Business and Development Sector Reports

Global flows in a digital age : How trade, finance, people, and data connect the world economy

McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has released a new report titled “Global flows in a digital age: How trade, finance, people, and data connect the world economy” , which examines the inflows and outflows of goods, services, finance and people, as well as the data and communication flows that underlie them all, for 195 countries around the world.

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mckinsey global flow

Report Introduction

Global flows have been a common thread extending through the mercantilist and colonial eras, from trade routes of old such as the renowned Silk Road through the industrial revolutions that swept across Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries to the more recent rise of emerging economies. But today the web of cross-border exchanges has exploded in scope and complexity.

The opening up of economies that started in the early 1990s and brought Eastern-bloc countries and Asia fully into the global economy set the stage. However, two major forces are now accelerating the growth and evolution of
global flows. The first is increasing global prosperity. By 2025, 1.8 billion people around the world will enter the consuming class, nearly all from emerging markets, and emerging-market consumers will spend $30 trillion annually, up from $12 trillion today.1 This will create enormous new hubs for consumer demand and global production. The second major force is the growing pervasiveness of Internet connectivity and the spread of digital technologies.2 More than two-thirds of us have mobile phones.3 In 2012, there were 2.7 billion people connected to the Internet.4 A torrent of data now travels around the world. Cross-border Internet traffic grew 18-fold between 2005 and 2012.

In this report, we examine how these forces are transforming global flows and explore why they matter for nations, companies, and individuals. We track inflows and outflows of goods, services, finance, and people, as well as the underlying flows of data and communication that cut across all of them (Exhibit E1).5 Our database covers 195 countries between 1980 and 2012 and enables us to study the dynamics and network structure of these flows and their cumulative impact on countries and growth. We have also created the McKinsey Global Institute Connectedness Index, which measures each country’s level of integration into the global network of flows for 131 countries.

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