hopes for a future where the Lexus and the Olive tree (values and technology) will be in balance.  He preaches, "Every privilege has a corresponding responsibility."

I recommend reading the book as a provocative perspective on the "world" economy.  Stewardship leaders will benefit by wrestling with its challenges.

It raises questions such as:

What good news do we bring to the people who live in this culture?

What are the promises and threats are embedded in a "Lexus" world?

What does the church gain and lose when it embraces technology as a communication tool?

How does the church serve people whose olive trees are threatened?

How can the church help the world live in a healthy balance?

What does it mean to be a Good Samaritan steward in this culture?

What implications does globalization have on how the church serves the public?

Reviewed by Jerry Hoffman


Thomas L. Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning well-traveled New York Times foreign-affairs columnist.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa ( via Flickr. Used by permission.

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