Modern supply chains are making it easier for economies to industrialise

8. August 2012

Date: 08-08-2012
Source: The Economist

GETTING rich used to be tough. For most of the past two centuries, few countries managed it. Lant Pritchett, an economist now at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, wrote in 1997 that “divergence, big time” between the rich and the rest was “the dominant feature of modern economic history.” But those stubborn gaps have begun to close. Industrialisation is suddenly everywhere. Since the mid-1980s, emerging markets have grown faster than advanced economies (see chart).

Liberal reforms and sound macroeconomic management surely helped. Yet recent research by Richard Baldwin of the Graduate Institute in Geneva suggests it is not so much the developing world that has changed as development itself. Today’s emerging markets face a different sort of globalisation than their predecessors 50 or 100 years ago.

Most advanced economies industrialised as part of what Mr Baldwin calls globalisation’s first great unbundling: the geographical separation of producers and consumers. Early in the industrial era, high transport costs restricted trade. Expensive shipping limited most manufacturers to sales within the same city or country. But as the industrial revolution progressed, steamships and railways slashed transport costs, exposing firms to foreign competition for the first time. The most productive firms were those best able to take advantage of economies of scale. A single large plant could produce goods at a lower unit cost than lots of smaller factories, and a cluster of large suppliers at lower cost still. Production clustered in massive cities in a few economies. Read the rest of this entry »