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Globalization and American Wages: Today and Tomorrow

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Publication Date: October 2007

Publisher(s): Economic Policy Institute

Author(s): L. Josh Bivens

Topic: Economics (Economic relations)

Type: Brief

Abstract:

The continuing integration of the rich United States with a far poorer global economy has provoked much anxiety among American workers. Because it is well-known that basic economic theory predicts that global integration leads to gains for all nations, this anxiety is often treated as a political puzzle. A once again fashionable explanation for this puzzle is that globalization's benefits are huge but diffuse (primarily, lower prices for imported goods), while its costs are small but concentrated (workers displaced by imports); hence, the gains are hard to see, but the losses are all too visible.

This Briefing Paper reexamines what conventional economics actually predicts about the effects of integrating the rich United States and poor global economies. Contrary to popular rhetoric, there is no puzzle to be explained: conventional economic theory argues that American workers will indeed be harmed by this integration--and their anxiety is well-founded.

The paper also provides rough empirical estimates of integration's effect on American wages and inequality. Lastly, it uses some prominent forecasts about the future potential reach of service-sector offshoring to make a very rough guess as to the future wage implications of these forecasts.