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In Praise of Fragmentation

LONDON – Emerging markets are back in the spotlight. Investors and banks are suddenly unwilling to finance current-account deficits with short-term debt. South Africa, for example, has had to increase interest rates, despite slow economic growth, to attract the funding it needs. Turkey’s rate increase has been dramatic. For these and other emerging countries, 2014 may prove to be a turbulent year.

If volatility becomes extreme, some countries may consider imposing constraints on capital outflows, which the International Monetary Fund now agrees might be useful in specific circumstances. But the fundamental question is how to manage the impact of short-term capital inflows.

Until recently, economic orthodoxy considered that question invalid. Financial liberalization was lauded because it enabled capital to flow to where it would be used most productively, increasing national and global growth.

But empirical support for the benefits of capital-account liberalization is weak. The most successful development stories in economic history – Japan and South Korea – featured significant domestic financial repression and capital controls, which accompanied several decades of rapid growth.