In contrast to trade, the investment impact of the global downturn has so far been hardest on the countries where the woes began: rich ones. They have seen FDI falls of one-third on average and by half or more in Britain, Italy and Germany. Finland and Ireland have seen net outflows. FDI flows to developing countries were still growing in 2008, albeit by only 4%, after a rise of 21% in 2007. Flows to big South American countries were up by about a fifth; those to India more than doubled, though they may ebb as GDP falters.
The third of the three main aspects of globalisationâ€”jobsâ€”is following the other two, with a lag. The International Labour Organisation forecasts that unemployment worldwide will rise by around 30m above 2007â€™s level in 2009. Most of that rise will be the result of recession, not deglobalisation, but some will be attributable to the fall in trade (exporting companies will lay off workers) and some to declining investment (if expansion plans are cut, new jobs will not be created).
Deglobalisation will have a dire impact on migrants. In the past decade, more people have been moving voluntarily than ever before; now, some are going home. Those who provided labour for the housing boom in America (notably Latinos), Ireland (Poles) and China (rural Chinese going to cities on the eastern seaboard) have been among the first to be laid off. In Spain newly jobless builders are competing with migrants there for jobs picking fruit.
This will surely have an effect on the flow of remittances from rich countries to poor ones, although it has so far (see article) been quite resilient. In any case, economies that absorbed large numbers of foreign workers may take fewer. Some of the millions of South Asians who work in the Gulf, or the young Africans who flock to South Africa, or the Central Asians who work in Russia, may have to stay at home.
Yet for all the economic pain, the social and political fallout from deglobalisation has not yet been severe. Protests may still come. Or maybe national governments are absorbing most of the ire. In December, Greece saw riots after a police bullet killed a teenager. In France, unions brought over 1m people onto the streets for a one-day strike, and a riot in Latvia over economic policy ended in more than 100 arrests. But only in Britain, where workers have picketed refineries and power stations over the hiring of foreigners, has protest had a very anti-global tone.
This lag may be explained by residual support for globalisation, especially in emerging markets. A poll in 2007 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that majorities in 47 countries saw international trade as good for them; majorities in 41 out of 46 welcomed multinational firms; in 39 out of 47, most felt better off with a free market. In more than half the countries where changes could be tracked, support for free markets was rising.
When consensus wobbles
But is that still true? Last summer, on the eve of the meltdown, European Union pollsters reported that two-thirds of EU citizens saw globalisation as profitable only for large firms, not citizens. In 2002, according to the Pew poll, 78% of Americans thought foreign trade helped the country; by 2007 it was only 59%. A CNN poll in July 2008 showed that, for the first time, a small majority of Americans saw trade as a threat, not an opportunity.
Of the few worldwide polls to have been completed since then, one by Edelman for the World Economic Forum found that 62% of respondents in 20 countries said they trusted companies less or a lot less now. Manifestly, popular opinion backs more state regulation.
So far, this has mostly taken the form of pouring public money into banks and selected industries, notably cars. Last week Barack Obama set out plans for another vast bank rescue, and the French government promised â‚¬6 billion ($7.8 billion) in preferential loans to Renault and Peugeot-CitroÃ«n in return for pledges that no car factories would be closed in France.
There has been somewhat less evidence of trade protectionism. India has raised some steel tariffs. The EU has reintroduced export subsidies for some dairy products. Russia has raised import duties on vehicles. But there has also been movement the other way. The American Senate softened the “Buy America” provisions of the stimulus bill. Mexico said that by 2012 it would cut tariffs on thousands of kinds of manufacture. And some countries have sought a safe harbour, rather than embracing pure nationalism. East Europeans are even keener on the shelter of the euro; Iceland has applied to the EU; the Irish are more likely than they were to vote for the EUâ€™s Lisbon treaty.
Despite the downturn, the nations of the world have not shunned globalisation. It has been protected by the belief of firms in the efficiency of global supply chains. But like any chain, these are only as strong as their weakest link. A danger point will come if firms decide that this way of organising production has had its day.
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