Shadows and lights of globalization

From Branko Milanovic:

“To think correctly about globalization one needs to think of it in historical context. This means seeing today’s globalization and its effects, positive and negative, as in many ways a mirror-replay  of the first globalization that took place from the mid-19th century to the First World War.

That globalization, underpinned by the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe, transformed the economic map of the world by making Europe much richer and politically and militarily more powerful than any other part of the world. It allowed European countries, and later the United States, to conquer most of Africa and significant parts of Asia, which even when they were not formally ruled by Westerners were subjected to their strong influence in terms of economic policy (opening to trade, control of custom revenues), or even juridical extraterritoriality for European citizens.

Advanced European countries became much richer, so that by 1914 the ratio of per capita income, according to the Maddison project database, between the UK and China was 8 to 1 compared to 3 to 1 one century earlier. (The figure below shows the reverse of this ratio: Chinese, Indian and Indonesian GDP per capita as percent of comparable West European GDPs per capita. It thus highlights the recent rise of Asian countries.) Moreover, the fruits of industrialization and globalization began to be spread across Western countries’ income distributions thus making even the poor people there richer than almost all Africans and most Asians. European dominance allowed it to “export” its surplus population and to blunt the edge of the incipient class  conflict.

This very short sketch of the well-known effects of the first globalization allows us  to remind ourselves of both its positive and negative sides: huge technological progress as against exploitation, increased incomes for many vs. grinding poverty and exclusion for others, European mastery of the world vs. a colonial status of Africa and much of Asia.

In what ways should it inform our thinking about the current globalization? First, in making us realize that broad historical movements cannot bring only benefits to everybody. Some will inevitably lose, others gains; and at times the loss of some is a condition for the gain of others. Second, thinking of the past enables us to see how the current globalization is in many respects a mirror-image of the first—but shorn of its more brutal effects of conquest and exploitation.”

Continue reading here.

Posted by at 7:25 AM

Labels: Inclusive Growth


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