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How Rich Countries Became Rich and Why Poor Countries Remain Poor: It's the Economic Structure . . . Duh!


  • Jesus Felipe
  • Utsav Kumar
  • Arnelyn Abdon


Becoming a rich country requires the ability to produce and export commodities that embody certain characteristics. We classify 779 exported commodities according to two dimensions: (1) sophistication (measured by the income content of the products exported); and (2) connectivity to other products (a well-connected export basket is one that allows an easy jump to other potential exports). We identify 352 "good" products and 427 "bad" products. Based on this, we categorize 154 countries into four groups according to these two characteristics. There are 34 countries whose export basket contains a significant share of good products. We find 28 countries in a "middle product" trap. These are countries whose export baskets contain a significant share of products that are in the middle of the sophistication and connectivity spectra. We also find 17 countries that are in a "middle-low" product trap, and 75 countries that are in a difficult and precarious "low product" trap. These are countries whose export baskets contain a significant share of unsophisticated products that are poorly connected to other products. To escape this situation, these countries need to implement policies that would help them accumulate the capabilities needed to manufacture and export more sophisticated and better connected products.

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  • Jesus Felipe & Utsav Kumar & Arnelyn Abdon, 2010. "How Rich Countries Became Rich and Why Poor Countries Remain Poor: It's the Economic Structure . . . Duh!," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_644, Levy Economics Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_644

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Felipe, Jesus & McCombie, J. S. L., 1999. "Wan's "New Approach" to Technical Change: A Comment," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 355-363, June.
    2. Felipe, Jesus & Kumar, Utsav & Abdon, Arnelyn & Bacate, Marife, 2012. "Product complexity and economic development," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 36-68.
    3. Holz, Carsten A., 2002. "Long live China's state-owned enterprises: deflating the myth of poor financial performance," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(4), pages 493-529.
    4. Sun, Laixiang, 1998. "Estimating Investment Functions Based on Cointegration: The Case of China," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 175-191, March.
    5. Gregory C. Chow, 1993. "Capital Formation and Economic Growth in China," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 809-842.
    6. Song, Haiyan & Liu, Zinan & Jiang, Ping, 2001. "Analysing the determinants of China's aggregate investment in the reform period," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 12(2-3), pages 227-242.
    7. Wan, Guang H., 1995. "Technical Change in Chinese State Industry: A New Approach," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 308-325, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jesus Felipe & Arnelyn Abdon & Utsav Kumar, 2012. "Tracking the Middle-income Trap: What Is It, Who Is in It, and Why?," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_715, Levy Economics Institute.
    2. Arnelyn Abdon & Jesus Felipe, 2011. "The Product Space: What Does It Say About the Opportunities for Growth and Structural Transformation of Sub-Saharan Africa?," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_670, Levy Economics Institute.

    More about this item


    Bad Product; Capabilities; Low Product Trap; Middle Product Trap; Proximity; Sophistication; Structural Transformation;

    JEL classification:

    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O25 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Industrial Policy
    • O57 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Comparative Studies of Countries

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