WASHINGTON - One fateful question for 2013 is this: What happens to globalization?
For decades, growing volumes of cross-border trade and money flows have fueled strong economic growth.
But something remarkable is happening; trade and international money flows are slowing and, in some cases, declining.
David Smick, the perceptive editor of The International Economy magazine, calls the retreat "deglobalization."
What's unclear is whether this heralds prolonged economic stagnation and rising nationalism or, optimistically, makes the world economy more stable and politically acceptable.
To Americans, some aspects of deglobalization will be delicious.
Take manufacturing. Globalization has sucked factory jobs from the United States.
Now the tide may be turning. Just recently, Apple announced a $100 million investment to return some Mac computer production home. Though tiny, the decision reflects a trend.
General Electric's sprawling Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky., once symbolized America's post-World War II manufacturing prowess, with employment peaking at 23,000 in 1973. Since then, jobs have shifted abroad or succumbed to automation.
But now GE is moving production of water heaters, refrigerators and other appliances back to Appliance Park from China and Mexico. Year-end employment is reckoned at 3,600, up 90 percent from a year earlier, writes Charles Fishman in December's Atlantic.
Nor is GE alone, Fishman notes. Otis is moving some elevator production from Mexico to South Carolina. Wham-O is shifting Frisbee molding from China to California.
The changes are harbingers, contends the Boston Consulting Group, which predicts a manufacturing revival.
China's labor cost advantage has eroded, it argues. In 2000, Chinese factory wages averaged 52 cents an hour; but annual double-digit percentage increases will bring that to $6 an hour in high-skilled industries by 2015.
Although wages of U.S. production workers average $19 an hour, BCG argues that other non-wage factors favor the United States. American workers are more productive; automation has reduced labor's share of expenses; and cheap natural gas further reduces costs.
Finally, higher oil prices have boosted freight rates for imports.
By 2015, China's overall cost advantage will shrivel to 7 percent, BCG forecasts. As important, it says, the United States will maintain significant cost advantages over other developed-country manufacturers: 15 percent over France and Germany; 21 percent over Japan; and 8 percent over Great Britain.
The United States will be a more attractive production platform. Imports will weaken; exports will strengthen.