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Returns to scale in U.S. production: estimates and implications

  • Susanto Basu
  • John G. Fernald

A typical (roughly) two-digit industry in the United States appears to have constant or slightly decreasing returns to scale. Three puzzles emerge, however. First, estimates tend to rise at higher levels of aggregation. Second, estimates of decreasing returns in many industries contradict evidence of only small economic profits. Third, estimates using value added differ substantially from those using gross output, and appear less robust. These puzzles are inconsistent with a representative firm paradigm, but are consistent with simple stories of aggregation over heterogeneous units. We discuss implications of this heterogeneity for recent models of imperfect competition in macroeconomics.

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Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series International Finance Discussion Papers with number 546.

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Date of creation: 1996
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgif:546
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  1. Nelson, Charles R & Startz, Richard, 1990. "Some Further Results on the Exact Small Sample Properties of the Instrumental Variable Estimator," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(4), pages 967-76, July.
  2. Robert E. Hall, 1986. "The Relation Between Price and Marginal Cost in U.S. Industry," NBER Working Papers 1785, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald, 1994. "Are apparent productive spillovers a figment of specification error?," International Finance Discussion Papers 463, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. Benhabib, Jess & Farmer, Roger E A, 1996. "Indeterminacy and Sector-specific Externalities," CEPR Discussion Papers 1403, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Mark Bils & Jang-Ok Cho, 1993. "Cyclical factor utilization," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 79, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  6. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock, 1997. "Instrumental Variables Regression with Weak Instruments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(3), pages 557-586, May.
  7. Julio J. Rotemberg & Michael Woodford, 1989. "Oligopolistic Pricing and the Effects of Aggregate Demand on Economic Activity," NBER Working Papers 3206, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Michael Bruno, 1984. "Raw Materials, Profits, and the Productivity Slowdown," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(1), pages 1-29.
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