Book Review

Robots as the Great Equalizers

FILE PHOTO –  A humanoid robot works side by side with employees in the assembly line at a factory of Glory Ltd., a manufacturer of automatic change dispensers, in Kazo, north of Tokyo
Robots could actually help redistribute wealth from rich to poor countries by enabling remote control of factories in emerging markets. Source: Reuters / Issei Kato

When one talks about globalization these days, it is usually to discuss the populist uprising against free trade and open borders, and usually from the side of the critics.

But not in this book from Richard Baldwin, however.

The economics professor, who teaches at the University of Geneva, doesn’t simply deliver an excellent summary of the history globalization with “The Great Convergence.” He also describes how it has changed over the last century, and how thanks to the digital revolution we stand on the threshold of a new age in the evolution of the global economy.

“This book aims to change how we think about globalization,” Mr. Baldwin writes at outset of his work.

This feat is only achieved through the author’s stringent approach to the task.

Branko Milonević, an income inequality expert at the City University of New York, said: “Baldwin doesn’t describe the structure of globalization, but rather its inner logic.”

Picking up Mr. Baldwin’s book is like stepping into an economic time machine.

How did the west become the dominant economic center of the world in just two centuries, generating 70 percent of global economic output? Why did this trend start to change around 1990? And why are supply chains, not national borders, the deciding factors for globalization today?

Only after these questions are answered can Donald Trump’s protectionist counterrevolution be unmasked as the illusion it is. Mr. Baldwin delivers these answers, and argues them convincingly.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton once described globalization as “the economic equivalent of a force of nature – like wind or water.” Many agree, and, feeling helpless against the “forceful” economic tide, hurriedly fortress themselves behind opposition and protest.

Mr. Baldwin shows, however, that globalization is dependent on the cost of transporting goods, ideas and people from once place to another. With the industrial revolution at the turn of the century, and its new modes of transport such as railroads, steam boats and motor vehicles, mountains of goods could suddenly be launched from coast to coast in no time, for a reasonable price.

“British people could eat corn bread from America and sweetened tea from China with sugar from Jamaica, all served on a tablecloth made from Indian cotton,” described Mr. Baldwin.

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