Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Outsourcing Once Again

Trade Diversion writes:

Trade Diversion: Globalization & Disaggregation: The Economic Council of Finland published a number of papers on globalization last week. Here's the summary of the lead article by Richard Baldwin:

Three eminent economists from Princeton University have recently argued that globalisation has entered a new phase that requires a new paradigm understand. This paper examines what is new in the new paradigm and considers the policy implications for Europe. Roughly speaking new-paradigm globalisation differs from the old in that it is occurring at a much finer level of disaggregation. Due to radical reductions in international communication and coordination costs, EU firms can offshore many tasks that were previously considered non-traded.

This means that international competition -- which used to be primarily between firms and sectors in different nations -- now occurs between individual workers performing similar tasks in different nations. The really new feature is that deeper new-paradigm globalisation will seem quite unpredictable from the perspective of firms and sectors. Since individual tasks can be offshored, globalisation may help some workers in a given firm while harming others. Moreover, old-globalisation's correlation between skill groups and winners and losers breaks down. Certain highly skilled tasks may turn out to be offshore-able, while other highly skilled tasks are not. Increased offshoring will therefore not systematically help or hurt skilled workers in the EU. In particular, many %"Information Society" jobs are prone to offshoring so EU policies aimed at moving workers into Information Society jobs may be wasted since those jobs are only "good jobs" because they do not yet face direct international competition.

The paper argues that this has important implications for the EU's competitiveness strategy, education strategy, welfare states, and industrial policy. The underlying theme is that the increased unpredictability should make EU leaders more cautious about moving workers or skills in a particular direction. Flexibility is, as always, the key to allowing Europe to seize the opportunities of globalisation while minimizing the adjustment costs.

The three economists at Princeton cited by Baldwin are Gene Grossman, Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, and Alan Blinder. The two Grossman and Rossi-Hansberg papers on offshoring are available at Grossman's website. Blinder's article is his March Foreign Affairs article, with which most readers of this blog are probably familiar.

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