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Trade in Ideal Varieties: Theory and Evidence

  • David Hummels
  • Volodymyr Lugovskyy

Models with constant-elasticity of substitution (CES) preferences are commonly employed in the international trade literature because they provide a tractable way to handle product differentiation in general equilibrium. However this tractability comes at the cost of generating a set of counter-factual predictions regarding cross-country variation in export and import variety, output per variety, and prices. We examine whether a generalized version of Lancaster's 'ideal variety' model can better match facts. In this model, entry causes crowding in variety space, so that the marginal utility of new varieties falls as market size grows. Crowding is partially offset by income effects, as richer consumers will pay more for varieties closer matched to their ideal types. We show theoretically and confirm empirically that declining marginal utility of new varieties results in: a higher own-price elasticity of demand (and lower prices) in large countries and a lower own-price elasticity of demand (and higher prices) in rich countries. Model predictions about cross-country differences in the number and size of establishments are also empirically confirmed.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11828.

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Date of creation: Dec 2005
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Hummels, David, and Volodymyr Lugovskyy. "International Pricing in a Generalized Model of Ideal Variety." Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking 41 (February 2009): 3-33.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11828
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  1. Feenstra, Robert C, 1994. "New Product Varieties and the Measurement of International Prices," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(1), pages 157-77, March.
  2. Dixit, Avinash K & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1975. "Monopolistic Competition and Optimum Product Diversity," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 64, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  3. Feenstra, Robert C., 1989. "Symmetric pass-through of tariffs and exchange rates under imperfect competition: An empirical test," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1-2), pages 25-45, August.
  4. Pinelopi K. Goldberg & Michael M. Knetter, 1996. "Goods Prices and Exchange Rates: What Have We Learned?," NBER Working Papers 5862, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. David Hummels & Alexandre Skiba, 2002. "Shipping the Good Apples Out? An Empirical Confirmation of the Alchian-Allen Conjecture," NBER Working Papers 9023, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Juan Carlos Hallak, 2004. "Product Quality, Linder, and the Direction of Trade," NBER Working Papers 10877, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Dornbusch, Rudiger & Fischer, Stanley & Samuelson, Paul A, 1977. "Comparative Advantage, Trade, and Payments in a Ricardian Model with a Continuum of Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(5), pages 823-39, December.
  8. Chad Syverson, 2004. "Market Structure and Productivity: A Concrete Example," NBER Working Papers 10501, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. David Hummels & Peter J. Klenow, 2002. "The Variety and Quality of a Nation's Trade," NBER Working Papers 8712, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Daron Acemoglu & Jaume Ventura, 2002. "The World Income Distribution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(2), pages 659-694, May.
  11. Jonathan Eaton & Samuel Kortum, 2002. "Technology, Geography, and Trade," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(5), pages 1741-1779, September.
  12. Krugman, Paul, 1980. "Scale Economies, Product Differentiation, and the Pattern of Trade," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(5), pages 950-59, December.
  13. David Hummels & Peter J. Klenow, 2005. "The Variety and Quality of a Nation's Exports," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(3), pages 704-723, June.
  14. Anthony Venables, 1994. "Integration and the export behaviour of firms: Trade costs, trade volumes and welfare," Review of World Economics (Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv), Springer, vol. 130(1), pages 118-132, March.
  15. Keith Head & John Ries, 2001. "Increasing Returns versus National Product Differentiation as an Explanation for the Pattern of U.S.-Canada Trade," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 858-876, September.
  16. Yeats, Alexander J., 1998. "Just how big is global production sharing?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1871, The World Bank.
  17. Barron, John M. & Taylor, Beck A. & Umbeck, John R., 2004. "Number of sellers, average prices, and price dispersion," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 22(8-9), pages 1041-1066, November.
  18. Peter K. Schott, 2004. "Across-product Versus Within-product Specialization in International Trade," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(2), pages 646-677, May.
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