Policy Liberalization and FDI Growth, 1982 to 2006

by Matthew Adler, Peterson Institute
and Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Peterson Institute for International Economics

August 2008

Global economic expansion over the last three decades has been remarkable. While nominal world GDP has increased four times, world bilateral trade flows have grown more than six-fold, and the stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) has grown by roughly 20 times since 1980. The sources of global trade and investment growth are well known—general economic expansion, policy liberalization, and better communications and technology—but the impact of each source is unclear.

Adler and Hufbauer attempt to uncover the contribution of policy liberalization to the rising ratios of US inward and outward FDI stocks to GDP over the last three decades. Drawing on stylized facts and an unorthodox calculation method the authors estimate that roughly 30 percent of US inward FDI stock growth and 18 percent of US outward FDI stock growth between 1982 and 2006 can be attributed to policy liberalization. In total, and as a conservative measure, US inward and outward FDI stock growth between 1982 and 2006 contributed roughly $234 billion annually to the level of US real GDP in 2006. Of this annual gain, roughly $77 billion results from the expected rate of FDI stock growth (as a simple consequence of GDP growth); $48 billion is attributable to FDI stock growth from policy liberalization; and $112 billion is attributable to FDI stock growth from "everything else"—a combination of market forces and technological change.

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