The new globalisation and income inequality

From VoxEU post by Sergi Basco and Martí Mestieri:

“Trade in intermediates (or ‘unbundling of production’) and trade in capital have become increasingly important in last 25 years. This column shows that trade in intermediates generates a reallocation of capital across countries that exacerbates world inequality in both income and welfare. Unbundling of production hurts middle-income countries but helps those with high productivity. Trade in intermediates also increases within-country inequality, and this increase is U-shaped in the aggregate productivity level of the country.

Two remarkable facts of the globalisation process witnessed in the last 25 years are the large increases in both trade in intermediate goods and in capital mobility. Before the 1990s, trade in final goods accounted for most of the value of world exports and international capital mobility was relatively low. In contrast, after the 1990s, trade in intermediate goods, or ‘unbundling of production’, has become more prominent over time (see Figure 1) and global supply chains have emerged – a phenomenon termed ‘New Globalisation’ by Baldwin (2016). There has also been a sizable growth of both gross and net international capital flows (e.g. Lane and Milesi-Ferretti 2007). Some authors have blamed globalisation for the increasing inequality and loss of jobs in developed countries (e.g. Acemoglu et al. 2016). However, there has not been any theoretical analysis of the long-run effect of unbundling of production on inequality between and within countries.


Figure 1 International unbundling of production


A distinctive feature of intermediate goods, which we document in a recent paper (Basco and Mestieri 2019a), is that they are more heterogenous in capital intensity than final goods. Factor proportion (Heckscher-Ohlin) trade models emphasise that trade in goods which are heterogenous in capital intensity creates winners and losers from globalisation because trade alters the relative return to factors of production. Moreover, since capital can be accumulated, trade in intermediates can have dynamic effects through altering countries’ savings rate. In addition, capital mobility implies that trade in intermediates can affect the global allocation of capital. Changes in the global allocation of capital also affect returns to other domestic factors of production (e.g. labour), to the extent that capital and labour are complements in production. In sum, trade in intermediates (unbundling of production) has the potential to affect the redistribution of capital and labour between and within countries.”

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Posted by at 9:37 AM

Labels: Inclusive Growth


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