Updated Feb 13, 2018 - Economy

In a surprise, global CEOs favor tech protectionism

Reproduced from GE Global Innovation Barometer 2018; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from GE Global Innovation Barometer 2018; Chart: Axios Visuals

Business executives across the globe—typically a chorus of free traders—favor barriers that would protect and foster technological advances in their own country, according to a new survey.

Quick take: The result, in a GE survey of 2,090 executives in 20 major economies, diverges from seven decades of broad business support for liberalized trade, which mainstream economists believe has powered rising prosperity and shrinking poverty.

By the numbers: In the survey, conducted for GE by Edelman Intelligence, 55% of the executives said protectionism would make their business sector more competitive. Of those who were pro-protectionism:

  • 73% said it would help workers.
  • 60% said it would "foster ideas domestically."
  • "I was shocked" by the result, Marco Annunziata, GE's former chief economist, told Axios. "We have known that protectionist winds were blowing but always thought that business was the last bastion of open markets and globalization. It's a bit of a reality check."

Sue Siegel, GE's chief innovation officer, called the sentiment "a short-term, opportunistic approach" to domestic economic policy. "Long-term health relies on open free trade," she said.

A primary division between the pro- and anti-protectionist executives was how they felt about government's role in innovation.

  • Pro-protectionists said government and other national bodies were the main drivers and funders of innovation.
  • Anti-protectionists said business is innovation's main driver, and that government fails to effectively regulate innovation.
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