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What's the Use of Factor Contents?

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  • Edward E. Leamer

Abstract

The net imports of labor embodied in international trade has been a fairly small and stable share of the US labor force. From this some conclude that trade has not been a major contributor to the income inequality trends. This is a non sequitur. The labor embodied in trade is jointly determined by tastes, technologies, factor supplies and the external goods market. Although it is impossible to use factor contents to disentangle trade from technology, the factor contents can be used to suggest the change of earnings shares if the country were to close down external trade entirely. However, this is a proper application of factor contents only if tastes and technologies are log-linear, if trade is balanced and if foreign input intensities are used to compute factor contents of non-competing imports. Factor contents are virtually useless if technologies and tastes are not log-linear, or if the external deficit is substantial and variable. Factor contents do not tell us anything about earnings levels as opposed to shares. They also do not inform us of the impact of partial trade barriers that change relative product prices but do not completely eliminate trade. In other words, the title question is rhetorical.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward E. Leamer, 1996. "What's the Use of Factor Contents?," NBER Working Papers 5448, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5448
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    1. repec:fth:michin:341 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Krugman, Paul R., 2000. "Technology, trade and factor prices," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 51-71, February.
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    6. Wood, Adrian, 1995. "North-South Trade, Employment and Inequality: Changing Fortunes in a Skill-Driven World," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198290155.
    7. Hakura, D. & Deardorff, A.V., 1993. "Trade and Wages: What Are the Questions?," Working Papers 341, Research Seminar in International Economics, University of Michigan.
    8. Bowen, Harry P & Leamer, Edward E & Sveikauskas, Leo, 1987. "Multicountry, Multifactor Tests of the Factor Abundance Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 791-809, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ngo Van Long & Raymond Riezman & Antoine Soubeyran, 2007. "Trade, Wage Gaps, and Specific Human Capital Accumulation," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(1), pages 75-92, February.
    2. repec:eee:labchp:v:3:y:1999:i:pb:p:2215-2288 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Winter-Ebmer, Rudolf & Zimmermann, Klaus F., 1998. "East-West Trade and Migration: The Austro-German Case," IZA Discussion Papers 2, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Eli Bekman & John Bound & Stephen Machin, 1998. "Implications of Skill-Biased Technological Change: International Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1245-1279.
    5. Attanasio, Orazio & Goldberg, Pinelopi K. & Pavcnik, Nina, 2004. "Trade reforms and wage inequality in Colombia," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 331-366, August.
    6. J. Peter Neary, 2002. "Globalisation and market structure," Working Papers 200220, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    7. Nahuis, R., 1997. "On Globalisation, Trade and Wages," Research Memorandum 747, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    8. Drusilla K. Brown, 2001. "Labor Standards: Where Do They Belong on the International Trade Agenda?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 89-112, Summer.
    9. Bernard, Andrew B. & Jensen, J. Bradford & Schott, Peter K., 2006. "Survival of the best fit: Exposure to low-wage countries and the (uneven) growth of U.S. manufacturing plants," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 219-237, January.
    10. Gene M. Grossman & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2008. "Trading Tasks: A Simple Theory of Offshoring," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1978-1997, December.
    11. Olivier Cortès & Sébastien Jean, 1997. "Quel est l'impact du commerce extérieur sur la productivité et l'emploi ?," Working Papers 1997-08, CEPII research center.
    12. Koeniger, Winfried, 2001. "Trade, Labor Market Rigidities, and Government-Financed Technological Change," IZA Discussion Papers 241, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    13. Gordon H. Hanson & Robert C. Feenstra, 2000. "Aggregation Bias in the Factor Content of Trade: Evidence from U.S. Manufacturing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 155-160, May.
    14. Jonathan E. Haskel, 1999. "The Trade and Labour Approaches to Wage Inequality," Working Papers 405, Queen Mary University of London, School of Economics and Finance.
    15. J. Peter Neary, 2001. "Competition, trade and wages," Working Papers 200020, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    16. Douglas A. Irwin, 2000. "Ohlin Versus Stolper-Samuelson?," NBER Working Papers 7641, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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