Companies and countries are scrambling to adjust to a strange new world created by a decade of economic retrenchment and an upswing in populism
By Bob Davis and Jon Hilsenrath
After World War II, the global economy rose on a wave of trade and finance, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in developing countries and providing rich countries with cheaper goods, lucrative investments and hopes for a more peaceful planet.
That tide is now receding.
Nine years after the financial crisis, global trade is barely growing when compared with overall economic output. Cross-border bank lending is down sharply, as are international capital flows. Immigration in the U.S. and Western Europe faces a deepening public backlash.
Nationalist politicians are on the ascent. On Wednesday, the U.K. formally started proceedings to remove itself from the European Union. In the U.S., President Donald Trump pulled out of a Pacific trade pact on his first working day in the Oval Office, declaring, “Great thing for the American worker, what we just did.”
For traditional economists, globalization is a pathway to prosperity. Rooted in the works of Adam Smith in 1776 and David Ricardo in 1817, the classical canon has embraced the idea that trade is the basis of wealth, because it makes nations more efficient by allowing each to specialize at what its workers do best.
Few of them fully grasped globalization’s downsides in a modern economy. Tying together disparate nations economically also expanded the labor pool globally, pitting workers in wealthy nations against poorly paid ones in developing nations. That greatly boosted the fortunes of the world’s poor, but also created a backlash in the U.S. and Europe. At the same time, freeing financial flows led to debilitating financial excesses that ended in crisis.