Thursday, February 7, 2013

Is economic nationalism and protectionism the same?

I have often written about the issues of protectionism, globalization and the role of the State in this blog here and here.Often, the role of the state and market are seen as mutually exclusive. Increasing globalization and integration of markets is seen as a natural corollary to the reducing influence and role of the State and government. However, is this analysis true? China is often taken as an example that defies this logic of increasing connectedness to the globalized market while retaining strong state presence. Is there a middle path where the role of the State and market and co-exit which is not antithetical to world trade rules? Is there a legitimate role for the state to play apart from being a facilitator and regulator? Is state intervention always protectionism? Can protectionism also exist in highly liberalized markets with other forms of State support?

Yale GlobalOnline has a refreshing piece by Anthony P. D’Costa on economic nationalism, role of the state and globalization. He essentially avers that the state can play a role of a promoter instead of being "protectionist" in a globalized world.He brands this as 'economic nationalism" wherein the State does not necessarily retreat but plays a more constructive role in promoting the welfare of its citizens.

"The concept of economic nationalism is used for selective engagement with the world economy. Rather than the orthodox notion of economic nationalism, defensive in nature and nation-centered, I offer a more dynamic understanding – economic nationalism in motion. This version, first proposed in theReview of International Political Economy, 2009, suggests that the practice is influenced by pragmatic considerations rather than ideology – akin to Deng Xiaoping’s proverbial cat that catches mice irrespective of its color – especially under fluid circumstances of economic growth, emerging competitive industries and, most importantly, as national capitalists mature. Earlier economic nationalism meant protection; today it’s promotion, though the basic motive for both is ensuring national economic interests. This ability to navigate changing circumstances and priorities pragmatically contributes to the dynamic movement of the practice of economic nationalism. 
Behind economic nationalism in motion is a particular kind of state-business nexus where the two operate in a public-private partnership. The key difference with this form is that the state explicitly promotes national capital at home and abroad for national economic gain, although prestige can also play a role, when a public-relations agenda drives hosting a major sports events or acquiring state- of-the-art technologies for pet projects without thorough cost-benefit analysis. 
Fostering national economic development and competitiveness, promoting national companies and brands, is part of the economic-nationalism-in-motion portfolio. Market-driven globalization is not incompatible with state intervention. States must identify the conditions under which such economic nationalism can be undertaken and the instruments at their disposal to negotiate the forces of economic globalization."
Thus, in this model all state intervention and promotion is not necessarily viewed as protectionism. Active state involvement to safeguard national interest, branding, promotion of national corporations (State Capitalists) are all part of this mission. Is this compatible with WTO rules? Is there anything in the GATT/WTO that prohibits this? Is this the middle path that emerging economies should undertake to negotiate globalization without abandoning it? However, there is a thin line between State involvement and control - and one must tread that line very carefully.

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