IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Impact of the Terms of Trade on Economic Development in the Periphery, 1870-1939: Volatility and Secular Change


  • Christopher Blattman
  • Jason Hwang
  • Jeffrey G. Williamson


Most countries in the periphery specialized in the export of just a handful of primary products for most of their history. Some of these commodities have been more volatile than others, and those with more volatile prices have grown slowly relative both to the industrial leaders and to other primary product exporters. This fact helps explain the growth puzzle noted by Easterly, Kremer, Pritchett and Summers more than a decade ago: that the contending fundamental determinants of growth—institutions, geography and culture—exhibit far more persistence than do the growth rates they are supposed to explain. Using a new panel database for 35 countries, this paper estimates the impact of terms of trade volatility and secular change on country performance between 1870 and 1939. Volatility was much more important for accumulation and growth than was secular change. Additionally, both effects were asymmetric between Core and Periphery, findings that speak directly to the terms of trade debates that have raged since Prebisch and Singer wrote more than 50 years ago. The paper also investigates one channel of impact, and finds that foreign capital inflows declined steeply where commodity prices were volatile.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Blattman & Jason Hwang & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2004. "The Impact of the Terms of Trade on Economic Development in the Periphery, 1870-1939: Volatility and Secular Change," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2040, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:2040

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Easterly, William & Kremer, Michael & Pritchett, Lant & Summers, Lawrence H., 1993. "Good policy or good luck?: Country growth performance and temporary shocks," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 459-483, December.
    2. Ramey, Garey & Ramey, Valerie A, 1995. "Cross-Country Evidence on the Link between Volatility and Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1138-1151, December.
    3. Hanan G. Jacoby & Emmanuel Skoufias, 1997. "Risk, Financial Markets, and Human Capital in a Developing Country," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 64(3), pages 311-335.
    4. Turnovsky, Stephen J. & Chattopadhyay, Pradip, 2003. "Volatility and growth in developing economies: some numerical results and empirical evidence," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 267-295, March.
    5. Spraos, John, 1980. "The Statistical Debate on the Net Barter Terms of Trade between Primary Commodities and Manufactures," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 90(357), pages 107-128, March.
    6. Luis Catão & Sandeep Kapur, 2004. "Missing Link; Volatility and the Debt Intolerance Paradox," IMF Working Papers 04/51, International Monetary Fund.
    7. Bleaney, Michael F & Greenaway, David, 1993. "Long-Run Trends in the Relative Price of Primary Commodities and in the Terms of Trade of Developing Countries," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 45(3), pages 349-363, July.
    8. M. Ayhan Kose & Raymond Riezman, 2013. "Trade shocks and macroeconomic fluctuations in Africa," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: International Trade Agreements and Political Economy, chapter 19, pages 369-394 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    9. Basu, Parantap & McLeod, Darryl, 1991. "Terms of trade fluctuations and economic growth in developing economies," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(1-2), pages 89-110, November.
    10. Tornell, Aaron & Velasco, Andes, 1992. "The Tragedy of the Commons and Economic Growth: Why Does Capital Flow from Poor to Rich Countries?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(6), pages 1208-1231, December.
    11. Angus Deaton, 1999. "Commodity Prices and Growth in Africa," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(3), pages 23-40, Summer.
    12. Bidarkota, Prasad & Crucini, Mario J, 2000. "Commodity Prices and the Terms of Trade," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 8(4), pages 647-666, November.
    13. Mendoza, Enrique G., 1997. "Terms-of-trade uncertainty and economic growth," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 323-356, December.
    14. Edward Miguel & Shanker Satyanath & Ernest Sergenti, 2004. "Economic Shocks and Civil Conflict: An Instrumental Variables Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(4), pages 725-753, August.
    15. Frankenberg, E. & Beegle, K. & Sikoki, B. & Thomas, D., 1999. "Health, Family Planning and Well-Being in Indonesia during an Economic Crisis: Early Results from the Indonesian Family Life Survey," Papers 99-06, RAND - Labor and Population Program.
    16. Bleaney, Michael & Greenaway, David, 2001. "The impact of terms of trade and real exchange rate volatility on investment and growth in sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 491-500, August.
    17. Thomas, Duncan & Beegle, Kathleen & Frankenberg, Elizabeth & Sikoki, Bondan & Strauss, John & Teruel, Graciela, 2004. "Education in a crisis," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 74(1), pages 53-85, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Tena-Junguito, Antonio & Lampe, Markus & Fernandes, Felipe Tâmega, 2012. "How Much Trade Liberalization Was There in the World Before and After Cobden-Chevalier?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 72(03), pages 708-740, September.
    2. Paul Castillo Bardález & Jorge Salas, 2010. "Los términos de intercambio como impulsores de fluctuaciones económicas en economías en desarrollo: estudio empírico," Premio de Banca Central Rodrigo Gómez / Central Banking Award "Rodrigo Gómez", Centro de Estudios Monetarios Latinoamericanos, CEMLA, number prg2010, enero-jun.
    3. David S. Jacks & Kevin H. O'Rourke & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2011. "Commodity Price Volatility and World Market Integration since 1700," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(3), pages 800-813, August.
    4. Sambit Bhattacharyya & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2013. "Distributional Impact of Commodity Price Shocks: Australia over a Century," OxCarre Working Papers 117, Oxford Centre for the Analysis of Resource Rich Economies, University of Oxford.
    5. Sambit Bhattacharyya & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2011. "Commodity Price Shocks And The Australian Economy Since Federation," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 51(2), pages 150-177, July.
    6. Aiolfi, Marco & Catão, Luis A.V. & Timmermann, Allan, 2011. "Common factors in Latin America's business cycles," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(2), pages 212-228, July.
    7. Francis, Joseph A., 2014. "The Periphery’s Terms of Trade in the Nineteenth Century: A Methodological Problem Revisited," MPRA Paper 57934, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. Luigi Ventimiglia, 2012. "Commodity markets," Chapters,in: Handbook of Critical Issues in Finance, chapter 8, pages i-ii Edward Elgar Publishing.
    9. Paul Castillo Bardález & Jorge Salas, 2010. "The Terms of Trade as Drivers of Economic Fluctuations in Developing Economies: An Empirical Study," Premio de Banca Central Rodrigo Gómez / Central Banking Award "Rodrigo Gómez", Centro de Estudios Monetarios Latinoamericanos, CEMLA, number prg2010eng, enero-jun.
    10. Rodolfo Cermeño & María Roa García & Claudio González-Vega, 2012. "Financial Development and Volatility of Growth: Time Series Evidence for Mexico and USA," DEGIT Conference Papers c017_035, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
    11. Rodolfo Cermeño Bazán & María Roa García & Claudio González Vega, 2012. "Financial Development and Growth Volatility: Time Series Evidence for Mexico and The United States," Working papers DTE 544, CIDE, División de Economía.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F10 - International Economics - - Trade - - - General
    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:fth:harver:2040. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Thomas Krichel). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.