Belfast Telegraph

Economic progression brings us new borders

Analysis

By John Simpson

As economies evolve, greater opportunities and new threats emerge. Progress is, therefore, rarely a smooth changeover. Inevitably, it is easier to see the emerging problems: anticipating the opportunities calls for a much more positive mind-set.

At the international conference of the Institute for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurship, organised by Ulster University, over 300 visitors contributed to ideas on how governments and businesses should understand the inevitable uncertainties and pains of a developing economy and how business principals can be helped to anticipate what, to many, will be unexpected or unplanned events.

Right at the outset of the conference, Professor Neil Gibson, now chief economist for EY, graphically demonstrated the range of new frontiers and borders that would be part of the expected uncertainty affecting business growth and the organisational talents that managers should cultivate.

Talk about the impact of economic borders tends to focus on the geography of countries or regions.

Much of the debate about borders in the present period, relates to the changing economic borders within the EU and Brexit looms large. The Brexit debate puts the spotlight on customs tariffs and trading standards and how the UK is likely to face a more complex set of international trade requirements.

These consequences are sometimes seen as a reverse challenge to the expected benefits of globalisation. Brexit will be the first large fracture to what may eventually be seen as a near successful European Single Market now damaged by political judgements overriding economic logic. In some respects, Brexit is a challenge to globalisation.

To regard Brexit as an effective partial challenge to globalisation would be a mistake. The non-geographical borders must acknowledge many other differentiating features ranging from the pervasive impact and incentives encouraging (or discouraging) migration to the 'frontiers' and changes in occupational opportunities and skill enhancements as well as resultant changes widening income inequalities.

These are the borders, or new distortions, which add a multi-layered dimension to a realistic appreciation of the dynamics of a modern economy.

Perhaps the most striking idea, outlined by Neil Gibson, is that economists should do more to prepare businesses and politicians for the benefits and snags that should be anticipated as economic progress takes place. Were businesses and politicians offered well founded evidence of what to expect as Brexit was debated and before the referendum took place?

In reverse, would critical opinion formers have played a different role if there had been a better appreciation of the likely outcome?

That question is not the same as "would the voter have behaved differently looking back in retrospect". It is an important question in terms of how professional assessments are fed into a national debate.

Brexit is about the changing role of the national borders for the UK. It is also about the 'borders' that constrain or allow international migration. That leads into the questions about international mobility of labour which, over the centuries, has been important to this island. Then there are 'borders' affecting opportunities for people to acquire occupational skills.

Ultimately there are also ill-defined borders affecting living standards and investment opportunities. The Institute of Small Businesses and Entrepreneurship has hosted an important exploration of the frontiers of academic contributions to better policy affecting small businesses. This type of learning offers a wider horizon for creative ideas.

Belfast Telegraph

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