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Measuring the Benefits of Product Variety with an Accurate Variety Set


  • Bruce A. Blonigen
  • Anson Soderbery


Recent studies have used import data to assess the impact of foreign varieties on prices and welfare for a home country. The reliance on import data has a number of limitations. First, these papers rely on goods categories defined by the Harmonized System. Second, they define varieties using the Armington assumption that all imports coming from a particular country are one unique variety. Third, they ignore variety changes that may occur through foreign affiliate activity. In this paper, we revisit this literature by employing a detailed market-based data set on the U.S. automobile market that allows us to define goods varieties at a more precise level, as well as discern location of production and ownership of varieties. We show that estimated variety changes and their impacts on U.S. prices and welfare differ markedly for automobiles depending on whether one uses the standard import data or our more detailed market-based data. The import data and Armington assumption hide significant net variety change leading to a downward bias in the effects of net variety change, with implied welfare benefits only half what we find with our market-based data. We also show that the welfare gains from all foreign-owned varieties (both imported and from foreign affiliates) are well over 50% larger than that stemming from imported varieties alone.

Suggested Citation

  • Bruce A. Blonigen & Anson Soderbery, 2009. "Measuring the Benefits of Product Variety with an Accurate Variety Set," NBER Working Papers 14956, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14956
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jean Imbs & Isabelle Mejean, 2015. "Elasticity Optimism," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 7(3), pages 43-83, July.
    2. Christian Broda & David E. Weinstein, 2006. "Globalization and the Gains From Variety," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 541-585.
    3. Goldberg, Pinelopi K. & Verboven, Frank, 2005. "Market integration and convergence to the Law of One Price: evidence from the European car market," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(1), pages 49-73, January.
    4. Feenstra, Robert C, 1994. "New Product Varieties and the Measurement of International Prices," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(1), pages 157-177, March.
    5. Goldberg, Pinelopi Koujianou, 1995. "Product Differentiation and Oligopoly in International Markets: The Case of the U.S. Automobile Industry," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(4), pages 891-951, July.
    6. Krugman, Paul R., 1979. "Increasing returns, monopolistic competition, and international trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(4), pages 469-479, November.
    7. Amil Petrin, 2002. "Quantifying the Benefits of New Products: The Case of the Minivan," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(4), pages 705-729, August.
    8. Berry, Steven & Levinsohn, James & Pakes, Ariel, 1995. "Automobile Prices in Market Equilibrium," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(4), pages 841-890, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. d'Artis Kancs, 2010. "Structural Estimation of Variety Gains from Trade Integration in Asia," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 43(3), pages 270-288.
    2. Konstantins Benkovskis & Ramune Rimgailaite, 2011. "The quality and variety of exports from the new EU member states," The Economics of Transition, The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vol. 19(4), pages 723-747, October.
    3. Lukas Mohler & Michael Seitz, 2012. "The gains from variety in the European Union," Review of World Economics (Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv), Springer;Institut für Weltwirtschaft (Kiel Institute for the World Economy), vol. 148(3), pages 475-500, September.
    4. Victor Rivas, 2012. "Structural Estimation of Variety Gains from Trade Integration in a Heterogeneous Firms Framework," Journal of Economics and Econometrics, Economics and Econometrics Society, vol. 55(2), pages 78-93.
    5. Benjamin Bridgman, 2013. "Market entry and trade weighted import costs," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 46(3), pages 982-1013, August.
    6. Ardelean, Adina & Lugovskyy, Volodymyr, 2010. "Domestic productivity and variety gains from trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(2), pages 280-291, March.
    7. repec:ucp:jpolec:doi:10.1086/692695 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Robert C. Feenstra & David E. Weinstein, 2017. "Globalization, Markups, and US Welfare," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 125(4), pages 1040-1074.
    9. Soderbery, Anson, 2010. "Investigating the asymptotic properties of import elasticity estimates," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 109(2), pages 57-62, November.
    10. Mohler, Lukas, 2009. "Globalization and the gains from variety: size and openness of countries and the extensive margin," MPRA Paper 17592, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F12 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Models of Trade with Imperfect Competition and Scale Economies; Fragmentation
    • F23 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - Multinational Firms; International Business
    • L16 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Industrial Organization and Macroeconomics; Macroeconomic Industrial Structure

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