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International Trade and Institutional Change


  • Andrei A. Levchenko


This paper analyzes the impact of international trade on the quality of institutions, such as contract enforcement, property rights, or investor protection. It presents a model in which imperfect institutions create rents for some parties within the economy, and are a source of comparative advantage in trade. Institutional quality is determined as an equilibrium of a political economy game. When countries share the same technology, there is a "race to the top'' in institutional quality: irrespective of country characteristics, both trade partners are forced to improve institutions after opening. On the other hand, domestic institutions will not improve in either country when one of the countries has a strong enough technological comparative advantage in the institutionally intensive good. We provide empirical evidence for a related cross-sectional prediction of the model. Countries whose exogenous geographical characteristics predispose them to exporting in institutionally intensive sectors exhibit significantly higher institutional quality.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrei A. Levchenko, 2011. "International Trade and Institutional Change," NBER Working Papers 17675, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17675
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Dong, Zhiqiang & Zhang, Yongjing, 2016. "Accumulated social capital, institutional quality, and economic performance: Evidence from China," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 40(2), pages 206-219.
    2. Marianna Belloc & Samuel Bowles, 2009. "International Trade, Factor Mobility and the Persistence of Cultural-Institutional Diversity," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2009-08, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
    3. Martin Strieborny & Madina Kukenova, 2016. "Investment in Relationship-Specific Assets: Does Finance Matter?," Review of Finance, European Finance Association, vol. 20(4), pages 1487-1515.
    4. Strieborny, Martin, 2013. "Suppliers, Investors, and Equity Market Liberalizations," Knut Wicksell Working Paper Series 2013/13, Lund University, Knut Wicksell Centre for Financial Studies.
    5. Brian A'Hearn & Anthony J. Venables, 2011. "Internal Geography and External Trade: regional disparities in Italy, 1861-2011," Quaderni di storia economica (Economic History Working Papers) 12, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    6. Do, Quy-Toan & Levchenko, Andrei A., 2009. "Trade, inequality, and the political economy of institutions," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 144(4), pages 1489-1520, July.
    7. Busse, Matthias & Hoekstra, Ruth & Osei, Robert, 2013. "The Effectiveness of Aid in Improving Regulations: Empirical evidence and the drivers of change in Rwanda," IEE Working Papers 198, Institut fuer Entwicklungsforschung und Entwicklungspolitik, Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum.
    8. repec:bla:sajeco:v:85:y:2017:i:3:p:368-385 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. International Monetary Fund, 2015. "Portugal; Selected Issues," IMF Staff Country Reports 15/127, International Monetary Fund.
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    11. Michiel Gerritse, 2015. "Does trade cause long-run development? Theory and evidence from countries behind the Suez channel," ERSA conference papers ersa15p1100, European Regional Science Association.
    12. Jeroen Puttevils, 2015. "‘Eating the bread out of their mouth’: Antwerp's export trade and generalized institutions, 1544–5," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(4), pages 1339-1364, November.
    13. Wen-Bin Chuang & Hui-lin Lin & Chien-Wei Wu, 2015. "Does Institutional Quality Strengthen The Positive Influence of Offshore R&D Strategy on the Firm Productivity?," Asian Economic and Financial Review, Asian Economic and Social Society, vol. 5(2), pages 279-294, February.
    14. Zissimos, Ben, 2017. "A theory of trade policy under dictatorship and democratization," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 85-101.
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    16. Nunn, Nathan & Trefler, Daniel, 2014. "Domestic Institutions as a Source of Comparative Advantage," Handbook of International Economics, Elsevier.
    17. repec:spr:weltar:v:153:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s10290-017-0288-y is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Horváth, Roman & Zeynalov, Ayaz, 2016. "Natural resources, manufacturing and institutions in post-Soviet countries," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 141-148.
    19. Bergh, Andreas & Mirkina, Irina & Nilsson, Therese, 2013. "More Open – Better Governed? Evidence from High- and Low-income Countries," Working Paper Series 997, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
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    21. Yang Jiao & Shang-Jin Wei, 2017. "Intrinsic Openness and Endogenous Institutional Quality," NBER Working Papers 24052, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    22. Harald Badinger & Elisabeth Nindl, 2012. "Globalization, Inequality, and Corruption," Department of Economics Working Papers wuwp139, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Department of Economics.
    23. Kant, Chander, 2016. "Are institutions in developing countries malleable?," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 272-289.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F15 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Economic Integration
    • P45 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - International Linkages
    • P48 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Political Economy; Legal Institutions; Property Rights; Natural Resources; Energy; Environment; Regional Studies

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