Monday, September 08, 2008

Thomas Friedman needs to write a new book 

...now that the theory of McGlobalization has been disproven (see InsideHigherEd).
“No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s,” wrote Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux).

Not that the fast-food chain itself had a soothing effect, of course. The argument was that international trade and modernization — and the processes of liberalization and democratization created in their wakes — would knit countries together in an international civil society that made war unnecessary. There would still be conflict. But it could be contained — made rational, and even profitable, like competition between Ronald and his competitors over at Burger King. (Thomas Friedman does not seem like a big reader of Kant, but his thinking here bears some passing resemblance to the philosopher’s “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective,” an essay from 1784.)

McDonald’s opened in Russia in 1990 — a milestone of perestroika, if ever there were one. And Georgia will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its first Micky D’s early next year, assuming anybody feels up for it. So much for Friedman’s theory.
I've always liked the Golden Arches = modern peace sign idea. I'm a capitalist. When I was younger, I believed in anarcho-capitalism, that a world with completely free markets would need no government besides the invisible hand of the market to keep things running smoothly, productively, and *happily* for everyone. I read The Lexus and the Olive Tree when I was a freshman at Georgetown, a little before Y2K. I don't remember any professors requiring it in any of my classes, but it seemed like everyone I knew at the GU School of Foreign Service (and even the College and School of Business) had read it. Those who hadn't read it grokked the idea immediately and could fill in the supporting evidence themselves.

I remember arguments in which people tried to factually disprove the theory. I remember one late-night web search to discover when or if the Faulkand Islands had a McDonalds. The questions of whether Argentina and Britain were at war or whether the war was justified weren't nearly as interesting.

I remember eating fries at a new McDonalds outside the Pantheon in Rome with my college boyfriend. I remember my first exposure to written Chinese and Japanese was through paper placemats, traveling with my parents before I was 10 - McDonalds was one of the few places my parents knew my younger brother and I would definitely eat when we were traveling in east Asia.

I have been lucky enough to visit several countries "pre" and "post" McDonalds, though I am more cognizant of the proliferation of Starbucks. I watched Hong Kong grow up and earn its own Starbucks, for instance. Returning from southern Africa, I craved the bland confidence of capitalism, greasy fries and a double cheeseburger. No matter the country, McDonalds has been safe, not because it was American but because it was economically familiar.

Not anymore. Even complacent capitalists can kill each other. The world security I thought we could find in prosperity might not be there.
Presumably it could be retooled ex post facto (“two countries with Pizza Huts have never had a thermonuclear conflict,” anyone?) but that really seems like cheating.
Pizza Hut-ization doesn't have the same ring to it. And I hate pizza.

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