The web of global economic connections is growing deeper, broader, and more intricate. Yet much of the public discussion surrounding globalization is stuck on the narrow topic of trade surpluses and deficits. This lens fails to take into account the new and more complex reality of a digitally connected global economy. While the global goods trade and financial flows have flattened since the Great Recession, cross-border flows of data are surging. They now tie the world economy together just as surely as flows of traditional manufactured goods.
Two years ago, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) set out to paint a comprehensive picture of how globalization is evolving. The resulting report, Global flows in a digital age: How trade, finance, people, and data connect the world economy, assessed the network of cross-border inflows and outflows of trade, services, finance, people, and data and its influence on economic growth. Building on that earlier work, this report provides a more detailed analysis of how global flows are continuing to evolve. It offers new insights into how companies and countries are participating in the web of flows and extends our econometric analysis, drawing on improved data and employing more sophisticated methodology. We find even stronger evidence of the economic value of participating in global flows—and we further find that data flows account for a substantial portion of that impact. Both inflows and outflows matter for growth as they circulate ideas, research, technologies, talent, and best practices around the world.