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US Trade and Wages: The Misleading Implications of Conventional Trade Theory

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  • Lawrence Edwards
  • Robert Lawrence

Abstract

Conventional trade theory, which combines the Heckscher-Ohlin theory and the Stolper- Samuelson theorem, implies that expanded trade between developed and developing countries will increase wage equality in the former. This theory is widely applied. It serves as the basis for estimating the impact of trade on wages using two-sector simulation models and the net factor content of trade. It leads naturally to the presumption that the rapid growth and declining relative prices of US manufactured imports from developing countries since the 1990s have been a powerful source of increased US wage inequality. In this study we present evidence that suggests the presumption is not warranted. We highlight the sensitivity of conventional theory to the assumption of incomplete specialization and find evidence that is not consistent with it. Since 1987, although US domestic relative effective prices in industries with relatively high shares of manufactured goods imports from developing countries have declined, effective unskilled-worker weighted prices have actually risen relative to skilled- worker-weighted prices. If anything this suggests pressures for increased wage equality. Also in apparent contradiction to theory, the (six-digit NAICS) US manufacturing industries with high shares of manufactured imports from developing countries are actually more skill-intensive than the industries with high shares of imports from developed countries. Finally, applying a two-stage regression procedure, we find that developing country import price changes have not mandated increased US wage equality. While these results conflict with standard theory, they are easily explained if the US and developing countries have specialized in products and tasks that are imperfect substitutes. If this is the case, the impact of increased trade with developing countries on US wage inequality is far more muted than standard theory suggests. Also methodologies such as the net factor content of trade using US production coefficients and simulation models assuming perfect substitution between imports and domestic products could be highly misleading.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Economic Research Southern Africa in its series Working Papers with number 180.

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Length: 28 pages
Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:rza:wpaper:180

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References

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  16. Lawrence Edwards & Robert Z. Lawrence, 2013. "Rising Tide: Is Growth in Emerging Economies Good for the United States?," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 5003.
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Cited by:
  1. Susan Stone & Ricardo Cavazos Cepeda, 2011. "Wage Implications of Trade Liberalisation: Evidence for Effective Policy Formation," OECD Trade Policy Papers 122, OECD Publishing.
  2. Cheng, Wenli & Zhang, Dingsheng, 2012. "A monetary model of China–US trade relations," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 233-238.
  3. Consoli,Davide & Vona,Francesco & Rentocchini,Francesco, 2014. "That was then, this is now: Skills and Routinization in the 2000s," INGENIO (CSIC-UPV) Working Paper Series 201306, INGENIO (CSIC-UPV).
  4. Lawrence, Robert Z., 2013. "Associations of Southeast Asian Nations, People's Republic of China, and India Growth and the Rest of the World: The Role of Trade," Working Paper Series rwp13-013, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  5. Robert Z. Lawrence, 2013. "Association of Southeast Asian Nations, People's Republic of China, and India Growth and the Rest of the World : The Role of Trade," Development Economics Working Papers 23409, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.
  6. Robert Z. Lawrence & Lawrence Edward, 2010. "Do Developed and Developing Countries Compete Head to Head in High Tech?," Working Paper Series WP10-8, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  7. Partridge, Mark D. & Rickman, Dan & Olfert, M. Rose & Tan, Ying, 2013. "International Trade and Local Labor Markets: Are Foreign and Domestic Shocks Created Differently?," MPRA Paper 53407, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  8. Nathalie Chusseau & Michel Dumont, 2012. "Growing income inequalities in advanced countries," Working Papers 260, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.

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