Leading economists agree: closing borders is not the answer to inequality.

Author:Deshpande, Ashwini
Position:Blog - Reprint
 
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US President Donald Trump wants to build a wall along the US-Mexican border. Britain wants to retreat into its shell to become an isolated island state.

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In France, far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen launched her campaign by saying, "The divide is no longer between the left and the right, but between the patriots and the globalists."

Enthusiasm for inward-looking, protectionist economic agendas is sweeping across Europe, leaving xenophobic hatred in its wake.

Clearly, the experience of the past three decades of globalisation has produced massive dissatisfaction: so much that naive, misplaced and often frightening measures are seen as genuine solutions by large parts of the electorate in the richest nations of the world.

Rising inequality, which has accompanied globalisation, has sprung to the fore as a key concern among economists, politicians and the public. The latest report by Oxfam documented this rise, and the figures were shocking, even to those of us who might already be convinced about the gravity of the problem: just eight men hold as much wealth as the bottom half of the world population.

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What needs to be asked is the following: why is the world economy at this pass? Is it a labour-versus-labour problem? Would shutting borders lead to greater equality of incomes within countries? Would the poor and working class in developed countries, who are feeling the heat of unemployment, depressed wages and insecure futures, regain their (mostly imagined) former glory if their countries shut down their borders?

Or is it the case that gains from globalisation, instead of trickling down, have been sucked upwards towards a tiny elite, making an already rich minority even richer? And that this elite resides within, not outside, their countries?

Labour vs capital

In September 2016, I was part of a group of 13 economists, along with Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and three other chief economists of the World Bank, who met in Saltsjobaden, near Stockholm, to deliberate on the main challenges facing the global economy, and draft a short document highlighting some key issues.

This consensus document, the Stockholm Statement, was issued after intensive discussions within this small group. Our idea was to keep the statement short and focused on the most important issues.

One of our main concerns was the phenomenon of rising inequality over the past three decades. The advent of advanced technology...

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