Financial TimesFinancial Times

The new interventionism could pose a threat to global trade

By Martin Wolf

14 Feb 2023 · 3 min read

Editor's Note

Across the West, there's growing belief in the notion that governments can and should reshape economies for the better. But is such interventionism effective? FT columnist Martin Wolf has his doubts.

We are all interventionists now. In the US, not long ago the bastion of free market thinking, fear of China, worries over the security of supply chains, aspirations for re-industrialisation and hopes of a green transformation are combining to reshape trade and industrial policies. The EU shares US worries over China, mostly in terms of the technological threat. But it is also concerned by the “America First” character of US policymaking, notably the $369bn Inflation Reduction Act. This growing belief in the ability of governments to reshape their economies for the better may have been inevitable, given economic disappointments and geopolitical tensions. But what does it imply?

A big question is what these shifts towards economic nationalism and interventionism will do to the world economy. As things stand today, deep disintegration seems unlikely, though it is, alas, imaginable. It would also be very costly, as Geoeconomic Fragmentation and the Future of Multilateralism, a recent discussion note from the IMF, points out. Moreover, the deeper the disintegration the bigger such costs will be. Technological decoupling would be the most costly of all, especially for emerging and low-income countries. Beyond this are the inevitable geopolitical costs. As James Bacchus, former head of the World Trade Organization appellate body, has rightly noted, containing these costs in today’s world poses huge challenges.

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