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Trade Liberalization and Income Distribution


  • Donald R. Davis


Empirical work relating trade liberalization and income distributed has iden- tified an important anomaly. The Stolper-Samuelson theorem predict trade liberalization will shift income toward a country's abundant factor. For developing countries, this suggests liberalization will principally benefit the abundant unskilled labor. Yet extensive empirical studies have identified many cases with a contrary result. This paper develops a simple theoretical explanation for this anomaly. It shows that countries which are labor abundant in a global sense may see wages decline with liberalization if they are capital abundant in a local sense. The current absence of empirical work that would allow us to identify the relevant local abundance implies that virtually all assertions regarding anticipated distributional consequences of trade liberalization are without foundation. There may likewise be important implications for industrialized countries that border developing countries undertaking trade liberalization, particularly in regard to the incentives for migration.

Suggested Citation

  • Donald R. Davis, 1996. "Trade Liberalization and Income Distribution," NBER Working Papers 5693, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5693
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Deardorff, Alan V., 1986. "Firless firwoes: How preferences can interfere with the theorems of international trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(1-2), pages 131-142, February.
    2. Leamer, Edward E. & Levinsohn, James, 1995. "International trade theory: The evidence," Handbook of International Economics,in: G. M. Grossman & K. Rogoff (ed.), Handbook of International Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 26, pages 1339-1394 Elsevier.
    3. Robert C. Feenstra & Gordon H. Hanson, 1995. "Foreign Investment, Outsourcing and Relative Wages," NBER Working Papers 5121, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Trefler, Daniel, 1993. "International Factor Price Differences: Leontief Was Right!," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(6), pages 961-987, December.
    5. Ethier, Wilfred J., 1984. "Higher dimensional issues in trade theory," Handbook of International Economics,in: R. W. Jones & P. B. Kenen (ed.), Handbook of International Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 3, pages 131-184 Elsevier.
    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. Jeffrey D. Sachs & Andrew Warner, 1995. "Economic Reform and the Process of Global Integration," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 26(1, 25th A), pages 1-118.
    8. Wolfgang F. Stolper & Paul A. Samuelson, 1941. "Protection and Real Wages," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(1), pages 58-73.
    9. Edwards, Sebastian, 1993. "Openness, Trade Liberalization, and Growth in Developing Countries," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 31(3), pages 1358-1393, September.
    10. Leamer, Edward E, 1987. "Paths of Development in the Three-Factor, n-Good General Equilibrium Model," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(5), pages 961-999, October.
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    12. Edward E. Leamer, 1996. "In Search of Stolper-Samuelson Effects on U.S. Wages," NBER Working Papers 5427, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Jagdish N. Bhagwati, 1978. "Anatomy and Consequences of Exchange Control Regimes," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bhag78-1, January.
    14. Mussa, Michael, 1979. "The two-sector model in terms of its dual : A geometric exposition," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(4), pages 513-526, November.
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    JEL classification:

    • F11 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Neoclassical Models of Trade
    • O19 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - International Linkages to Development; Role of International Organizations


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