Winners and Losers in Two Centuries of Globalisation

The world has experienced two globalisation booms over the past two centuries,and one burst, the first global century ended with World War One and the second started at the end of World War Two, although the years in between were ones of anti-global backlash.According to Professor Jeffery Williams ‘while inequality has been trending upwards for most of the past 500 years, ‘globalisation’ defined in terms of commodity price convergence across regions of the world, only began around 1852.’During the period of the ‘first global century’ through to 1913, lower transport costs and tariffs stimulated trade, which together with relatively free factor  mobility formed powerful egalitarian forces on a world scale. Professor Williams stressed that not everyone stood to benefit from a confutation of these policies and the period from 1913-50 was marked by an anti-globalisation backlash under which restrictions on migration and rising tariffs resulted in price divergence across countries.

During the 1820s there were a watershed in the evolution of the world economy.International price convergence did’t start until then. Powerful and  a period of shifts towards liberal policy (e.g. dismantling mercantilism) were demonstrated during that decade. However, the 1820s happen at the same time with the peacetime recovery from the Napoleonic wars on the Continent, launching a century of global pax Britannica. In other words, the 1820s mark the start of of a world regime of globalisation.

The advancement of technology in transport reduced the cost of transport dramatically in the century prior to World War One. These globalisation forces were powerful in the Atlantic economy, but they were partially neutralise by a rising tide of protection. The declining costs of transport accounted for two-thirds of the integration of world commodity markets over the century following 1820, and for all of world commodity market integration in the four decades after 1870, when globalisation backlash offset some of it.

The dismantling of mercantilism and the world–wide transport revolution worked together to produce truly global commodity markets across the nineteenth century.The persistent decline in transport cost world wide enabled competitive winds to blow hard where they had never blown before. The anti-global policy reaction after 1870 in the European centre but it was nowhere near big enough to cause a return to the pre- 1820 levels of economic isolation. At the sometime, these globalisation events were met with rising levels of protection in the United States, Latin America and the European periphery.

Factors markets also became integrated world wide. As European investors came to believe in strong growth prospect overseas,global capital markets became steadily more integrated, reaching  levels of in 1913 that may have been gained even today.  As a consequence of this, international migration soared in response to unrestrictive immigration policies and falling boating costs, but not without some negative consequence: New World immigrant declines began to vanish toward the end of the century, political debate over immigrant restriction became a hot topic, and , finally, the quotas were imposed. In this regard, it is clear that the retreat from open immigration policies to quotas was driven by complaints from the losers at the bottom of the income pyramid, the unskilled native born.

South-South migration within the periphery  was probably greater, but we know little about it impact on sending regions (like China and India), on receiving regions (East Africa and Southeast Asia). As Lewis pointed out long ago, the South-North migrations were only a trickle; like today, poor migrants from the periphery  were kept out of the high wage centre by restrictive policy, by the high cost of the move, and by their lack of education. World labour markets were segmented than just as they are now. Real wages and living standards converged among the currently-industrialised countries between 1850 and World War One. The convergence was driven primarily by the erosion of the gap between the New World and Europe.

David Bah




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