Inequality and opening up to foreign capital and inequality: some new results

After countries remove restrictions on capital flows, inequality often gets worse

In June 1979, shortly after winning a landmark election, Margaret Thatcher eliminated restrictions on “the ability to move money in and out” of the United Kingdom, which some of her supporters regard as “one of her best and most revolutionary acts” (Heath, 2015).

Thatcher’s critics [have] regarded this same liberalization as starting a global trend whose “downside . . . proved to be painful” (Schiffrin, 2016). In their view, while the free mobility of capital across national borders confers many benefits in theory, in practice liberalization has often led to economic volatility and financial crisis. This in turn has adverse consequences for many in the economy, particularly for those who are not well off. Liberalization also affects the relative bargaining power of companies and workers (that is, of capital and labor, respectively, in the jargon of economists) because capital is generally able to move across national boundaries with greater ease than labor. The threat of being able to move production abroad reduces labor’s bargaining power and the share of the income pie that goes to workers.­

In studying such distributional effects of capital account liberalization, Davide Furceri and I found that after countries take steps to open their capital account, an increase in inequality in incomes within countries follows (Furceri and Loungani, 2015). The impact is greater when liberalization is followed by a financial crisis and in countries where there is low financial development—that is, where financial institutions are small and access to these institutions is limited. We also find that the share of income going to labor declines in the aftermath of liberalization. Thus, like trade liberalization, capital account liberalization can lead to winners and losers. But while the distributional effects of trade have long been studied by economists, the distributional impacts of opening the capital account are just starting to be analyzed.­

Read the rest of this (non-technical) summary of our results here:

Here’s a link to the IMF Working Paper:

Earlier versions of this research, based on data for advanced economies, were featured on Krugman’s blog and in VoxEU. These new results extend our results to developing economies as well as lay out possible channels through which capital account liberalization leads to inequality.

Posted by at 4:11 PM

Labels: Unemployment


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