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Economic consequences of the size of nations, 50 years on


  • Eloi Laurent

    (Observatoire français des conjonctures économiques)


In September 1957, the International Economic Association held a conference at The Hague on the “Economic Consequences of the Size of Nations”, which proceedings were published in 1960. Fifty years later, while the economic environment has dramatically changed, the issues put forward and discussed in this volume are still largely relevant. The goal of this paper is to assess whether the analytical framework and intuitions of the major contribution of the volume, that of Simon Kuznets, has passed well the test of time. Using a sample of the richest and freer OECD countries, many of the hypotheses made in the 1960 volume and neatly captured by Kuznets are found to be vindicated, as others have to be reformulated: small developed open countries have been able to overcome the “penalties of smallness” thanks to globalization, and large countries have relied on economies of scale to develop an endogenous domestic growth. Both strategies have been successful enough that large and small countries can not be distinguished in terms of their economic performance. Still, their preferred “growth strategy” differ, as their seeming ability to implement structural change. As regards “governance strategy”, small nations’ homogeneity has been blurred by migration flows and the only fragmentation difference remaining between large and small nations is that of religion diversity. Hence social diversity can not account for the substantially lower governance performance and higher income inequalities observed in large countries, all the more than confidence and trust among citizens do not appear significantly higher in small nations. Finally, the paper briefly explores some new country size related puzzles, unheard of in 1960, that have emerged since then: micro-states, giant states and “embedded states” (i.e. economic regionalization).

Suggested Citation

  • Eloi Laurent, 2008. "Economic consequences of the size of nations, 50 years on," Sciences Po publications 2008-26, Sciences Po.
  • Handle: RePEc:spo:wpmain:info:hdl:2441/10049

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Enrico Spolaore & Alberto Alesina & Romain Wacziarg, 2000. "Economic Integration and Political Disintegration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1276-1296, December.
    2. Dani Rodrik, 1998. "Why Do More Open Economies Have Bigger Governments?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(5), pages 997-1032, October.
    3. Parker,William Nelson, 1984. "Europe, America, and the Wider World," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521274807, October.
    4. Éloi Laurent & Jacques Le Cacheux, 2007. "The Irish Tiger and the German Frog: A Tale of Size and Growth in the Euro Area," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2007-31, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    5. Read, Robert, 2001. "Growth, Economic Development and Structural Transition in Small Vulnerable States," WIDER Working Paper Series 059, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    6. Eloi Laurent & Jacques Le Cacheux, 2006. "Integrity and Efficiency in the EU: The Case against the European economic constitution," Working Papers hal-00972707, HAL.
    7. Alesina, Alberto & Spolaore, Enrico & Wacziarg, Romain, 2005. "Trade, Growth and the Size of Countries," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 23, pages 1499-1542 Elsevier.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jean-Paul Fitoussi & Eloi Laurent, 2008. "North by Northwest: What’s Wrong with the French Model and How Can the Nordic Model Help," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2008-18, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    2. Jean-Paul Fitoussi & Eloi Laurent, 2008. "North by Northwest: What's Wrong with the French Model and How Can the Nordic Model Help. The Nordic Model: Solutions for Continental Europe's Problems?", Center for European Studies, Harvard Uni," Post-Print hal-01053234, HAL.
    3. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/6146 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Grech, Aaron George, 2013. "Adapting the Hodrick-Prescott Filter for Very Small Open Economies," MPRA Paper 48803, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/9717 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Fritz Breuss, 2013. "The Leverage of the Small Ones in the EU," WIFO Working Papers 452, WIFO.
    7. Jean-Paul Fitoussi & Eloi Laurent, 2008. "Hawk and handsaws: What can France learn from the "Nordic Model"?," Working Papers hal-00972824, HAL.
    8. Brito, Joao, 2015. "Country Size and Determinants of Economic Growth: A Survey with Special Interest on Small States," MPRA Paper 61273, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. Éloi Laurent & Jacques Le Cacheux, 2010. "Taille des pays et stratégies de croissance," Revue de l'OFCE, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 0(1), pages 171-190.
    10. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/10050 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    OECD; country size; growth strategy; governance strategy;

    JEL classification:

    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O57 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Comparative Studies of Countries
    • F15 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Economic Integration
    • F43 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance - - - Economic Growth of Open Economies


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