Globalization is close to its ‘holy cow’ moment. Why we must rethink our outdated ideas about international trade.
By Richard Baldwin – Globalization has changed.
The globalization we knew and understood for most of the 20th century resembled more the globalization that emerged from the Industrial Revolution than it did the globalization we experience today.
That globalization was based on the movement of goods across borders—measurable, limited by physical infrastructure, and parried by policies such as tariffs. But globalization today is about more than trading goods; it’s about trading ideas and, increasingly, services.
Our 20th-century paradigms of globalization are ill-equipped to understand what cross-border trade means for the present and near future. Globalization has changed, but the way we think about it hasn’t.
The one thing that hasn’t changed about globalization is that it is a phenomenon with the power to change the world. If you trace the share of world income going to two groups of countries—India and China in one group and the G7 countries in the other group—back to the year 1000, you’ll see that back then, India and China had about half the world’s GDP, and the G7 had less than 10 percent of it.
Starting around the 1820s—the decade economists Kevin H. O’Rourke of Oxford and Jeffrey G. Williamson of Harvard have pegged as the start of modern globalization—the G7 share starts to swell. Over the course of about 170 years, it goes from about one-fifth up to about two-thirds of world income. That’s how powerful globalization—the movement of goods across borders—was.
Globalization is arbitrage. What is arbitrage? It’s taking advantage of a variation in price between two markets. When the relative prices of some goods are cheap in Mexico, that’s what they sell to us, and when other goods are relatively cheap in the US, that’s what we sell to them. A two-way, buy-low/sell-high deal—that’s arbitrage, and trade theory is all about what the direction of arbitrage, and especially arbitrage in goods, is. more>