Why anti-globalisation is not the solution

Of closed borders and stifled opportunities

CoBS Student Editorialists, Kunal Ganorkar and Afifeh Fakori dig deep into the mind of ESSEC Professor Estefania Santacreu-Vasut as they interview her on her latest piece of work entitled ‘The Nature of Goods and The Goods of Nature’, co-written with Tom Gamble of the Council on Business & Society.

Estefania, could you tell us a little bit about your career journey, and what you specialise in?

I studied Economics for my undergraduate degree back in Barcelona at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Then, I did my PhD in Economics from UC Berkeley. My specialisation was in the field of institutions and economic history. I guess what always intrigued me were big picture questions like why some countries are poor. And while exploring such questions, I got particularly interested in the evolution and role of institutions – both formal and informal. Here, I’m referring to non-market organisations, be it political, legal or financial, and their impact on development.

After completing my PhD in 2010, I joined ESSEC. Since then, I’ve been teaching a course titled “Growth and Development” here. In parallel, I continue to do my research on gender economics and the impact of culture on choices. Plus, I have conducted a lot of empirical research with migrants, and analysed their decisions and choices. Another interesting field I’m involved in is the role of language for economic outcomes. There’s a growing field now on language and economics, looking at language as an institution to convey information, and an institution which impacts economic decisions.

In a nutshell, what is the book “The Nature of Goods and The Goods of Nature” about?

Simply put, the book is a journey. There’s an unused train ticket found inside a book which eventually leads to a small village in France. But there’s a metamessage in there. Through the book the readers go on a journey where they revisit their existing notions of the economy, politics and everyday life from a different perspective. It’s about how closing our borders is not the solution to the myriad global challenges looming over the environment, politics and society. With a clear understanding of the nature of goods, I believe we can have better tools to devise solutions that involve cooperation between countries.

We have used a storytelling approach to make the economic concepts more human…so we zoom into the prevailing issues through the lenses of three key characters – a professor, her former student and the bookseller. And then there’s the reader, whom you could consider as one of the protagonists too! The exchange between the characters brings to light key economic concepts related to externalities and historical persistence. We combined reason, empirical data and positive emotions from stories and examples to underline that anti-globalisation is not a solution to today’s problems.

 Where did the idea or inspiration come from to write the book?

As a matter of fact, the book was conceived one year back in the ESSEC cafeteria. I was having coffee with my dear colleague Tom Gamble and discussing some articles on the issue of migration which we had recently co-authored. It was right after the US Presidential elections, at a time when a very strong current of anti-globalisation was just starting to emerge. One thing led to another, and the idea of writing a book popped up! We thought, let’s try to write a book for the general public that talks about economic concepts in a clear and approachable way.

I would also say that the anti-migration reaction served as a big trigger. The number of people coming into Europe today is not that large, and yet it is very mediatised. So we wanted to articulate part of it with ideas related to identity. In several places, the book talks about how our identities are multiple and why we should keep it that way. It’s not uni-dimensional: it’s not us versus them or domestic versus foreign. Other events around the world, such as tightening visa conditions for instance, were also in the news at that time, and they were all in the background when we decided to write the book.

What do you hope to achieve with this book? 

The overarching goal of this book is to empower the reader. The reader implicitly knows a lot of the economic concepts already, but we wanted to connect the dots and bring the concepts alive through the exchange between the characters and their everyday lives. We want to alter some of the perceptions currently being nurtured about globalisation, without really imposing our way of thinking on the readers…we just want to enable them to take a step back and see a clearer point of view supported by data and empirical studies.

This book has an objective and soft voice which tells the tale of the positive aspects of globalisation. Globalisation, like any change really, often stirs up fear. With this book, we want to address people’s sense of courage and reassure them. The book also has a couple of themes on history and the connection of history with the present and the future. Extreme thoughts and actions of certain people today pose a danger that history may repeat itself. We are afraid of regressing into recession, depression, high unemployment, border disputes and refugee crises. With this book, we want to raise the awareness that many of the problems re-emerging today could be alleviated with more cooperation, and the benefits would then ripple across time for posterity.

How is economic theory linked to people’s understanding of globalisation and their decisions?

Answering this question is quite ambitious. In this book, we bring to the readers, the role of externalities and side effects of certain choices, all relating to the nature of goods. Ideas and pollution do have side effects – whether positive or negative – and these effects do not acknowledge borders or national frontiers. As such, we argue that we need global solutions in addition to local solutions to approach globalisation. Another aspect, which is from a theoretical perspective is that we bring a lot of historical evidence and research showing how today exchanges between people and countries and corporations across borders are actually not only resulting from current abilities and preferences but are determined largely by history. Who we are today and how we deal with problems today, largely reflect what we have been doing in the past as societies. So if we close our borders today, it’s not only going to decrease knowledge flow and empathy towards others but also decrease our own cognitive and emotional development.

If this book could change 3 things, what would you like it to change?

Umm, I think if I could change 3 things in this world through the book, I would firstly hope that the discussion on the topic of migrants is revisited and there is a revision of policies. People should understand that the pie, in terms of the economy, is not fixed and that with the influx of new populations with their new perspectives, it can grow! Secondly, I hope that through this book, the reader is able to develop a multi-dimensional identity, to look beyond just a local, regional or national identity, and make educated decisions through a better outlook on things. And finally, I’d like to believe it is a book of peace, and ideally, I’d hope it would reduce this ongoing ‘extremism’ that has manifested in the world.

What do you think are the consequences of anti-globalisation for the future?

The impact can be explained at different levels. For instance, say at the individual level, if you talk less with people across borders you are going to learn less about other cultures and people, and that would have an impact on your outlook and perceptions. At a societal level, if you trade less with other countries, it will hamper knowledge sharing and affect technological and economic growth. And in terms of economics, it is going to impact the demands and preferences for goods –preferences that have been shaped over time.

If you had to give the book a metaphor, what would the book be?

As I previously mentioned, we consider this a book of peace, a humane book of sorts. The book’s theme underlines a simple question: If you found a train ticket for a journey, what would you do?

So, if you found this ticket, what would you do, Professor?

Hahah! Well, I’d take it! I think life is full of choices and we all have to make these choices and hope that the road we take makes us happy in the end. We undertake any journey, travel-wise or metaphorically, with an end-goal in mind. Through the course of this journey, the roads taken may alter and lead us to unplanned destinations. And in spite of this, we may end up happier than what we had ever imagined to be!

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