Globalization, Convergence and History

Jeffrey G. Williamson

NBER Working Paper No. 5259
Issued in September 1995
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

There were three epochs of growth experience after the mid 19th century for what is now called the OECD 'club'; the late 19th century, the middle years between 1914 and 1950, and the late 20th century. The late 19th and the late 20th century epochs were ones of overall fast growth and convergence: poor countries tended to grow even faster than rich and the economic gap between rich and poor countries diminished. The middle years were ones of overall slow growth and divergence: poor countries tended to grow even slower than rich and the economic gap between rich and poor countries widened. Since the middle years were also ones of economic autarky and 'de-globalization', while the rest were ones of increasing globalization in world commodity and factor markets, history offers an unambiguous positive correlation between globalization and convergence. But is the correlation spurious? When the pre-World War I years are examined in detail, the correlation turns out to be causal: the globalization of commodity and factor markets served to play a critical, perhaps the critical, role in contributing to convergence. A century and a half of OECD club history also suggests that economists should pay more attention to who gains and who loses from convergence since the answers may help determine whether pro-globalization or anti- globalization policies will persist.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5259

Published: Journal of Economic History, vol. 56, no. 2 (June 1996): pp. 1-30

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