Covid, globalization, production

Incrocio di binari ferroviari

In recent months, we have heard several times that Covid-19 is acting as an accelerator of trends, in some cases well underway, in other cases barely evident. But, anyway, only history will say whether they last. In particular, Covid-19 seems to be helping to redraw the spaces of globalization, reversing those centripetal routes, of “leaking” of people and goods which have represented and still represent substantial dynamics to globalization.

First, the relocation of productions to the homeland (technically, reshoring). In recent decades, the general tendency of industrialized countries has been to relocate the production chains abroad (mainly to Eastern Europe and South-East Asia). Entire production sectors or part of them have been moved to countries that can provide abundant, unskilled and low-cost labor. However, factories’ lockdown and border closures have highlighted the fragility of too long supply chains: avoiding bottlenecks in production has become a priority. Italy is an example: before the pandemic, the fashion companies were driving reshoring, but now this phenomenon seems to affect a much larger slice of industrial sectors, from companies which produce health products to those which produce bicycle tyres.

But, not just businesses are coming home: people are also changing direction (albeit in reverse, from the center to the periphery). Until now, large urban centers such as London, New York or Milan have served as catalysts for large proportion of the “active” population. Their huge growth has monopolized economic resources and human capital. Once important cities, they have become suburbs; much of the territory has been provincialized (namely the inland or the countries of southern Italy). In recent months, the long-lasting phenomenon of remote work is allowing many people to return to their places of origin. They are often peripheral places where, however, people can have larger dwellings, more greenery around, and the same salary ensures a higher quality of life. It is clear why megacities seem to lose their attractiveness: it is no coincidence that the real estate market in cities like New York or Milan is suffering. Anyway, we will see how much durable this trend will be.

Although with opposite routes, the companies from periphery to homeland, and people from city to periphery, these phenomena represent well two sides of the same coin. Is globalization reversing its course? It is too early to tell. Of course, it is changing. And certainly, with the homecoming of businesses and human capital forgotten territories could benefit from renewed interest and new investment by the state.