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

Author

Listed:
  • Susanto Basu
  • John G. Fernald

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald, 1996. "Returns to scale in U.S. production: estimates and implications," International Finance Discussion Papers 546, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgif:546
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    File URL: http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/ifdp/1996/546/default.htm
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    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.
    3. 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 967-976, July.
    4. 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.
    5. Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald, 1995. "Aggregate Productivity and the Productivity of Aggregates," NBER Working Papers 5382, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock, 1997. "Instrumental Variables Regression with Weak Instruments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(3), pages 557-586, May.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. repec:bin:bpeajo:v:20:y:1989:i:1989-3:p:209-290 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Bils, Mark & Cho, Jang-Ok, 1994. "Cyclical factor utilization," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 319-354, April.
    11. 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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