Return to Economic Nationalism?


I just read this article in The Economist called ‘The Return Of Economic Nationalism’. It’s a really interesting piece on the potential consequences of the financial crisis, I recommend reading it. Clearly, the current financial crisis has had important economic impacts, but also significant political ones.

During the 1990s Francis Fukuyama declared ‘The End of History’ and that capitalism had won out over all other economic doctrines. And it’s true that capitalism has been the key factor in the economic growth and prosperity we have enjoyed for so long. But this financial crisis has blown the lid on many of the contradictions and moral hazards of unregulated capitalism. Thinkers on the left now have the clout to call for more active intervention by the state. In times of crisis there is great temptation for governments to look inward and retreat from global markets. But this can be dangerous (The Great Depression was deepened because of protectionism).

At Davos 2009 Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned against countries adopting protectionist policies, he said that this  ‘global crisis’ requires the ‘world to come together as one’. However, The Economist fears the reemergence of economic nationalism. Economic nationalism is when governments  focus on protecting domestic jobs and consumption, but do so by imposing tariffs that distort trade. Taken to its extreme, economic nationalism is the opposite of globalization. That is why the ‘Buy American’ phrase in Obama’s stimulus package is so worrying to so many. 

I’m worried about what this could mean for developing countries. Developing countries already experience unequal terms of trade in the global markets. International trade is an important tool for economic growth and central for getting developing countries out of poverty. Returning to economic nationalism will have devastating effects on poor countries. I believe that President Obama is too well versed in history and clever to do this. But I’m sure the pressure towards economic nationalism is currently very strong in many parts of the US.  

It is important to see the financial crisis an opportunity to restructure the economy and markets. This must be done on an international level. Furthermore, it may sound harsh, but the fittest and most efficient sectors and firms are those that will survive. The inefficient sectors will be revealed. Any domestic response to this crisis must have positive long-term effects. Therefore education, social welfare and technological advance are some of the most important investments that should be made, if we want to create a thriving economy.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know your thoughts? Would love to hear them.

Maame x

Image credit: Jon Berkeley/ The Economist


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3 Responses to Return to Economic Nationalism?

  1. Jackie says:

    Very interesting article. I think economic nationalism is already present in most countries.

    There’s always been a lot of focus to purchase agricultural products produced in the home country rather than foreign countries to promote a greener way of living by reducing carbon emissions. Take for example Jaime Oliver program on channel 4 “Buy British Bacon”. And if it’s not bacon then it’s apples.

    The same goes for Fashion. Countries like Denmark have taken measures to promote danish designers. There’s no sign post saying buy Danish designs but the feeling is out there nevertheless.

    Most countries have some element of economic nationalism, that’s a given. The problem is, this becoming an extreme and leading to a trade war.

    Apparently, the whole “buy America” thing has now been watered down, so I guess they realised it was’nt the best idea.

  2. ahrcanum says:

    You wrote “Any domestic response to this crisis must have positive long-term effects” but a stimulus should provide relief NOW, not in four years when O is up for re-election.

  3. maamea says:

    I completely see your point. And I don’t have all the answer at all – really far from it. I guess that’s why this economic crisis is so difficult. It’s really hard to justify not addressing creating domestic jobs and boosting consumption as soon as possible . I just think that there are short-term things that can be done now, that will win points with the electorate, but won’t necessarily be good long term for the economy. It’s a really difficult trade-off and resorting to economic nationalism is just one of the dangers. I’m glad I’m not the one having to make these decisions.

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