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RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT

What Would Happen if Business Travel Stopped?Black silhouettes of people in an airport with orange sunrise through window


International travel is ubiquitous in business firms. In light of the recent shutdowns of air travel due to COVID-19 and the prevalence of virtual communication, however, one might question its value. New research from Michele Coscia, Franke Neffke, and Ricardo Hausmann - recently published in Nature Human Behaviour - shows that business travel, and its subsequent transfer of knowhow, actually drives economic growth. Further, the researchers quantify the value of business travel by estimating the loss in global GDP if it were to stop.

RECENT PUBLICATIONS

Jäggi, A., Schetter, U. & Schneider, M.T., 2021. Inequality, Openness, and Growth through Creative Destruction.Abstract
We examine how inequality and openness interact in shaping the long-run growth prospects of developing countries. To this end, we develop a Schumpeterian growth model with heterogeneous households and non-homothetic preferences for quality. We show that inequality affects growth very differently in an open economy as opposed to a closed economy: If the economy is close to the technological frontier, the positive demand effect of inequality on growth found in closed-economy models may be amplified by international competition. In countries with a larger distance to the technology frontier, however, rich households satisfy their demand for high quality via importing, and the effect of inequality on growth is smaller than in a closed economy and may even be negative. We show that this theoretical prediction holds up in the data, both when considering growth in export quality at the industry level and when considering growth in GDP per capita.
Macroeconomic Rationales for Public Investments in Science
Gersbach, H., Schetter, U. & Schneider, M.T., 2020. Macroeconomic Rationales for Public Investments in Science. Economic Inquiry , 59. Publisher's VersionAbstract
What is the economic rationale for investing in science? Based on an open economy model of creative destruction, we characterize four key factors of optimal investment in basic research: the stage of economic development, the strength of the manufacturing base, the degree of openness, and the share of foreign‐owned firms. For each of these factors, we analyze its bearings on optimal basic research investment. We then show that the predicted effects are consistent with patterns observed in the data and discuss how the factor‐based approach might inform basic research policies.
Shen, J.H., 2020. Supply-Side Structural Reform and Dynamic Capital Structure Adjustment: Evidence from Chinese-Listed Firms. Pacific-Basin Finance Journal , 65. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The literature extensively discusses the increasing commitment toward comprehensive structural reform of China’s economy as it targets to achieve high quality and sustainable economic growth. This research investigates the inherent relationship between supply-side structural reform (SSSR) and dynamic capital structure adjustment in Chinese-listed firms. Our results show that SSSR’s introduction has significantly improved the adjustment speed toward the optimal debt ratio, especially for firms with high indebtedness and low investment performance. Importantly, China’s bond market plays a crucial role through SSSR for firms’ debt ratio to adjust toward their optimal level. However, there is no such evidence among state-owned enterprises (SOEs), suggesting that the structural reform concerning corporate capital structure for SOEs is more challenging and longstanding when compared with non-SOEs.

Shen, J.H., 2020. Towards a Dynamic Model of the Industrial Upgrading with Global Value Chains. The World Economy. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This research constructs a simple dynamic model to illustrate the micro‐mechanism of industrial upgrading along the global value chains. Our model predicts that as firms move up from downstream to upstream stages, (a) there is higher profitability if and only if the following three conditions are satisfied. First, the increasing rate of sunk cost (including R&D expenditure) over sequential stages of production cannot be sufficiently large (endogenous sunk cost effect). Second, the decreasing rate of change of intermediate input demand with respect to the price set by firms at a production stage cannot be sufficiently high (intermediate input price effect). Third, the decreasing rate of change of intermediate input demand with respect to the pricing dynamics over the sequential stages of production cannot be sufficiently large (sequential pricing uncertainty effect); (b) total cost is lower if and only if the decreasing rate of change of input demand with respect to the price is sufficiently large; (c) output is higher if and only if and the decreasing rate of change of input demand with respect to the price is not sufficiently large; and (d) the price decreases. We show that the empirical patterns revealed in China are consistent with our model's predictions.

Coscia, M., et al., 2020. The Node Vector Distance Problem in Complex Networks. ACM Computing Surveys , 53 (6). Publisher's VersionAbstract

We describe a problem in complex networks we call the Node Vector Distance (NVD) problem, and we survey algorithms currently able to address it. Complex networks are a useful tool to map a non-trivial set of relationships among connected entities, or nodes. An agent—e.g., a disease—can occupy multiple nodes at the same time and can spread through the edges. The node vector distance problem is to estimate the distance traveled by the agent between two moments in time. This is closely related to the Optimal Transportation Problem (OTP), which has received attention in fields such as computer vision. OTP solutions can be used to solve the node vector distance problem, but they are not the only valid approaches. Here, we examine four classes of solutions, showing their differences and similarities both on synthetic networks and real world network data. The NVD problem has a much wider applicability than computer vision, being related to problems in economics, epidemiology, viral marketing, and sociology, to cite a few. We show how solutions to the NVD problem have a wide range of applications, and we provide a roadmap to general and computationally tractable solutions. We have implemented all methods presented in this article in a publicly available open source library, which can be used for result replication.

Hartog, M., Lopez-Cordova, J.E. & Neffke, F., 2020. Assessing Ukraine's Role in European Value Chains: A Gravity Equation-cum-Economic Complexity Analysis Approach.Abstract
We analyze Ukraine's opportunities to participate in European value chains, using traditional gravity models, combined with tools from Economic Complexity Analysis to study international trade (exports) and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This toolbox is shown to be predictive of the growth and entry of new exports to the EU's Single Market, as well as foreign direct investments from the Single Market in Ukraine. We find that Ukraine has suffered from a decline of trade with Russia, which has led not only to a quantitative but also a qualitative deterioration in Ukrainian exports. Connecting to western European value chains is in principle possible, with several opportunities in the automotive, information technology and other sectors. However, such a shift may lead to a spatial restructuring of the Ukrainian economy and a mismatch between the geographical supply of and demand for labor.
Schetter, U. & Tejada, O., 2020. On Globalization and the Concentration of Talent: A General Result on Superstar Effects and Matching.Abstract
We analyze how globalization affects the allocation of talent across competing teams in large matching markets. Focusing on amplified superstar effects, we show that a convex transformation of payoffs promotes positive assortative matching. This result holds under minimal assumptions on how skills translate into competition outcomes and how competition outcomes translate into payoffs. Our analysis covers many interesting special cases, including simple extensions of Rosen (1981) and Melitz (2003) with competing teams. It also provides new insights on the distributional consequences of globalization, and on the role of technological change, urban agglomeration, and taxation for the composition of teams.
revised October 2020
Zhao, D., Chen, Y. & Shen, J.H., 2020. Mortgage Payments and Household Consumption in Urban China. Economic Modelling , 93 , pp. 100-111. Publisher's VersionAbstract

By exploiting variation both in mortgage payoffs and mortgage interest rate resets, we find that a decline in mortgage payments induces a significant increase in nondurable goods spending, even when households have substantial amounts of liquidity. Following mortgage payoff, households increase consumption expenditures by 61% of the original payment. In comparison, households increase consumption by only 36% in response to a transitory payment adjustment induced by interest rate changes. Households with a higher payment-to-income ratio have a significantly lower marginal propensity to consume (MPC). These results have practical implications for policy markers seeking to design consumption boosting policies and are important for understanding how changes in monetary policy may affect consumer spending patterns.

Knowledge Diffusion in the Network of International Business Travel
Coscia, M., Neffke, F. & Hausmann, R., 2020. Knowledge Diffusion in the Network of International Business Travel. Nature Human Behaviour , 4 (10). Publisher's VersionAbstract

We use aggregated and anonymized information based on international expenditures through corporate payment cards to map the network of global business travel. We combine this network with information on the industrial composition and export baskets of national economies. The business travel network helps to predict which economic activities will grow in a country, which new activities will develop and which old activities will be abandoned. In statistical terms, business travel has the most substantial impact among a range of bilateral relationships between countries, such as trade, foreign direct investments and migration. Moreover, our analysis suggests that this impact is causal: business travel from countries specializing in a specific industry causes growth in that economic activity in the destination country. Our interpretation of this is that business travel helps to diffuse knowledge, and we use our estimates to assess which countries contribute or benefit the most from the diffusion of knowledge through global business travel.

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Hausmann, R. & Schetter, U., 2020. Horrible Trade-offs in a Pandemic: Lockdowns, Transfers, Fiscal Space, and Compliance.Abstract

In this paper, we develop a heterogeneous agent general equilibrium framework to analyze optimal joint policies of a lockdown and transfer payments in times of a pandemic. In our model, the effectiveness of a lockdown in mitigating the pandemic depends on endogenous compliance. A more stringent lockdown deepens the recession which implies that poorer parts of society find it harder to subsist. This reduces their compliance with the lockdown, and may cause deprivation of the very poor, giving rise to an excruciating trade-off between saving lives from the pandemic and from deprivation. Lump-sum transfers help mitigate this trade-off. We identify and discuss key trade-offs involved and provide comparative statics for optimal policy. We show that, ceteris paribus, the optimal lockdown is stricter for more severe pandemics and in richer countries. We then consider a government borrowing constraint and show that limited fiscal space lowers the optimal lockdown and welfare, and increases the aggregate death burden during the pandemic. We finally discuss distributional consequences and the political economy of fighting a pandemic.

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