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Sticky Feet: How Workers’ Reluctance to Move Can Reduce Gains from Trade

Elizabeth Ruppert Bulmer's picture

When economists think about price shocks, they consider how a change in price will affect the supply and demand of a product. But when that product is human – i.e., a worker – interpreting the impact of a price – or wage – shock is no longer cut and dried.

Just consider: If your wage was suddenly cut, would you remain in your current job despite the loss in earnings? Would you quit immediately, or look for a new job while continuing to work? How long could you survive on your lower earnings? Would you be forced to sell your house or other assets? How much money and effort would you invest in finding a better job? Would your personal circumstances allow you to take a better job in a distant location? Would you uproot your family for this job? 

Rise of Non-Tariff Protectionism amid Global Uncertainty

A troubling phenomenon is occurring in large, emerging economies: the gates are closing. Governments, skittish about global economic trends, are introducing new policies to limit imports and exports. The aim is to protect domestic industry in tough times, but the tools they are using threaten to make their economic problems worse.

A December World Bank analysis documents a trend of creeping protectionism in countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Indonesia – all countries with burgeoning industry. Instead of tariffs, other, more indirect policies are being used to hinder free commerce between countries. The Bank analysis, based on World Trade Organization (WTO) monitoring reports and data from the Global Trade Alert, a network of think tanks around the globe, found that the number of non-tariff measures (NTMs) –including quotas, import licensing requirements and discriminatory government procurement rules –showed an increasing trend in the first two years post-2008, and rose sharply in 2011. India, China, Indonesia, Argentina, Russia and Brazil together accounted for almost half of all the new NTMs imposed by countries world-wide.