The Golem of Globalization

DAVOS, Switzerland ? The Golem has risen against its master. The developed nations are starting to show signs of defensiveness. Globalization, which until now had worked in only one direction, is proving to be a double-edged sword.

Until now it served the developed nations well in their conquest of the developing nations, sometimes to the latter's detriment. Now that the developing nations have come to their senses, the trend has started to threaten employment in the developed nations, and elected officials seem to feel a greater need to protect their workers/voters than to defend the principle.

For all the bubbly mood at the World Economic Forum in Davos, they talk about the black cloud hovering over all the nations, developed and less so alike: the fear that globalization will lead to the collapse of the financial markets, because the global credit bubble will burst.

The people at Davos talk about the dangers of "dislocation" in the same breath as they discuss Tom Friedman's book, "The World is Flat" Friedman was talking mainly about manufacturers in places such as India and China becoming part of global supply chains. But now American accounting firms, for instance, are starting to feel threatened.

Globalization is no longer the talk of the day in the U.S., which had been its driving force, say the economists at Davos. Is it in danger of true disfavor, though?

It is probably a force that can't be stopped any more, but it will probably undergo a makeover. The sign are there, though people try to ignore them: in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, politicians are talking about its disadvantages, and protectionism is spreading from trade to employment.

Warning signals are also evident in the global financial markets. It is drowning in a wave of credit the likes of which have never been seen before. Nobody can say when or in which country crisis will come, and whether it will have a domino effect.

There were warning about the growth of these financial markets as well, based on the assumption that it would stop and change direction, but nobody would care to hazard a guess on when trouble would arise. The talk at Davos is also about the slowdown in the American marketplace, because of the real estate slump.

But none of these have dampened the mood at the party much.

Almost all the participants believe the good times are here to stay, for the time being, and that India and China will remain  growth drivers for the world economy, with estimated growth of 10% in 2007. Surprisingly most also feel that Europe had a good year.

Laura Tyson, until recently the dean of the London Business School, expects the world markets to remain stable thanks to growth that crosses boundaries and continents. She sees Europe and Japan narrowing their gaps with the U.S., as the latter slows and the former gain momentum. China is showing signs of real policy, too, including an increase in consumption.

Bank of China spokesman Zhu Min and India's Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of India's Planning Commission, warned about the global credit bubble, which has mushroomed to hundreds of billions of dollars. It's spreading to the Far East, where people don't really understand the variety of vehicles available to them. That is a risk, they warned. But was anybody really listening?