‘Globalisation more like a pizza, you can change its topping’

Ajit Kumar Jha
Delhi NewsLine

New Delhi, August 7: If globalisation were a sport, picture it as a ‘‘100-metre dash by various players run over and over again. And then you race again the next morning.’’ This is in direct contrast to the Cold War which is more like ‘‘a Sumo wrestling match between two fat guys.’’

If globalisation is a technology, it’s like a ‘‘fast modem’’. The Cold War is more like ‘‘a slow missile radar.’’ In short, ‘‘globalisation is like a web, the Cold War like a Wall.’’ Only The New York Times foreign affairs columnist, the thrice Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman, can conjure up such delightfully simple images of such difficult abstractions.

In a lecture laced with witty metaphors and more witty anecdotes, Friedman explained the ‘‘basic model’’ behind his most recent book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalisation, at the CII today.

Friedman, who is also known for his seminal work on the Middle-East cutting through its labyrinth during its most tumultuous years, put that aside to look at the way the world has changed—and is changing even as he spoke.

Unlike the Cold War where ‘‘nation-states confront and balance each other,’’ Friedman argued that globalisation involves ‘‘three types of power balances: the states versus states; the states versus supermarkets; and the states versus super-empowered people.’’

Who is a super-empowered person? 1997 Nobel Laureate for peace Jodi Williams who galvanised a global movement against landmines by simply using e-mail. But it’s the ‘‘superempowered angry men’’ that Friedman finds more interesting, the Osama bin Ladens and the Ramzi Youseffs who challenge the very might of the world’s sole superpower.

It is hundreds of such interactions, thousands of such power-balances that map globalisation, said Friedman.

‘‘My daughter asked me,’’ he said, ‘‘where did globalisation come from? What moves it?’’ Three types of democratisation, answered Father Friedman. First, that of technology, like the microchip, and the process of digitisation; second, that of finance, in other words broadened access to capital, for instance, the rock star David Bowie’s bonds; and third, that of information.

The three democratisations — technology, finance, information — converged, says Friedman, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the apt event that describes globalisation.

‘‘When the Wall falls, fasten your seat belt, because we are in each other’s business,’’ claims Friedman. How? Technology is the key in this marriage between the three democratisations, explains Friedman.

‘‘The speed from innovation to commoditisation gets turbo-charged doubling every 18 months,’’ says Friedman.

As a result, Sony gets into the business of Kodak, and Kodak into the business of Federal Express.

The computer PC company Compaq enters into business solutions, a traditional preoccupation of Price Waterhouse, and Price Waterhouse gets into tax advice, a job for Goldman Sachs. So you have a wonderful ad of Sony which shows a Sony Digital camera, a 3.5 floppy diskette, which is your film, and your baby picture for your postoffice, said Friedman.

Just as in strategic theory ‘‘capability creates intention,’’ the process of innovation in globalisation ‘‘is 90 per cent driven by technology,’’ he said. ‘‘There are actually no drivers driving it, no one calling, yet everyone waiting for others to call,’’ says Friedman.

So you have your 911s and 1-800-give-me-a-break. The result is simply paradoxical: while in the economy you get choices, in politics you end up with shrinking choices, argues Friedman. In short, plethora of choices in the market, but the BJP and the Congress look more and more like each other.

What is the role of state in all this? Well, it is like a plug, attached to the ‘‘electronic herd’’, the global energy source.

‘‘Plug it in right and your whole country will light up, plug it in wrong and you shall have burnt a hole through the middle,’’ said Friedman. Russia, he contends, plugged it in wrong and got burnt, Thailand and other ‘‘crony capitalist countries’’ got it all wrong because they plugged in ‘‘a Das Kapital 1.0 to a Pentium.’’

In this metaphor of the computer, if free market is the hardware, democracy is the software. They need to match and India has potentials in terms of this match.

Back to the Cold War versus globalisation analogy, Friedman points out, while in the former you had Nehru jackets and Mao-tse-Tung jackets, under globalisation, you have a golden strait-jacket, basically one size fits all. It is a case of ‘‘synchronised swimming.’’

Friedman doesn’t agree that ‘‘globalisation’’ is ‘‘Americanisation’’. To a question why there are more advocates of globalisation outside the US, then within the US, Friedman blames the Bush administration, especially its ‘‘neoconservative stand on the Kyoto protocol’’.

‘‘This administration is not Bush 11, but it is Reagan 111’’ claims Friedman. ‘‘Globalisation, therefore, is more like a pizza, where you can put any combination of topping, and less like a burger,’’ concludes Friedman.