When Did Globalization Begin?

54 Pages Posted: 21 May 2000  

Kevin H. O'Rourke

University of Dublin, Trinity College; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Jeffrey G. Williamson

Harvard University - Department of Economics, Laird Bell Professor of Economics, Emeritus; Honorary Fellow, University of Wisconsin - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Date Written: April 2000

Abstract

Some world historians attach globalization big bang' significance to 1492 (Christopher Colombus stumbles on the Americas in search of spices) and 1498 (Vasco da Gama makes an end run around Africa and snatches monopoly rents away from the Arab and Venetian spice traders). Such scholars are on the side of Adam Smith who believed that these were the two most important events in recorded history. Other world historians insist that globalization stretches back even earlier. There is a third view which argues that the world economy was fragmented and completely de-globalized before the 19th century. None of these three competing views has explicitly shown the difference between trade expansion driven by booming demand and supply within the trading economies (e.g., the underlying fundamental, population growth), and trade expansion driven by the integration of markets between trading economies (e.g., the central manifestation of globalization, commodity price convergence). This paper makes that distinction, and then offers two novel empirical tests which allow us to discriminate between these three competing views. Both tests show: there is no evidence supporting the view that the world economy was globally integrated prior to 1492 and/or 1498; there is also no evidence supporting the view that these two dates had the economic impact on the global economy that world historians assign to them; but there is abundant evidence supporting the view that the 19th century contained a very big globalization bang. These tests involve a close look at the connections between factor prices, commodity prices and endowments world wide.

Suggested Citation

O'Rourke, Kevin H. and Williamson, Jeffrey G., When Did Globalization Begin? (April 2000). NBER Working Paper No. w7632. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=228107

Kevin H. O'Rourke

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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United Kingdom

University of Dublin, Trinity College ( email )

Department of Economics
Dublin 2
Ireland
+353 1 608 3594 (Phone)
+353 1 677 2503 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://econserv2.bess.tcd.ie/korourke/homepage.htm

Jeffrey G. Williamson (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics, Laird Bell Professor of Economics, Emeritus ( email )

Littauer Center
Room 216
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-2438 (Phone)
617-496-7352 (Fax)

Honorary Fellow, University of Wisconsin - Department of Economics

716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

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