The Economic Risks of Globalization

The global economy as a model for growth is increasingly being questioned because its effects seem too complex, too uncontrollable and too risky. What are the prospects of gaining control of this risk situation? What chance of success does global risk management have? This question is posed in the first edition of the new series Global Choices from the Bertelsmann Foundation.


In the study entitled "The Economic Risks of Globalization", produced in cooperation between the Bertelsmann Foundation and Z_punkt, the focus is on the interlinked effects of global trends and risk areas. The approach adopted by the study is an expression of the increasingly interlinked, dynamically changing and complex world, in which people's living conditions are shaped in diverse ways by the existing, macroeconomic imbalances.


Extended definition of risk

The basis for the study is an extended definition of risk, where the observation perspective shifts from individual risks to complex risks that have a major impact on the global economic system and can only be measured and controlled to a limited extent.


In our understanding, economic risks are risks whose causes lie in social, technological, economic, ecological and/or political developments and whose effects unfold in the global economy. They must be observable as an economically relevant risk and treatable as an economic decision-making problem.


Conversely, this also means that future risks whose harbingers are already visible and which develop insidiously frequently remain unrecognised, as decisions are often taken on the basis of continuity expectations.



Fig.: Approaches for an extended understanding of economic risks



Methodological approach

In terms of its methodology, the study looked specifically at discontinuous trends which have a reasonable likelihood of occurring, based on current knowledge, by analysing interactions. We are therefore talking about risk areas whose potential impact is significantly increased as a result of interaction between individual risks. The identification of these risk areas was based on a multi-stage megatrend analysis, which included both continuities (i.e. the continuation of global trends) and discontinuities (i.e. trend breaks). The megatrend analysis was supplemented by an interaction analysis, in order to analyse the interaction between trends in terms of their risk potential.


Both analytical processes were initially carried out based on an assumption of continuity, i.e. assuming that the trend patterns would also remain stable in the future. In essence, the results of this approach reflect current scientific and media discourse on global economic risks. In this respect, the analysis of discontinuities focuses more on unknown, but at the same time no less relevant risks. Thus, megatrends remain stable over long periods of time, but in no way are they unchanging. Trend breaks (disruptions) have a huge impact on economic interrelationships for the very reason that they are mostly not factored into the equation.


Over 100 individual risks resulted from these analysis steps, which were then grouped into 11 risk areas for a survey of experts.


In the survey 70 experts and decision-makers from Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America as well as Oceania were interviewed. The damage potential of these risk fields for the world economy, the urgency of global measures and solution strategies for risk prevention were of particular interest.


Fig.: Process design – analysis of continuity and discontinuity



Key results

The results show that there is a pressing need to find international solutions to perceived conflicts and to develop hard-hitting risk management. In particular, the political players are urged to reconsider their frequently incompatible positions so as to open up avenues to possible solutions.


Interestingly, traditional economic risk areas such as the collapse of financial markets were ascribed a high damage potential for the world economy, whereas the priority in terms of solutions was above all assigned to risk areas which have more of an impact on people's living conditions, such as energy and commodity shortages, water and food crises and socio-economic disparities.


This study marks the second time that Z_punkt and its partners have concentrated the focus of future analysis on disruptive, discontinuous trends. While this study, under the direction of the Bertelsmann Foundation, covered more the economic effects, the study "Germany 2030. Future Perspectives for Value Creation", in cooperation with the BDI, focused on the business angle.


Download the complete study 

on December 16, 2012