Macroeconomic policy goals for most countries strive toward low levels of unemployment and inflation, as well as stable trade balances. Economists analyze countries based on their GDP per person and ranked as low-, middle-, and high-income countries. Low-income are those earning less than $1,025 (less than 1%) of global income. They currently have 18.5% of the world population. Middle-income countries are those with per capital income of $1,025–$12,475 (31.1% of global income). They have 69.5% of world population. High-income countries are those with per capita income greater than $12,475 (68.3% of global income). They have 12% of the world’s population. Regional comparisons tend to be inaccurate because even countries within those regions tend to differ from each other.
The fundamentals of growth are the same in every country: improvements in human capital, physical capital, and technology interacting in a market-oriented economy. Countries that are high-income tend to focus on developing and using new technology. Countries that are middle-income focus on increasing human capital and becoming more connected to technology and global markets. They have charted unconventional paths by relying more on state-led support rather than relying solely on markets. Low-income, economically-challenged countries have many health and human development needs, but they are also challenged by the lack of investment and foreign aid to develop infrastructure like roads. There are some bright spots when it comes to financial development and mobile communications, which suggest that low-income countries can become technology leaders in their own right, but it is too early to claim victory. These countries must do more to connect to the rest of the global economy and find the technologies that work best for them.
We can address cyclical unemployment by expansionary fiscal and monetary policy. The natural rate of unemployment can be harder to solve, because it involves thinking carefully about the tradeoffs involved in laws that affect employment and hiring. Unemployment is understood differently in high-income countries compared to low- and middle-income countries. People in these countries are not “unemployed” in the sense that we use the term in the United States and Europe, but neither are they employed in a regular wage-paying job. While some may have regular wage-paying jobs, others are part of a barter economy.
Most high-income economies have learned that their central banks can control inflation in the medium and the long term. In addition, they have learned that inflation has no long-term benefits but potentially substantial long-term costs if it distracts businesses from focusing on real productivity gains. However, smaller economies around the world may face more volatile inflation because their smaller economies can be unsettled by international movements of capital and goods.
There are many legitimate concerns over possible negative consequences of free trade. Perhaps the single strongest response to these concerns is that there are good ways to address them without restricting trade and thus losing its benefits. There are two major issues involving trade imbalances. One is what will happen with the large U.S. trade deficits, and whether they will come down gradually or with a rush. The other is whether smaller countries around the world should take some steps to limit flows of international capital, in the hope that they will not be quite so susceptible to economic whiplash from international financial capital flowing in and out of their economies.