Navigating Economic Nationalism

October 2023 | Dublin, Ireland

Roundtable Chair

  • Dr. Laurence B. Mussio, Chair, Long Run Institute and Special Advisor to the CEO, BMO Financial Group (North America)

Roundtable Participants

  • The Hon. Kevin Lynch, former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Government of Canada; Governor of the Long Run Institute
  • Professor Frances Ruane, Chair of the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council
  • Dr. Marvin Suesse, Director of Centre for Economics, Policy and History (CEPH) and author of The Nationalist Dilemma: A Global History of Economic Nationalism
  • Jude Webber, Ireland correspondent for the Financial Times

National borders have started to matter again. Many observers blame the Covid-19 pandemic as well as sanctions arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, both of which placed globalized supply chains under increasing duress. However, the unravelling of globalization – or at least its marked slowdown – are also very much the product of conscious efforts by national policy makers and voters to “take back control” of borders.

These efforts are often associated with Donald Trump’s “America First” and the sloganeering of Eurosceptics, most notably in Britain. Yet this revival of economic nationalism goes much deeper than its most obvious manifestations. It is visible in Joseph Biden’s sustained efforts to decouple the US economy from China, which mirror the efforts of the Chinese leadership to develop its home markets and indigenize technological innovation. It is similarly visible in a renewed focus on industrial policy championed in Germany, France and even at the level of the European Union. Comparable trends also emerge in the Global South, from Narendra Modi’s plan to develop a “self-sufficient” India to the rise of “resource nationalism” in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Finally, resistance to migration continues to motivate and rile voters across the globe – protests that often draw on a potent stew of domestic inequality and rising costs of living that stoke xenophobic resentment.

The roundtable addressed how we can make sense of these developments and how policy makers, businesses, and citizens could respond to these challenges. These questions are particularly urgent in Ireland, one of the world’s most globalized economies, and a hub of activity for North American multinational companies. The Irish economic model is predicated on the smooth cross-border flows of goods, capital, skilled workers, and information. The costs of Brexit and the increasing salience of the Irish border question, however, highlight its reliance on openness, and the vulnerabilities this presents.

For this roundtable we drew on the experience of a panel of seasoned policy makers, business executives, journalists and academic experts. One fundamental premise of the discussion was that we can – and should – learn from the past.

As argued by Marvin Suesse, author of The Nationalist Dilemma: A Global History of Economic Nationalism, these barriers to free exchange are nothing new. Although the tools nationalist policy makers use may change in the face of technological revolutions, their political motivations and the challenges these restrictions pose are often the same today as they were in the past. As before, businesses and workers will need to adapt quickly to help build an economy that can offer opportunities for sustainable growth for future generations.

The LRI would like to express its appreciation to the Centre for Economics, Policy and History (CEPH), for co-presenting this event.

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