May 1 2006

Globalization vs. Growth

NYT op-ed omits stats that debunk pro-corporate claims

New York Times chartThe April 10 New York Times devoted half its op-ed space to an elaborate attempt to demonstrate the benefits of globalization, with charts showing that “more globalized” nations do better than “less globalized” on measures ranging from average inflation to the rule of law. But one obvious measure of economic health, the economic growth rate, was conspicuously absent—perhaps because those statistics would have directly contradicted the op-ed’s point.

“Globalizing Good Government,” written by Richard W. Fisher and W. Michael Cox of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, chided opponents of a (subsequently scuttled) French law making it easier to fire young workers, saying the critics were “misunderstanding the realities of our globalizing economy.” Fisher and Cox argued that “the more globalized nations tend to pursue policies that achieve faster economic growth,” while “the least globalized countries are prone to policies that interfere with markets and lead to stagnation.”

“It is clear that countries with solid policies will be more successful in the global economy,” the op-ed concluded. “If our data demonstrate anything, it is that globalization prompts a race to the top by pushing countries to abandon policies that burden their economies in favor of those that fuel growth and economic opportunity.”

It’s true that on several of the policies favored by the authors, like “favorable corporate taxes” and “capital market openness,” countries did do better—from Fisher and Cox’s point of view—the more “globalized” they were.* But do such policies actually result in faster economic growth? The obvious way to begin to answer such a question is to compare the various groups of countries in terms of growth in gross domestic product. Since the op-ed authors neglected to do this, FAIR looked up the most recent statistics available from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (2003-04) and found some surprising results.

Contrary to the op-ed’s claims, the “most globalized” group—which includes the U.S. and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, several European countries and Singapore—actually had the lowest average growth rate, at 3.6 percent. The “more globalized” group, including Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Panama and most of the other European countries, did just slightly better, with an average growth rate of 3.7 percent.

Growing much faster than either of those groups were the “less globalized”—a category that includes Asian countries like Taiwan and Thailand, African countries like Uganda and Nigeria, Latin American countries like Mexico and Argentina, and Europe’s Romania and Ukraine. These nations grew at a 6.2 percent clip. (Statistics on Taiwan, which are not kept by the U.N., come from the CIA Fact Book.)

The fastest growth rate was found among the “least globalized”—in other words, the group with “policies that interfere with markets and lead to stagnation.” This group, which includes China, India, Russia, Brazil and Venezuela, had an average growth rate of 6.3 percent.

Do such figures prove that resisting globalization leads to faster growth? Of course not; there are many variables involved, including the fact that the “least globalized” countries generally start at a lower level of development and tend to have faster population growth. But looking at the actual growth rates does call into question the op-ed’s facile assertion that pro-corporate policies are the same thing as “policies that achieve faster economic growth.” The New York Times op-ed page should have done some factchecking before offering this misleading opinion piece to its readers.

* For their categories of more and less globalized nations, the authors relied on the annual survey conducted for Foreign Policy magazine (5-6/06) by the AT Kearney consulting firm. Some of the firm’s judgments are puzzling: The United States, for instance, was ranked as the 4th most globalized nation, despite being 60th out of 62 countries in economic integration, and coming in about two-thirds of the way down in two of the other three areas measured. (The U.S.’s first-place showing in the other area–Internet technology–somehow made up the difference.) Countries whose economies are far more trade-dependent than the U.S.’s, like China, were deemed to be far less “globalized”–suggesting that the list actually has little to do with connection to the global economy.