by Joseph E. Stiglitz
Economists used to scoff at calls for countries to pursue food or energy security policies. In a globalized world where borders don’t matter, they argued, we could always turn to other countries if something happened in our own. Now, borders suddenly do matter, as countries hold on tightly to face masks and medical equipment, and struggle to source supplies. The coronavirus crisis has been a powerful reminder that the basic political and economic unit is still the nation-state.
The coronavirus crisis has been a powerful reminder that the basic political and economic unit is still the nation-state.
To build our seemingly efficient supply chains, we searched the world over for the lowest-cost producer of every link in the chain. But we were short-sighted, constructing a system that is plainly not resilient, insufficiently diversified, and vulnerable to interruptions. Just-in-time production and distribution, with low or no inventories, may be capable enough of absorbing small problems, but we have now seen the system crushed by an unexpected disturbance.
We should have learned the lesson of resilience from the 2008 financial crisis. We had created an interconnected financial system that seemed efficient and was perhaps good at absorbing small shocks, but it was systemically fragile. If not for massive government bailouts, the system would have collapsed as the real estate bubble popped. Evidently, that lesson went right over our heads.
The economic system we construct after this pandemic will have to be less shortsighted, more resilient, and more sensitive to the fact that economic globalization has far outpaced political globalization. So long as this is the case, countries will have to strive for a better balance between taking advantage of globalization and a necessary degree of self-reliance.
Joseph E. Stiglitz is a professor of economics at Columbia University, winner of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, and the author of People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent, published in paperback in April 2020. Twitter: @JosephEStiglitz
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on foreignpolicy.com, and is published by special syndication arrangement.