The belief that the network of international trade is currently in the midst of a process of transformation appears to be widespread. The objective of this thesis is to try to describe and quantify the changes that are taking place within this network.
The theoretical framework for this thesis is derived from evolutionary economics, which views the economy as an evolving complex system. This perspective sees the economy as consisting of agents (people and firms) and connections. Therefore, network analysis is a natural analytical methodology to choose. Using complex systems network analysis with longitudinal trade data from 1938 to 2003, this thesis develops a new way to measure globalisation. Various network measures are tracked through the longitudinal data. Some important aspects of the international trade network have been remarkably stable over this period. Measures such as the cumulative distribution function, which specify the fundamental structure of the network, have changed very little throughout the evolution of the network. At the same time, several network measures have changed substantially over this period. Taken together, these analyses provide a novel view of what is changing as the world globalises, and what has remained the same.
While the overall structure of the international trade network has remained stable, the positions of many of the countries within the network have changed over time. For example, nations like China, Singapore and Taiwan have become increasingly well connected within the network, while Argentina and Portugal have become less connected. It has been shown that the level of connectivity within this network is correlated with Gross Domestic Product. This in turn suggests that the management of a country’s position within the network may have an impact on economic development. Managing the micro-dynamics of network evolution appears to have a significant impact on issues of economic development. The issues surrounding the control and management of the international trade network are taken up in the second half of the thesis.
Taken together, these network analyses provide a new and unique picture of the development of the international trade network. This leads to a nuanced and interesting way to view the process of economic globalisation. This thesis makes contributions to the study of international business, evolutionary economics, dynamic network evolution and development economics through its study of the evolution of the international trade network.