After attending the conference, it seems clear to me that Thomas Friedman's book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, gives a good introduction to the topic. If you want to learn more than I have here, I think reading that book is the way to go. Friedman, though, explained in his speech that you should get the paperback version. It's newer, completely updated, and addresses things that have changed since first publication. (Being able to spend a year revising it was part of his paperback deal.)
Here is some of what he said at lunch. Most of his prepared remarks (including lots of the funny parts) are right out of the book. Judging from the laughing, it seems not everybody had read (or remembered) what he had written...
Thomas Friedman speaking
What I write here is close to what he said:
The core thesis of the book is that globalization is not a trend or a fad. It is the international systems that replaced the Cold War system. It has its own rules, logic, pressures, and incentives that will, and do, affect everyone's country, and everyone's company, and everyone's community, either directly or indirectly.
The simple definition of globalization is the interweaving of markets, technology, information systems and telecommunications systems in a way that is shrinking the world from a size medium to a size small, and enabling each of us to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before, and enabling the world to reach into each of us farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before. That's what globalization is.
How is it different than the Cold War system? Well the Cold War system was based on one overarching feature and that was division...all your threats and opportunities as a country or company tended to flow from who you were divided from. And that system was symbolized by one word: The Wall, the Berlin Wall.
Globalization systems are also characterized by one overarching feature and that is integration. In this new system all your threats and opportunities increasing flow from who you are connected to, and it is symbolized by a single word: The Web, the World Wide Web.
So basically we've gone in the last 12 years from a world of division and walls to a world of integration and webs. In the Cold War, we reached for the Hot Line, which was a symbol that we were all divided but, thank God!, at least two people were in charge: The United States and the Soviet Union. And in globalization, we reach for the Internet, which is a symbol that we are all increasingly connected, and nobody's quite in charge. The central logic of globalization exactly mirrors the logic of the Internet. We are all increasingly connected, but nobody's in charge.
Two years after first publishing his book, he still finds this true.
In a chapter in the book called "Buy Taiwan, Hold Italy, Sell France", he writes that plugging your country into globalization was the equivalent to taking your country public. He feels that the attributes that make strong countries and strong companies will merge.
He talked about what he sees from his recent travels around the world. (He has been a New York Times correspondent for years, travels extensively, and talks to all sorts of world leaders and regular people.)
With regards to the politics around this system, the single most underestimated fact of international relations today as a result of globalization is that we all increasingly know how each other lives. And when we all increasingly know how each other lives, we all start to demand the same things. And when we can't get them, we get mad. When you are a Russian, you even know that Norway has a little mini-sub that can rescue your son off the bottom of the ocean and your President is too stupid or proud to ask for it. Oh, in globalization you get mad! When you're an Iranian and you know how other people are living today, and the mullahs give you a chance to have an election and 75% of you turn out and vote for the guy who wants to plug in and get connected with the world -- that's what happens when we all start to know how each other lives. And believe me, it changes, and is changing, everything. It is putting shackles around everyone in leadership around the world today. You cannot run and you cannot hide.
In answer to a question he also said:
Globalization is not a choice. Basically, 80% of it is driven by technology. And the technology exists to blow away walls and to tie you together, and to get access to the best technology and the cheapest wages of Taiwan, Mexico, or Mississippi. It's going to happen whether it makes you more vulnerable or not to disruptions in trade... I've always believed that 80% of globalization is not about trade, it's not about things you choose to do. It's actually driven by technology. It's what technology empowers you to do. It's these capabilities which create all kinds of intentions, and it's not the intentions that are creating the capabilities.
In answer to a question about how individuals affected by all this:
What happens when you wire the world into networks and you blow away the walls, it means that you and I can increasingly work on the world stage directly, unmediated by a state. Jodi Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago for organizing a global ban on land mines against the wishes of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. She was asked afterwards "how did you do it", and she had a very short answer: "Email"... She was what I call a "super-empowered good guy". What globalization does by wiring the world into networks and blowing away the walls is that it super-empowers people, both for good and for ill.
This is one of the reasons I have a huge problem with the anti-globalization movement, and not only do I believe they are the coalition to keep poor people poor..., but I think they utterly miss the degree to which globalization can empower individuals...
If you think it's all good, or you think it's all bad, you don't understand it.
He said lots more, like how great and disrupting the coming changes are going to be, but you can get most of it from the book if you care.
Afterwards, people lined up to say hi and get copies of his book signed.
Book signing, including my copy