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Returns to Scale in U.S. Production: Estimates and Implications

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  • Basu, Susanto
  • Fernald, John G

Abstract

A typical two-digit industry in the United States appears to have approximately constant returns to scale. Three puzzles emerge, however. First, estimates rise at higher levels of aggregation. Second, apparent decreasing returns contradicts evidence of small economic profits. Third, estimates with value added differ substantially from those with gross output. A representative-firm paradigm cannot explain these puzzles but a simple story of aggregation over heterogeneous units can. The authors discuss implications of heterogeneity for calibrating one-sector macroeconomic models, showing that these models sometimes require firm-level parameters but at other times require the 'biased' aggregate parameters. Copyright 1997 by the University of Chicago.

Suggested Citation

  • Basu, Susanto & Fernald, John G, 1997. "Returns to Scale in U.S. Production: Estimates and Implications," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(2), pages 249-283, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:105:y:1997:i:2:p:249-83
    DOI: 10.1086/262073
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Basu, Susanto & Fernald, John G., 1995. "Are apparent productive spillovers a figment of specification error?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 165-188, August.
    2. Benhabib, Jess & Farmer, Roger E. A., 1996. "Indeterminacy and sector-specific externalities," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 421-443, June.
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    6. Hall, Robert E, 1988. "The Relation between Price and Marginal Cost in U.S. Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(5), pages 921-947, October.
    7. Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald, 1995. "Aggregate productivity and the productivity of aggregates," International Finance Discussion Papers 532, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    8. Bils, Mark & Cho, Jang-Ok, 1994. "Cyclical factor utilization," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 319-354, April.
    9. Farmer Roger E. A. & Guo Jang-Ting, 1994. "Real Business Cycles and the Animal Spirits Hypothesis," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 63(1), pages 42-72, June.
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    11. Rotemberg, Julio J & Woodford, Michael, 1992. "Oligopolistic Pricing and the Effects of Aggregate Demand on Economic Activity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(6), pages 1153-1207, December.
    12. Lawrence F. Katz & Lawrence H. Summers, 1989. "Industry Rents: Evidence and Implications," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 20(1989 Micr), pages 209-290.
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