For many years, we have all heard talk of “globalization.” But what does it really mean? In the simplest of terms it refers to an ongoing process whereby individual countries, large and small, have become increasingly interdependent—what goes on in one country will often have effects, positive and negative, on other countries. In general, a combination of economic, historical, technological, socio-cultural, and political forces have worked over time to bring about increased interconnection. For example, the reach of cable news is worldwide, meaning a development in one region can immediately generate interest and reaction on the other side of the world. This report focuses on the economic aspects of globalization to show how the deepening recession in the Unites States is having an impact on the rest of the world and how that, in turn, is influencing policies and the process of economic recovery worldwide.
International Trade Basics
While a discussion of international trade and finance can be complicated, the following examples illustrate the simple concept of trade linkages. The first example is international trade giant Toyota, the world’s largest automobile producer, headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. Toyota’s U.S. sales typically account for about one-third of the company’s total sales. The current recession caused Toyota’s sales in the United States to fall by a whopping 37 percent in December 2008 and by 32 percent in January 2009. This, not surprisingly, led to cutbacks in production, and, consequently, Toyota has announced a reduction in employment—in the form of plant shutdowns and workers laid off.
In the second example, the U.S. company, Caterpillar of Peoria, Illinois, the world’s largest producer of heavy construction equipment and vehicles, saw its sales, of which 60 percent are typically outside North America, fall dramatically in late 2008. The effects of the financial crisis dramatically slowed mining and the construction of roads, schools, homes, and office and apartment buildings in the United States and around the globe. In anticipation of the global economy continuing to weaken in 2009, Caterpillar announced in January that it was reducing employment by 20,000 workers.
The biggest impact of the reduction in workforce by these two manufacturing giants is that the newly unemployed will curtail spending on goods and services, which, in turn, will reduce total spending in both Japan and the United States. In addition, U.S. and Japanese companies that partner or work with these trade giants (for example, supplying tires to Toyota and parts to Caterpillar) will be forced to scale back their own production and employment, leading to further layoffs and reduced spending by consumers in those countries.
In the first example, U.S. consumers felt the effects of the recession as 2008 unfolded and became increasingly fearful of the outlook for 2009. In response, they reduced purchases of Toyotas. U.S. purchases of goods and services from the rest of the world are called “imports.” In the second example, sales of Caterpillar equipment and vehicles to the rest of the world declined. U.S. sales of goods and services to the rest of the world are called “exports.”
Here is where it can get confusing, so pay close attention. Look at the situation from the Japanese perspective. Japan views Toyota automobiles as exports; the United States views them as imports. Similarly, the United States views Caterpillar bulldozers as exports, while Japan regards them as imports.
So how and why do changes in U.S. exports to the rest of the world and imports from the rest of the world affect economic production and employment in the U.S. and other countries? Consider the following. Total spending in the U.S. economy includes spending by domestic households, businesses, governments, and foreigners (in the form of U.S. exports). Spending on imports is then subtracted from the total spending to determine the volume of goods and services produced within an economy. This measurement, called the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is used to determine the overall level of economic activity within an economy.
So, what have been the global repercussions of the U.S. recession? With the U.S. financial crisis spreading across many sectors of the economy, the country slipped into a recession in late 2007, meaning the growth in total spending on goods and services declined dramatically. This downturn led to nationwide cuts in U.S. production and employment. The slowing in total U.S. spending also included a reduction in purchases of imported goods. This reduction, along with the weakening of the U.S. economy and its financial system, affected the rest of the world, rather like a domino effect.
How? Remember the previous discussion of nations’ differing perspectives on exports and imports. Saying that U.S. imports from the rest of the world have slowed means that other countries’ exports have slowed. Because such exports are a component—and in many countries, such as China and Japan, a significant component—of the GDP, the slowing of world exports to the United States contributed significantly to a slowing of the GDP worldwide as global companies also cut production because of diminishing sales.
So, as the GDP growth in the rest of the world gradually slowed, other nations reduced their purchases of goods and services, including those produced in the United States, causing a sharp decline in U.S. exports. This diminished spending in the U.S. economy beyond that of the cutbacks instituted by worried American consumers. As a result, the United States’ GDP growth dropped even more.
In sum, international trade between and among countries means that what happens in one nation’s economy can have a dramatic effect on that of others. The financial crisis first felt in the United States affected trade linkages worldwide. Accordingly, such trade is at the heart of the interdependence and integration that defines globalization.
The graph below shows the growth in U.S. exports of goods and services to the rest of the world and the growth in U.S. imports of goods and services from the rest of the world in recent years. The data are shown in “real” terms, meaning they have been adjusted for price changes so that we can focus only on changes in the physical volume of trade.
As you can see, the U.S. economy has experienced sizable declines in the growth of exports, particularly in 2008, which contributed to production and employment cuts by the country’s business firms. And, large declines in U.S. imports have slowed production in the rest of the world, which, in turn, have led to employment cuts in China, Japan, and many other countries.
Global Effects of the Recession
On January 28, 2009, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) updated its World Economic Outlook (available online at www.imf. org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2009/update/01/index.htm), projecting that global economic growth, as measured by GDP, would be only 0.5 percent in 2009. This represented a substantial reduction from an earlier IMF estimate and forecast the lowest growth rate since World War II. The graph below shows economic growth over the 2000-2009 period for advanced economies (the United States and major European countries), emerging and developing economies (China, India, Africa, and the Middle East), and the world (which is a weighted average of the advanced and the emerging economies).
The graph shows that economic growth in emerging and developing countries that typically rely heavily on exports (sales) of commodities (including oil and various manufactured goods) to the advanced economies has been greater than the growth in the advanced countries for the entire period. It also is evident that the pattern of growth in advanced countries exerts a powerful, reciprocal pull on growth in the world overall. Thus, the deep recession in the United States and the spreading financial crisis played havoc with global trade linkages.
Figure 4 shows economic growth in selected countries or regions in 2007 and 2008, and forecasts for 2009.
Clearly, the slowdown in the United States has had a ripple effect, contributing to a dramatic drop in economic growth virtually everywhere. In effect, the rest of the world “imported” America’s financial crisis.
Focus on China
As the table indicates, GDP growth in China is expected to decelerate further in 2009, to about 6.7 percent, only half of what it was in 2007. The Chinese economy is larger than that of all other countries except Japan and the United States. Even at the projected lower GDP, China will remain the fastest-growing major economic power. However, the abruptness and magnitude of the slowdown is resulting in millions of people in China’s immense workforce losing their jobs.
Why? Likely, you have already guessed correctly. With China’s exports accounting for almost 40 percent of its GDP (the biggest proportion of any large, emerging-market economy), the country’s overall economic growth is highly sensitive to economic developments in the rest of the world. Specifically, as global economic activity has weakened and other countries, particularly the United States and other advanced economies, have drastically reduced expenditures on imports, growth prospects in China have dimmed considerably.
In response, on November 9, 2008, the Chinese government announced a series of steps designed to stimulate economic growth and employment in 2009 and beyond. Nearly $600 billion was pledged to boost domestic internal spending on goods and services in an effort to offset the weak external spending on China’s exports. Many of the steps focus on building China’s infrastructure, including railways, roads, airports, and power generation, and expanding the quantity and quality of housing, as well as spending to improve the environment, health care, and education. (See the World Bank report at www.worldbank.org/china for details.)
Other Countries’ Efforts to Weather the Economic Storm
In the face of considerable economic weakness across the globe in late 2008 and early 2009, many governments’ central banks took bold action to lower interest rates and increase the availability of money and credit. In many cases, interest rates have fallen to near historic lows. Various attempts also are under way to restore financial stability by shoring up weakened banks and other financial firms. The hope is that such actions will help restore confidence, revive housing markets, and, more generally, increase the lending so critical to consumer and business spending.
At the same time, many governments, like China, have already enacted or announced plans to enact substantial increases in government spending and selective tax cuts to boost spending directly or encourage business firms and consumers to spend more. If spending can be revived, then production and employment will rebound.
It is noteworthy that individual governments and central banks have recognized and even emphasized that coping successfully with the global dimensions of the economic recession requires cooperation and collaboration among countries. This is in sharp contrast to what happened during the Great Depression. Reflecting prevailing views and concerns of the day, government officials and political leaders thought that if they could insulate their countries from developments in the rest of the world, the adverse effects on their own countries could be minimized. Such perspectives led to protectionist
policies that severely limited international trade and finance. These limitations, in turn, had many adverse effects that tended to prolong and worsen the worldwide collapse.
The now widely recognized need for cooperation, rather than protectionism, was the central theme of the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, attended by many international political leaders and chief executives of business and finance. Forum attendees concluded that:
“The world’s business and government leaders only have a short time to develop effective solutions to the current economic crisis . . . . The message . . . is that leaders must continue to develop a swift and coordinated policy response to the most serious global recession since the 1930s: global challenges demand global solutions.”
It is hard to imagine a more dramatic illustration of how important “globalization” has become to understanding and dealing with many of the problems, economic and otherwise, facing the United States and the rest of the world.
Professor of Economics, Pennsylvania State University