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On the Origins of Comparative Advantage

  • Costinot, Arnaud

This paper proposes a simple theory of international trade with endogenous technological differences across countries. The core of our analysis lies in the determinants of the division of labor. We consider a world economy comprising two large countries, with a continuum of goods and one factor of production, labor. Each good is characterized by its complexity, defined as the number of tasks that must be performed to produce one unit. There are increasing returns to scale in the performance of each task, which creates gains from specialization, and uncertainty in the inforcement of each contract, which create transaction costs. The trade-off between these two forces pins down the size of productive teams across sectors in each country. Under free trade, the country where teams are larger specializes in the more complex goods. In our model, it is the country where the product of institutional quality and human per worker capital is larger. Hence, better institutions and more educated works are complementary sources of comparative advantage in the more complex industries.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, UC San Diego in its series University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series with number qt07g7g8h8.

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Date of creation: 01 Sep 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsdec:qt07g7g8h8
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  1. Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, 1999. "Why do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output Per Worker than Others?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 83-116.
  2. Grossman, Gene & Helpman, Elhanan, 1995. "Technology and Trade," CEPR Discussion Papers 1134, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Costinot, Arnaud & Komunjer, Ivana, 2006. "What Goods Do Countries Trade? New Ricardian Predictions," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt86n316hw, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
  4. Robert J. Barro & Jong-Wha Lee, 2000. "International Data on Educational Attainment: Updates and Implications," CID Working Papers 42, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  5. Rossi-Hansberg, Esteban & Garicano, Luis & Antras, Pol, 2006. "Offshoring in a Knowledge Economy," Scholarly Articles 3196323, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. Grossman, Gene & Maggi, Giovanni, 1998. "Diversity and Trade," CEPR Discussion Papers 2005, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Gary S. Murphy Becker & Kevin M., 1992. "The Division of Labor, Coordination Costs, and Knowledge," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 79, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  8. Gordon H. Hanson & Chong Xiang, 2004. "The Home-Market Effect and Bilateral Trade Patterns," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1108-1129, September.
  9. Rosen, Sherwin, 1983. "Specialization and Human Capital," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 43-49, January.
  10. Kiminori Matsuyama, 2005. "Credit Market Imperfections and Patterns of International Trade and Capital Flows," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 714-723, 04/05.
  11. Gene M. Grossman, 2004. "The Distribution of Talent and the Pattern and Consequences of International Trade," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(1), pages 209-239, February.
  12. Vogel, Jonathan, 2007. "Institutions and moral hazard in open economies," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 495-514, April.
  13. R. Dornbusch & S. Fischer & P. A. Samuelson, 1976. "Comparative Advantage, Trade and Payments in a Ricardian Model With a Continuum of Goods," Working papers 178, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  14. repec:hrv:faseco:4784031 is not listed on IDEAS
  15. Franziska Ohnsorge & Daniel Trefler, 2004. "Sorting It Out: International Trade and Protection With Heterogeneous Workers," NBER Working Papers 10959, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. B. Douglas Bernheim & Michael D. Whinston, 1990. "Multimarket Contact and Collusive Behavior," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(1), pages 1-26, Spring.
  17. Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, 1999. "Why Do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output per Worker than Others?," NBER Working Papers 6564, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Michael Kremer, 1993. "The O-Ring Theory of Economic Development," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 551-575.
  19. Andrei A Levchenko, 2004. "Institutional Quality and International Trade," IMF Working Papers 04/231, International Monetary Fund.
  20. Jonathan Eaton & Samuel Kortum, 2002. "Technology, Geography, and Trade," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(5), pages 1741-1779, September.
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