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Public Discussion: Can Globalisation Benefit Everyone?

Angus Armstrong

On 27th September, Rebuilding Macroeconomics held its first Discovery Meeting at The Lowry in Salford, near Manchester. This was our first attempt to really engage with the public on macroeconomics – anyone could take part. We wanted to hear from members of the public about what they consider are the most important concerns regarding globalisation. We were very pleased with the discussion and over 600 viewers had tuned-in to our livestreaming of the event. A short video summary is here.

Before summarising the discussion, it is worth saying why we are engaging with the public in the first place. The aim of Rebuilding Macroeconomics is to transform macroeconomics back into a policy-relevant social science. In our view, mainstream macroeconomics has become detached from some important economic challenges facing society (see our blog here).

To make sure we address the most important ‘real world’ policy questions, we have created a consultation process with policy makers, academics and the public. We hold pre-Discovery Meetings with policy makers and academics (economists and scholars from related disciplines) and Discovery Meetings with the public. We hope that we are then able to create Research Hubs with outline research agendas. Our first Research Hub asks “can globalisation benefit all?” and the background and summary notes of the pre-Discovery Meeting are here and here.

The first point from our discussion was the clear view that globalisation has greatly increased inequality. It is not that success should not be rewarded, or an outright objection to globalisation, but that too many communities are being left behind. It is less an issue about income differentials and more about the opportunity for a ‘meaningful life’. When we asked how a government might compensate those who had lost from globalisation, it was clear that this is less about a financial transfer and more about restoring self-worth and reinvigorating communities.

The second point was a strong sense that globalisation has exacerbated regional differences. The city centre may have prospered but the local towns and communities have been neglected. The Northern Powerhouse initiative was welcomed, but it was unclear how the tiers of local government would help the surrounding areas. It was acknowledged that London is a great success, and the ‘pull’ or attraction of London was acknowledged. But this was thought to worsen regional income differences. One suggestion was to move Parliament to Manchester when the Palace of Westminster is refurbished. There was a clear sense that a coherent regional policy was required if globalisation was to work for everyone.

A third point, hinted at the psychological recognition of national boundaries. Delegates told us about offshoring jobs and decisions made by overseas firms that had direct adverse consequences in the community. The question was whether this was somehow different from UK firms making similar decisions with similar consequences. Although the view was not unanimous, there was a belief that there would be more consideration of the ‘local’ consequences of these decisions. The issue of national boundary was particularly pronounced when discussing companies paying taxes overseas.

A final set of concerns were about measurement. Some delegates said more emphasis needed to be placed on sustainability and others questioned the idea that things are improving when there are more food banks than they can remember. Students and academics in the audience lamented the lack of real (constant value) regional economic data after many years. While trade in goods and travel were recognised as beneficial, doubts were raised about international capital flows, especially when they seemed to end-up in city apartment blocks.

The discussion at Manchester provides very welcome information on some of the most important issues around globalisation. As we look to appoint the Research Hub leader for our Globalisation Hub, these are some of these issues which will now be covered in the proposed research programmes.

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