Globalization RIP?

Why is the goal of an open and increasingly integrated global economy coming under such fierce attack – and why now? If the ideal world of economists seems more distant than ever, blame the management of that process.

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Beyond the rancor and taunts heard at last month’s Republican National Convention, something even more ominous could be heard: the last rites for globalization. To adoring hoots, Donald Trump, the party’s presidential nominee, denounced US participation in international trade deals, and the foreign policy he sketched would pull the plug on the entire US-led liberal international order within which globalization has flourished. Should Trump enter the White House, globalization would not undergo a retreat; it would suffer a rout.

Half a world away, G20 finance ministers met almost simultaneously in Chengdu, China, where they made revitalizing globalization a priority for 2016/2017. The fact that all of the major advanced and emerging economies fear for the future of global openness suggests the degree to which surging support for populist challengers has imperiled existing rules and structures.

For many Project Syndicate commentators, globalization seems trapped in a pincer movement: assailed from one direction by those who claim that it has created a reserve army of economic losers lorded over by a small cadre of winners, the infamous 1%; and besieged from the opposite direction by unscrupulous politicians who, feeding on economic resentment, attack it in the once discredited language of nationalism, of blood and soil, of herrenvolk.

More Pain than Gain

For most middle-class people in most developed economies, the last four decades of economic globalization pale in comparison with les trente glorieuses, the 30 post-war years of ever-rising living standards. According to University of California, Berkeley’s Laura Tyson and Lenny Mendonca of the Presidio Institute, the root cause of disappointment with globalization is clear: “From 2005 to 2014, the real income of two-thirds of households in 25 developed economies was flat or fell. Only after very aggressive government intervention in taxes and transfers have some countries been able to hold families at least even.”