Paul Holmes 16 Aug 2007 // 11:00PM GMT
Citizens of developed nations believe globalization is having a negative impact on their countries and their lives and creating greater inequality. They don’t trust corporate leaders and they want governments to act to ameliorate the impact of globalization. Those of the results—aptly described by the Financial Times as “stark”—of a new FT/Harris opinion poll that surveyed citizens in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
In each of those countries, more people believed globalization was having a negative effect than felt it was having a positive effect. In the U.K., France, Italy and Spain, more than 50 percent said they thought globalization was having a negative effect; and in the U.K., U.S., France and Spain fewer than 20 percent said the effect was positive. Germany emerged as the nation most favorably disposed toward globalization, with opinion split almost evenly: 42 percent negative and 36 percent positive.
Said the FT, “Since most economists believe globalization has been a boost to the economic performance of rich countries as well as poor, these results are worrying.” The publication warned that the results could open the door to populist politicians running on an anti-globalization—and anti-corporate—policy platform.
The concern over globalization seems to be driven by the widespread perception that the gap between rich and poor in their countries is widening as a result of economic changes. In every country, two-thirds or more believed that inequality between rich and poor was getting wider, and in every country except Spain, more than three-quarters felt that way. And in no country except Spain did more than 5 percent believe that the gap was getting narrower.
Similarly, majorities in every country believed that economic background was limiting the ability of some people to achieve their potential. Asked whether people could fulfill their potential regardless of their social background, more than three-quarters of French, Italian and Spanish respondents said they could not. Even in the U.K. and the U.S. more than half (54 percent and 51 percent respectively) felt the same way.
And there was widespread anger over executive pay, with majorities—wide majorities in most countries—believing that top executives are paid too much. In the U.S. and the U.K., more than three-quarters felt that way: surprising because those countries are generally more laissez-faire in their attitudes toward the market; less surprising because executive pay is particularly high in those countries for that reason. The French were the most sanguine about executive pay, with only 54 percent saying executives were paid too much.
Those concerns translated into broader distrust of corporate executives. In every country except Italy, a third or more of respondents said they admired those who run their country’s largest companies “not at all.” And in no country except Italy did more than five percent say they admired those executives “a great deal.”
As a result, there is considerably support for political intervention in business—although with considerable variations across the countries polled.
There’s support for pay caps, for example, by more than 60 percent of respondents in the U.K., France, Italy and Spain. Only in the U.S. do more people oppose pay caps than support them, and even there a significant minority (33 percent) would like to see limits imposed on CEO earnings. And support for higher taxes on top earners was even more widespread. In every country, a majority felt the highest earners were taxed too little. Even in the U.S., 61 percent felt the highest earners were paying too little, compared to just 10 percent who felt they earned too much.
Having said that, there is a little enthusiasm for broader government intervention in economic affairs. In the U.S., U.K. and Italy, significantly more people felt politicians had too large a role in managing the economy. Only in Spain did a majority say that politicians’ role in managing the economy was too small.