Friday, December 28, 2007

Krugman on Stolper Samuelson Effects in US Trade

. Friday, December 28, 2007

In case you missed it, Paul Krugman's Friday column focused on the distributional consequences of international trade. He argues that as imports from developing countries have risen during the last fifteen years, trade flows have begun to follow the expectations of standard comparative advantage. Consequently, trade has a more pronounced impact on wage inequality in the US today than it did fifteen years ago.

I am predisposed to the general argument, but am puzzled by the magnitude he claims. He asserts that "it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that growing U.S. trade with third world countries reduces the real wages of many and perhaps most workers in this country...The highly educated workers who clearly benefit from growing trade with third-world economies are a minority, greatly outnumbered by those who probably lose."

He draws on textbook Stolper-Samuelson logic to make the argument: "workers with less formal education either see their jobs shipped overseas or find their wages driven down by the ripple effect as other workers with similar qualifications crowd into their industries and look for employment to replace the jobs they lost to foreign competition. And lower prices at Wal-Mart aren’t sufficient compensation.

Yet, exactly how many workers have lost jobs to "foreign competition?" The competition Krugman emphasizes comes from imports of manufactured goods. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that manufacturing employment fell from roughly 17 million in 1997 to 14 million in 2006. That's a reduction of 3 million manufacturing jobs over ten years--300,000 per year on average--in a total labor force of 136 million people. To assert that this displacement imposed a substantial wage reduction on others seems a bold claim to make without providing any evidence to support it.

I look forward to seeing Krugman's research on this question develop. He has posted a few short pieces about the paper he is writing on his blog, here, here, and here. If you want to read what appears to be the state of the art on trade and income distribution, see Robert Lawrence's paper here.


Krugman on Stolper Samuelson Effects in US Trade
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