Kako smo iz free-traderjev postali antiglobalisti

Zgornji naslov ni čisto korekten, vendar se lepše bere. Bolj pravilno bi se naslov moral glasiti: Kako smo iz free-traderjev postali pogojni free-traderji. To je povzetek komentarja Paula De Grauweja, ki je zapisal natanko to, kar se dogaja meni in očitno precejšnjemu delu mojih kolegov ekonomistov, ki se ukvarjamo z zunanjo trgovino. Vsi smo bili za prosto trgovino, študente smo učili koristi od proste trgovine na podlagi učbeniških modelov, naredili smo nešteto paperjev na različne vidike zunanje trgovine, nato pa smo nenadoma ugotovili, da je intenzivna globalizacija v zadnjih dveh desetletjih, in znotraj tega vstop Kitajske v WTO leta 2001, povsem spremenila vse. Kitajska konkurenca je izbrisala dobršen del delovnih mest v domači industriji, superintenzivna kitajska industrijska specializacija ter oblikovanje dolgih globalnih verig vrednosti, kjer se iste komponente zaradi nizkih transportnih stroškov prevažajo sem in tja, sta dodatno prispevali k onesnaževanju okolja in globalnim klimatskim spremembam. Zaradi trajno izgubljenih delovnih mest so se povečale frustracije med ljudmi in zanetile politično polarizacijo z vzponom političnih ekstremistov z antiglobalizacijskimi parolami. Preveč globalizacije je spremenilo vse.

Evo, zato smo trgovinski ekonomisti postali previdni, postali smo pogojni free-traderji. Večjo pozornost posvečamo tudi negativnim učinkom proste trgovine. In bilanca koristi in stroškov ni več vedno pozitivna. Zato se tudi jaz takoj podpišem pod spodnji komentar Paula De Grauweja.

In my academic career I have always been an advocate of free trade. Free trade provided the basis of the phenomenal material prosperity we have achieved in Europe in the postwar period. It has also made it possible for hundreds of millions of people, especially in Asia, to be pulled out of extreme poverty and to live a decent life.

But it now appears that globalization reaches its limits.

These limits exist for two reasons. Firstly, there is the environmental limit. Globalization leads to very strong forms of specialization. There is of course nothing wrong with specialization as it provides the condition to create more material welfare. But specialization also means that goods are transported around the globe a lot. The lengthening of the value chains that has been made possible by the reductions of trade tariffs means that the same goods can travel back and forth between many countries before they achieve the final consumers. All this transporting around creates large environmental costs (e.g. CO2 emissions) that are not internalized in the price of the final product. As a result, the prices of these products are too low and too much is produced and consumed of them. Put differently, globalization has made markets freer but these markets do not function properly, giving incentives to produce goods that harm the environment.

When the proponents of CETA (and TTIP) argue that trade agreements will lead to higher GDPs they are right, but they forget to say that this will be accompanied by rising environmental costs. If we subtract the latter from the former it is not certain that this leaves something positive.

The second limit of globalization has to do with the highly unequal distribution of benefits and costs of globalization. Free trade creates winners and losers. As argued earlier there are many winners of globalization in the world. The most important winners are the hundreds of millions who used to live in extreme poverty. There are also many winners in the industrial countries, e.g. those that work for or are shareholders in exporting companies. But there are also many losers. The losers are the millions of workers, mostly in the industrialized countries, who lost their jobs or have seen their wages decline. These are also the people that have to be convinced that free trade will ultimately be good for them and their children. Not an easy task. If, however, we fail to convince them the social consensus that existed in the industrial world in favour of free trade and globalization will deteriorate further.

The most effective way to convince the losers in the industrial world that globalization is good for them is by reinforcing redistributive policies, i.e. policies that transfer income and wealth from the winners to the losers. This, however, is more easily said than done. The winners have many ways to influence the political process aiming at preventing this from happening. In fact since the start of the 1980s when globalization became intense most industrial countries have weakened redistributive policies. They have done this in two ways. First, they have lowered the top tax rates used in personal income tax systems. Second, they have weakened the social security systems by lowering unemployment payments, reducing job security and lowering minimum wages. All this was done in the name of structural reforms and was heavily promoted by the European authorities.

Thus, while globalization went full speed, industrial countries reduced the redistributive and protective mechanisms that were set up in the past to help those that were hit by negative market forces. It is no surprise that these reactionary policies created many enemies of globalization, that now turn against the policy elites that set these policies in motion.

I come back to the question I formulated earlier: How far should we push globalisation  My answer is that as long as we do not keep in check the environmental costs generated by free trade agreements and as long as we do not compensate the losers of globalisation  or worse continue to punish them for being losers, a moratorium on new free trade agreements should be announced. This is not an argument to a return to protectionism. It is an argument to stop the process of further trade liberalization until the moment we come to grips with the environmental costs and with the redistributive effects of free trade. This implies introducing more effective controls on CO2 emissions, raising the income tax rates of the top income levels and strengthening social security systems in the industrialized countries.

Vir: Paul De Grauwe

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