Posts tagged with: globalization

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, April 2, 2007

A couple weeks ago the NYT magazine ran a piece by contributing writer Tina Rosenberg, which attempts to outline some of the ways in which “everyone in a wealthy nation has become the beneficiary of the generous subsidies that poorer countries bestow upon rich ones.”

What does she mean? In “Reverse Foreign Aid,” Rosenberg asserts that there are five major forms of poor-to-rich international subsidy. The first is the tendency among poorer nations to build-up great reserves of hard currency, often in the form of T-bills. The problem here is that there is an opportunity cost in holding the low-return but ultra-secure US Treasury bills: “All the money spent on T-bills — a very substantial sum — could be earning far better returns invested elsewhere, or could be used to pay teachers and build highways at home, activities that bring returns of a different type.”

A second form of subsidy is in the WTO requirements that member nations abide by copyright and intellectual property protections. “There are good reasons for countries to respect intellectual property, but doing so is also an overwhelming burden on the poorest people in poorer countries,” writes Rosenberg.

So-called “tax holidays” form a third kind of subsidy, in which poorer nations offer tax incentives and various other breaks to multi-national corporations to entice them to bring their operations to their country. Rosenberg writes, “Since deals between corporations and governments are usually secret, it is hard to know how much investment incentives cost poorer countries — certainly tens of billions of dollars. Whatever the cost, it is growing, as country after country has passed laws enabling the offer of such incentives.”

Rosenberg also describes brain drain as a form of subsidy, in which skilled professionals who are trained in poorer nations emigrate to wealthier ones. She also points out the adverse effects that domestic subsidies of various industries, such as agriculture, can have on poorer nations. Somehow or other this direct subsidy becomes a “reverse subsidy” because “corn, rice or cotton exported by rich countries is so cheap that small farmers in poor countries cannot compete, so they stop farming.”

And finally, Rosenberg calls the disproportionate negative effects of climate change on poorer nations the “ultimate subsidy.” She writes, “American energy use is being subsidized by tropical coastal nations, who appear to be global warming’s first victims.”

The essay is really a bit uneven. It’s hard to fathom why, for example, cheaper imports of agriculture commodities from wealthier nations should be seen as “reverse” subsidies. Just because a certain practice or policy negatively affects a poorer country doesn’t mean that it is a “reverse” subsidy. And just because wealth is created in the first world doesn’t mean that it comes at the expense of someone in the third world, although there are good reasons to see that Rosenberg is right about the consequences on agricultural sectors in developing nations.

With respect to the second form of “reverse subsidy,” Rosenberg is really describing a kind of competition between developing nations, and the beneficiaries aren’t so much wealthier governments but large multi-national corporations. Of course, many critics of the developed world can’t or won’t distinguish between these two (all the better to fit into the picture of a growing neo-liberal “empire”).

Brain drain is a real problem for the developing world, but as is the case with so many of these instances of “reverse subsidy,” Rosenberg is pointing to a legitimate issue or concern but failing to ask the right kinds of questions, and thus providing some questionable solutions (a neo-Keynesian answer for T-bill stockpiling?). Why, for instance, are professionals leaving developing nations to work in places like the United States? In many, if not most, cases money surely is a motivation. But there certainly are other factors at work, and the potential for greater income isn’t a sufficient explanation as to why so many people leave their home, friends, and family to go live in a foreign country. Indeed, large-scale migration out of a nation is a pretty reliable indicator that something is wrong in the native country.

And maybe the fact that poorer nations don’t respect copyright and IP rights is as much a contributor as it is an effect of their lower economic status. How can you expect to be a country that fosters innovation if there are no legal protections for innovation and invention?

A recent NBER paper, “Globalization and Poverty,” examining some of these issues makes the case that globalization is a complex phenomenon and that in some cases segments of the poor can be made worse off. This is no doubt true, and the merit of Rosenberg’s piece is that it points out some of the real-world issues that a globalized economy faces. The question remains, however, whether at least some of these negative effects might be mitigated by a freer and more liberalized system of trade rather than one which relies on subsidies, tariffs, and protectionism.

A NYT editorial informs us today that retail prices for coffee products are rising (HT: Icarus Fallen). We are assured, however, that the price rise has been “relatively modest” and that an important factor is “changes in supply and demand in a global economy.”

No kidding.

The bad news in the editorial, at least for the fair trade crowd, is that these same forces of suppy and demand are raising the price for the commodity itself.

According to the International Coffee Organization, the composite price of coffee rose over 36 percent from the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2006. The organization predicts a down year for the Brazilian coffee crop, which could lead to a supply shortfall and even higher prices this year. While world demand has grown at annual rates of 1.5 to 1.8 percent over the last five years, it has been rising at a much faster clip of roughly 15 percent for smaller players like Russia and China. As more people enter the global middle class, the demand for coffee rises, putting upward pressure on the price.

I have argued previously that the very low price of coffee internationally was a pointer to the fact that we had a global glut in the bean supply.

That trend seems to be reversing and the rising commodity price for coffee is thus undermining the long-term viability, relevance, and credibility of fair trade coffee.

For an opposing perspective, check out Black Gold, a new movie on the fair trade coffee movement, which I have not yet seen (HT: The Advocate).

Why do so many clergy and religious activists reflexively attack the free market? Kishore Jayabalan takes a look at recent anti-business campaigns. “The very concepts of business and profit motive are often reason enough for religious leaders to condemn an activity as immoral and unethical, and criticisms of multinational corporations are just the same condemnations on a larger scale,” he writes.

However, large multinational corporations are one of the most able and efficient means of improving the economies of developing nations. Multinational corporations fight government corruption, establish banking and legal services, help to ensure basic eduation and are proven to raise the standard of living in the nations that they “invade.”

Read the commentary here.

From the abstract of a new paper from the NBER, “Globalization and Poverty,” by Ann Harrison:

“This essay surveys the evidence on the linkages between globalization and poverty. I focus on two measures of globalization: trade and international capital flows…. The collected evidence suggests that globalization produces both winners and losers among the poor. The fact that some poor individuals are made worse off by trade or financial integration underscores the need for carefully targeted safety nets.”

It seems that it may be possible. An interesting article from yesterday’s International Herald Tribune:

Danielle Scache tries to avoid using the term “capitalism” in her economics class because it has negative connotations in France.

Instead, she teaches her high school students about the market economy, a slightly less controversial term she started using last year after a two-month internship at the dairy giant Danone. That was an experience that did away with more than one of her own prejudices, she said.

“I was surprised to see that people actually enjoyed working in a company,” said Scache, who is 59. “Some of them were more enthusiastic than many teachers I know.”

“You know,” she confided with a laugh, “in France we often think of companies, especially multinationals, as a place of constant conflict between employees and management.”

This view of bosses and workers as engaged in an endless, antagonistic tug-of-war goes some way toward explaining the two-month rebellion against a new labor law.

Read the whole thing for an interesting look into the state of economic education in France.

Richard Longworth

An interesting news story on local Grand Rapids television last night concerning the long awaited closing of an Electrolux plant. While the story was fair and optimistic, I got a bit of a kick out of soundbite from Chicago writer Richard Longworth who said: “A wonderfully decent way of life is now just being undermined by productivity, by the global economy.” Now, losing a job can be a terrible thing (its worth noting, though, that one of the workers in the story seemed glad to have the chance to “do something new” with his life–so sometimes change can be good as well). But regarding the idea of lives being undermined by globalization, I couldn’t help but thinking of the insight of former President of El Salvador Francisco Flores, who will be featured in our next issue of Religion & Liberty:

Francisco Flores

[S]ome people say that they’re against trade because they will be losing jobs. What these critics don’t realize is that the choice is not between giving a job to a Salvadorian or giving it to an American citizen. That’s not the choice. The choice is whether you will allow your enterprises to survive or not. If you allow your enterprises to create a more efficient division of labor and become more competitive by creating alliances throughout the world, then your corporations will survive. If you keep them closed in, then what will happen is that other corporations throughout the world will construct these alliances, you will lose the competitive edge you have, and you will not only lose jobs, you will lose the companies.

Stay tuned for more from Flores and others in this quarter’s R&L.