Trading spaces: The political economy of foreign direct investment regulation
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is the single largest source of international capital flows. A standard claim is that FDI gives rise to a "race to the bottom": countries compete for FDI by dismantling regulatory standards to entice foreign firms with the prospect of lower production costs. But, this standard account cannot make sense of one simple fact: governments often restrict FDI inflows into their countries, sometimes quite extensively. The divergence between conventional wisdom and this fact constitutes a startling gap in our understanding of the politics of international economic integration.
In order to explain this contradiction I develop and test a theory of FDI regulation. This theory consists of two parts: a model of FDI's distributional effects and a political model of FDI policy-making. The key insight regarding distributional effects is that FDI designed to compete in product markets reduces the income of both labor and capital owners, making it more likely to be regulated. By contrast, FDI designed to exploit lower productions costs creates new jobs and has few negative repercussions. Analysis of individual preferences for FDI policies, a testable implication of the model, provide confirmation. Using public opinion data from Mexico I show that preferences for FDI inflows are consistent with expected income effects.
I compile a new database of FDI regulation to test the full model that covers 150 countries, 57 industry categories, and eleven types of FDI regulation from 1962 to 2000. An in-depth analysis of regulation in the 1990s demonstrates that countries are more likely to restrict FDI into industries in which foreign firms are in competition with local producers. Specifically, there is nine percentage point negative difference in the expected probability of FDI regulation across the range of product competition. I also find a twenty percentage point negative difference in the expected probability of FDI regulation between the least democratic and most democratic countries in the sample. Politicians in democracies are less likely to regulate FDI inflows because, ceteris paribus, they privilege the interests of consumers over producers. These findings are robust to a variety of controls for alternate possible sources of FDI regulation.
0615: Political science
0616: International law