The term globalization has acquired a variety of meanings, but in economic terms it refers to the move that is taking place in the direction of complete mobility of capital and labour and their products, so that the world's economies are on the way to becoming totally integrated. The driving forces of the process are reductions in politically imposed barriers and in the costs of transport and communication (although, even if those barriers and costs were eliminated, the process would be limited by inter-country differences in social capital).
It is a process which has ancient origins, which has gathered pace in the last fifty years, but which is very far from complete. In its concluding stages, interest rates, wage rates and corporate and income tax rates would become the same everywhere, driven to equality by competition, as investors, wage earners and corporate and personal taxpayers threatened to migrate in search of better terms. In fact, there are few signs of international convergence of interest rates, wage rates or tax rates. Although the world is more integrated in some respects, it is possible to argue that on the whole it is now less integrated than it was before the first world war., and that many middle-east countries are less globalised than they were 25 years ago.
Of the moves toward integration that have occurred, the strongest has been in financial markets, in which globalisation is estimated to have tripled since the mid-1970s. Recent research has shown that it has improved risk-sharing, but only in developed countries, and that in the developing countries it has increased macroeconomic volatility. It is estimated to have resulted in net welfare gains worldwide, but with losers as well as gainers. .
Increased globalisation has also made it easier for recessions to spread from country to country. A reduction in economic activity in one country can lead to a reduction in activity in its trading partners as a result of its consequent reduction in demand for their exports, which is one of the mechanisms by which the business cycle is transmitted from country to country. Empirical research confirms that the greater the trade linkage between countries the more coordinated are their business cycles.
Globalisation can also have a significant influence upon the conduct of macroeconomic policy. The Mundell–Fleming model and its extensions are often used to analyse the role of capital mobility (and it was also used by Paul Krugman to give a simple account of the Asian financial crisis). Part of the increase in income inequality that has taken place within countries is attributable - in some cases - to globalisation. A recent IMF report demonstrates that the increase in inequality in the developing countries in the period 1981 to 2004 was due entirely to technological change, with globalisation making a partially offsetting negative contribution, and that in the developed countries globalisation and technological change were equally responsible.
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