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Intermediate Goods, Weak Links, and Superstars: A Theory of Economic Development

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  • Charles I. Jones

Abstract

Per capita income in the richest countries of the world exceeds that in the poorest countries by more than a factor of 50. What explains these enormous differences? This paper returns to several old ideas in development economics and proposes that linkages, complementarity, and superstar effects are at the heart of the explanation. First, linkages between firms through intermediate goods deliver a multiplier similar to the one associated with capital accumulation in a neoclassical growth model. Because the intermediate goods' share of revenue is about 1/2, this multiplier is substantial. Second, just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, problems at any point in a production chain can reduce output substantially if inputs enter production in a complementary fashion. Finally, the high elasticity of substitution associated with final consumption delivers a superstar effect: GDP depends disproportionately on the highest levels of productivity in the economy. This paper builds a model with links across sectors, complementary inputs, and highly substitutable consumption, and shows that it can easily generate 50-fold aggregate income differences.

Suggested Citation

  • Charles I. Jones, 2008. "Intermediate Goods, Weak Links, and Superstars: A Theory of Economic Development," NBER Working Papers 13834, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13834
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    Cited by:

    1. Areendam Chanda & Beatrice Farkas, 2009. "Technology-Skill Complementarity and International TFP Differences," DEGIT Conference Papers c014_028, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
    2. Nico Voigtlaender, 2009. "Many Sectors Meet More Skills: Intersectoral Linkages and the Skill Bias of Technology," 2009 Meeting Papers 1136, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    3. Antoni Estevadeordal & Alan M. Taylor, 2013. "Is the Washington Consensus Dead? Growth, Openness, and the Great Liberalization, 1970s–2000s," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(5), pages 1669-1690, December.
    4. Shuhei, Aoki, 2008. "Inverse Ramsey Problem of the Resource Misallocation Effect on Aggregate Productivity," MPRA Paper 7930, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Abbott, Philip & Andersen, Thomas Barnebeck & Tarp, Finn, 2010. "IMF and economic reform in developing countries," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 17-26, February.
    6. Michael E. Waugh, 2010. "International Trade and Income Differences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(5), pages 2093-2124, December.
    7. di Giovanni, Julian & Levchenko, Andrei A., 2013. "Firm entry, trade, and welfare in Zipf's world," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(2), pages 283-296.
    8. Sharma, Chandan, 2011. "Imported intermediary inputs, R&D and Firm's Productivity: Evidence from Indian Manufacturing," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Berlin 2011 74, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
    9. Misch Florian & Gemmell Norman & Kneller Richard, 2010. "Binding Constraints and Second-Best Strategies in Endogenous Growth Models with Public Finance," Journal of Globalization and Development, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-37, December.
    10. Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald, 2009. "What do we know (and not know) about potential output?," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Jul, pages 187-214.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O4 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity

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