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Protecting Losers: Optimal Diversification, Insurance, and Trade Policy


  • S. Lael Brainard


This paper derives a portfolio diversification rationale for a trade policy regime that insures returns to nondiversifiable human capital investment. In the absence of complete insurance markets for human capital, the decentralized equilibrium is characterized by excessive specialization. The socially optimal investment portfolio entails diversification for the reasons familiar from the CAPM. By credibly promising to protect losers ex post, the government can achieve the optimally diversified investment pattern. In contrast to previous results, two instruments are sufficient to achieve both efficient reallocation and full insurance when human capital is mobile at some cost, due to the endogeneity of the initial investment decision.

Suggested Citation

  • S. Lael Brainard, 1991. "Protecting Losers: Optimal Diversification, Insurance, and Trade Policy," NBER Working Papers 3773, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3773
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lawrence F. Katz & Lawrence H. Summers, 1989. "Can Interindustry Wage Differentials Justify Strategic Trade Policy?," NBER Chapters,in: Trade Policies for International Competitiveness, pages 85-124 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Eaton, Jonathan & Rosen, Harvey S, 1980. "Taxation, Human Capital, and Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(4), pages 705-715, September.
    3. Kenneth L. Judd, 1984. "Efficiency, Adverse Selection, and Production," Discussion Papers 606, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
    4. Pincus, J J, 1975. "Pressure Groups and the Pattern of Tariffs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 83(4), pages 757-778, August.
    5. Eaton, Jonathan, 1979. "The Allocation of Resources in an Open Economy with Uncertain Terms of Trade," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 20(2), pages 391-403, June.
    6. Stephen J. Turnovsky, 1974. "Technological and Price Uncertainty in a Ricardian Model of International Trade," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(2), pages 201-217.
    7. Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1981. "Pareto Optimality and Competition," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 36(2), pages 235-251, May.
    8. David M. G. Newbery & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1984. "Pareto Inferior Trade," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 51(1), pages 1-12.
    9. Grossman, Gene M & Shapiro, Carl, 1982. "A Theory of Factor Mobility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(5), pages 1054-1069, October.
    10. John S. Flemming & Stephen J. Turnovsky & Murray C. Kemp, 1977. "On the Choice of Numeraire and Certainty Price in General Equilibrium Models of Price Uncertainty," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 44(3), pages 573-583.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michele Di Maio & Marco Valente, 2006. "Uncertainty, Optimal Specialization and Growth," LEM Papers Series 2006/05, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    2. Di Maio, Michele, 2008. "Uncertainty, trade integration and the optimal level of protection in a Ricardian model with a continuum of goods," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 315-329, December.
    3. James Gaisford & Olena Ivus, 2014. "Should Smaller Countries Be More Protectionist? The Diversification Motive for Tariffs," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 22(4), pages 845-862, September.
    4. Michele Di Maio & Marco Valente, 2013. "Uncertainty, Specialization and Government Intervention," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(2), pages 215-243, May.

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