Back in business: at an Amazon warehouse in Florence, New Jersey, August 2017
Bryan Anselm / REDUX

The countries that once led the world toward economic openness are retreating into protectionism. Over the past two and a half years, the United States has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership and imposed tariffs on steel, aluminum, and a wide range of Chinese goods. The United Kingdom is in the process of leaving the world’s largest free-trade area. And rising nationalist sentiment is threatening to repeat these self-destructive acts elsewhere. The rich world is turning inward.

Its timing couldn’t be worse. Even as critics of free trade gain the upper hand, globalization, wholly of its own accord, is transforming in rich countries’ favor. Economic growth in the developing world is boosting demand for products made in the developed world. Trade in services is up. Companies are moving production closer to their customers so they can respond faster to changes in demand. Automation has slowed the relentless search for people

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  • SUSAN LUND is a Partner at McKinsey & Company and a leader of the McKinsey Global Institute.
  • JAMES MANYIKA is a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company and Chair of the McKinsey Global Institute.
  • MICHAEL SPENCE is William R. Berkley Professor of Economics and Business at New York University. He received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001.
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