The integration of national economies into a global economic system has been one of the most important developments of the last century. This process of integration, often called Globalization, has materialized in a remarkable growth in trade between countries. The following chart shows the value of world exports over the period These estimates are in constant prices i. This chart shows an extraordinary growth in international trade over the last couple of centuries: Exports today are more than 40 times larger than in This will help you see that, over the long run, growth has roughly followed an exponential path.
The chart above shows how much more trade we have today relative to a century ago. But what about trade relative to total economic output? Over the last couple of centuries the world economy has experienced sustained positive economic growth , so looking at changes in trade relative to GDP offers another interesting perspective. The next chart plots the value of trade in goods relative to GDP i. This shows that over the last hundred years of economic growth, there has been more than proportional growth in global trade. This creates an intricate network of economic interactions that cover the whole world.
Growth dynamics and complexity of national economies in the global trade network
The following interactive data visualization, created by the London-based data visualisation studio Kiln and the UCL Energy Institute , gives us an insight into the complex nature of trade. It plots the position of cargo ships across the oceans. If we look at country-level data from the last half century we find that there is a correlation between economic growth and trade: countries with higher rates of GDP growth also tend to have higher rates of growth in trade as a share of output.
This basic correlation is shown in the chart below, where we plot average annual change in real GDP per capita, against growth in trade average annual change in value of exports as a share of GDP. Among the potential growth-enhancing factors that come from greater global economic integration are: Competition firms that fail to adopt new technologies and cut costs are more likely to fail and to be replaced by more dynamic firms ; Economies of scale firms that can export to the world face larger demand, and under the right conditions, they can operate at larger scales where the price per unit of product is lower ; Learning and innovation firms that trade gain more experience and exposure to develop and adopt technologies and industry standards from foreign competitors.
Some of the most cited papers in this field e. Other important papers in this field have focused on microeconomic evidence, exploring the causal impact of specific trade liberalization policies on firm-level productivity within countries. These studies also find that trade liberalization has led to growth in the productivity of firms. You can read more about this in our blog post: Does trade cause growth?
When a country opens up to trade, the demand and supply of goods and services in the economy shift. As a consequence, local markets respond, and prices change. This has an impact on households, both as consumers and as wage earners. The implication is that trade has an impact on everyone. The effect of trade extends to everyone because markets are interlinked, so imports and exports have knock-on effects on all prices in the economy, including those in non-traded sectors.
The distribution of the gains from trade depends on what different groups of people consume, and which types of jobs they have, or could have. You can read more about these economic concepts, and the related predictions from economic theory, in Chapter 18 of the textbook The Economy: Economics for a Changing World. We review the empirical evidence in detail in a related blog post. Here is an overview:. In a recent study, the economists David Atkin, Benjamin Faber, and Marco Gonzalez-Navarro explored the impact that the arrival of global retail chains had on workers and consumers in Mexico.
In this study Atkin and coauthors find that the arrival of global retail chains led to reductions in the incomes of traditional retail sector workers. However, they find little impact on average municipality-level incomes or employment; and a large positive impact on both rich and poor households, via lower costs of living. The following chart shows the estimated distribution of total welfare gains across the household income distribution the light-gray lines correspond to confidence intervals. These are proportional gains, and are expressed as percent of initial household income.
As we can see, there is a net positive welfare effect across all income groups; but these improvements in welfare are regressive, in the sense that richer households gain proportionally more about 7. The following visualization presents a compilation of available trade estimates, showing the evolution of world exports and imports as a share of global economic output. The higher the index, the higher the influence of trade transactions on global economic activity. The first wave of globalization came to an end with the beginning of the First World War, when the decline of liberalism and the rise of nationalism led to a slump in international trade.
In the chart we see a large drop in the interwar period. After the Second World War trade started growing again. This new — and ongoing — wave of globalization has seen international trade grow faster than ever before. Klasing and Milionis , which is one of the sources in the chart below, published an additional set of estimates under an alternative specification. You find all these alternative overlapping sources in this comparison chart.
Over the early modern period, transoceanic flows of goods between empires and colonies accounted for an important part of international trade. The following visualizations provides a comparison of intercontinental trade, in per capita terms, for different countries.
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As we can see, intercontinental trade was very dynamic, with volumes varying considerably across time and from empire to empire. Leonor Freire Costa, Nuno Palma, and Jaime Reis, who compiled and published the original data shown here, argue that trade, also in this period, had a substantial positive impact on the economy. The following visualization shows a detailed overview of Western European exports by destination. Figures correspond to export-to-GDP ratios i. But this process of European integration then collapsed sharply in the interwar period.
The International Trade and Investment Program
After the Second World War trade within Europe rebounded, and from the s onwards exceeded the highest levels of the first wave of globalization. In addition Western Europe then started to increasingly trade with Asia, the Americas, and to a smaller extent Africa and Oceania. The indicators in this chart are indexed, so they show changes relative to the levels of integration observed in This gives us another viewpoint to understand how quickly global integration collapsed with the two World Wars. In this interactive chart you can explore trends in trade openness over this period for a selection of European countries.
The world-wide expansion of trade after the Second World War was largely possible because of reductions in transaction costs stemming from technological advances, such as the development of commercial civil aviation, the improvement of productivity in the merchant marines, and the democratization of the telephone as the main mode of communication. The visualization below shows how, at the global level, costs across these three variables have been going down since The reductions in transaction costs had an impact, not only on the volumes of trade, but also on the types of exchanges that were possible and profitable.
The first wave of globalization was characterized by inter-industry trade.
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This means that countries exported goods that were very different to what they imported — England exchanged machines for Australian wool and Indian tea. As transaction costs went down, this changed. In the second wave of globalization we are seeing a rise in intra -industry trade i. France, for example, now both imports and exports machines to and from Germany.
The following visualization, from the UN World Development Report , plots the fraction of total world trade that is accounted for by intra-industry trade, by type of goods. As we can see, intra-industry trade has been going up for primary, intermediate and final goods.
This pattern of trade is important because the scope for specialization increases if countries are able to exchange intermediate goods e. Above we took a look at the broad global trends over the last two centuries. The next chart plots estimates of the value of trade in goods, relative to total economic activity i. These historical estimates obviously come with a large margin of error in the measurement section below we discuss the data limitations ; yet they offer an interesting perspective.
Each country tells a different story.
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- Growth dynamics and complexity of national economies in the global trade network.
If you add the Netherlands, for example, you will see how important the Dutch Golden Age was. Here is the same chart but showing imports , rather than exports.
In the next chart we plot, country by country, the regional breakdown of exports. This gives us an interesting perspective on the changing nature of trade partnerships. In India, we see the rising importance of trade with Africa — this is a pattern that we discuss in more detail below. This metric gives us an idea of integration, because it captures all incoming and outgoing transactions.
The higher the index the larger the influence of trade on domestic economic activities. The visualization below presents a world map showing the trade openness index country by country.
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For any given year, we see that there is a lot of variation across countries. The weight of trade in the US economy, for example, is much lower than in other rich countries. If you press the play button in the map, you can see changes over time. This reveals that, despite the great variation between countries, there is a common trend: Over the last couple of decades trade openness has gone up in most countries. Expressing trade values as a share of GDP tells us the importance of trade in relation to the size of economic activity.
The chart below shows the value of exports goods plus services in dollars, country by country.
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