Faculty Working Papers

Hausmann, R., 2008. The Other Hand: High Bandwidth Development Policy.Abstract

Much of development policy has been based on the search for a short to do list that would get countries moving. In this paper I argue that economic activity requires a large and highly interacting set of public policies and services, which constitute inputs into the production process. This is reflected in the presence, in all countries, of hundreds of thousands of pages of legislation and hundreds of public agencies. Finding out what is the right mix of the public inputs, and more importantly, what is a valuable change from the current provision is as complex as determining what is the right mix of private provision of goods. In the latter case, economists agree that this process cannot be achieved through central planning and that the invisible hand of the market is the right approach, because it allows decisions to be made in a more decentralized manner with more information. I argue that a similar solution is required to deal with the complexity of the public policy mix.

Hausmann, R. & Klinger, B., 2006. Structural Transformation and Patterns of Comparative Advantage in the Product Space.Abstract

In this paper we examine the product space and its consequences for the process of structural transformation. We argue that the assets and capabilities needed to produce one good are imperfect substitutes for those needed to produce other goods, but the degree of asset specificity varies widely. Given this, the speed of structural transformation will depend on the density of the product space near the area where each country has developed its comparative advantage. While this space is traditionally assumed to be smooth and continuous, we find that in fact it is very heterogeneous, with some areas being very dense and others quite sparse. We develop a measure of revealed proximity between products using comparative advantage in order to map this space, and then show that its heterogeneity is not without consequence. The speed at which countries can transform their productive structure and upgrade their exports depends on having a path to nearby goods that are increasingly of higher value.

Hidalgo, C.A. & Hausmann, R., 2009. The Building Blocks of Economic Complexity.Abstract

For Adam Smith, wealth was related to the division of labor. As people and firms specialize in different activities, economic efficiency increases, suggesting that development is associated with an increase in the number of individual activities and with the complexity that emerges from the interactions between them. Here we develop a view of economic growth and development that gives a central role to the complexity of a country's economy by interpreting trade data as a bipartite network in which countries are connected to the products they export, and show that it is possible to quantify the complexity of a country's economy by characterizing the structure of this network. Furthermore, we show that the measures of complexity we derive are correlated with a country's level of income, and that deviations from this relationship are predictive of future growth. This suggests that countries tend to converge to the level of income dictated by the complexity of their productive structures, indicating that development efforts should focus on generating the conditions that would allow complexity to emerge in order to generate sustained growth and prosperity.

Hausmann, R. & Klinger, B., 2008. Growth Diagnostics in Peru.Abstract

This paper presents a growth diagnostic of Peru. It notes that although Peru has recently enjoyed high rates of economic growth, this growth is actually a recovery from a significant and sustained growth collapse that began in the 1970s. The growth collapse was caused by a decline in export earnings due to the fall in international prices and an inadequate investment regime in export activities that led to a fall in market share. This situation led to collateral damage in the form of a balance of payments, fiscal and financial crisis, accompanied by hyperinflation and violence, but these aspects were corrected in the 1990s. However, the transformation of the export sector has been surprisingly small: the same activities that declined – mining and energy – are the ones that are leading the current recovery in exports to levels that in real per capita terms are similar to those achieved 30 years ago. We argue that the lack of structural transformation is associated with Peru’s position in a poorly connected part of the product space and this accentuates coordination failures in the movement to new activities. In addition, Peru’s current export package, is very capital intensive and generates few jobs, especially in urban areas where the bulk of the labor force is now located. This limits the welfare benefits of the current growth path. The key policy message is that the public sector must act to encourage the development of new export activities that better utilize the human resources of the country. This involves action on the macro front to achieve a more competitive real exchange rate, improvements in the capacity to solve coordination failures in the provision of specific public sector inputs and programs to stimulate investment in new tradable activities.

Diwan, I., 2012. A Rational Framework for the Understanding of the Arab Revolutions.Abstract

The paper argues that demise of the autocratic bargain in the Arab world, ushered by the uprisings of 2010-11, has been driven by a split in the ruling class. The bargain authoritarians struck with their societies in the recent decade is best characterized as a repressive regime that relied on a narrow elite base. The paper explores the dynamic factors that have affected this bargain over time, and in particular, the increased autonomy of the middle class, the rise of crony capitalism, the increased popularity of Political Islam among the middle class, and the "indignities" associated with unpopular foreign alliances. The recent political changes are interpreted as the moment when the middle class, traditionally allied with the autocrats, and affected by these latent pull and push factors, preferred to "tip" its support to a transition towards a democratic settlement. The 3-player model I develop is shown to explain the characteristics of the ongoing Arab Spring and of the key future challenges facing the region better than the classical autocratic bargain model.

Kremer, M. & Snyder, C., 2013. When is Prevention More Profitable than Cure? The Impact of Time-Varying Consumer Heterogeneity.Abstract

We argue that in pharmaceutical markets, variation in the arrival time of consumer heterogeneity creates differences between a producer’s ability to extract consumer surplus with preventives and treatments, potentially distorting R&D decisions. If consumers vary only in disease risk, revenue from treatments—sold after the disease is contracted, when disease risk is no longer a source of private information—always exceeds revenue from preventives. The revenue ratio can be arbitrarily high for sufficiently skewed distributions of disease risk. Under some circumstances, heterogeneity in harm from a disease, learned after a disease is contracted, can lead revenue from a treatment to exceed revenue from a preventative. Calibrations suggest that skewness in the U.S. distribution of HIV risk would lead firms to earn only half the revenue from a vaccine as from a drug. Empirical tests are consistent with the predictions of the model that vaccines are less likely to be developed for diseases with substantial disease-risk heterogeneity.

Hausmann, R., et al., 2014. Implied Comparative Advantage. CID Working Paper , 276.Abstract

The comparative advantage of a location shapes its industrial structure. Current theoretical models based on this principle do not take a stance on how comparative advantages in different industries or locations are related with each other, or what such patterns of relatedness might imply about the underlying process that governs the evolution of comparative advantage. We build a simple Ricardian-inspired model and show this hidden information on inter-industry and inter-location relatedness can be captured by simple correlations between the observed patterns of industries across locations or locations across industries. Using the information from related industries or related locations, we calculate the implied comparative advantage and show that this measure explains much of the location’s current industrial structure. We give evidence that these patterns are present in a wide variety of contexts, namely the export of goods (internationally) and the employment, payroll and number of establishments across the industries of subnational regions (in the US, Chile and India). The deviations between the observed and implied comparative advantage measures tend to be highly predictive of future industry growth, especially at horizons of a decade or more; this explanatory power holds at both the intensive as well as the extensive margin. These results suggest that a component of the long-term evolution of comparative advantage is already implied in today’s patterns of production.

Revised July 2020.
Bahar, D., Hausmann, R. & Hidalgo, C., 2012. Neighbors and the Evolution of the Comparative Advantage of Nations: Evidence of International Knowledge Diffusion?.Abstract

The literature on knowledge diffusion shows that it decays strongly with distance. In this paper we document that the probability that a product is added to a country’s export basket is, on average, 65% larger if a neighboring country is a successful exporter of that same product. For existing products, having a neighbor with comparative advantage in them is associated with a growth of exports that is higher by 1.5 percent per annum. While these results could be driven by a common third factor that escapes our controls, they are what would be expected from the localized character of knowledge diffusion.

Ashraf, Q.H., Weil, D.N. & Wilde, J., 2012. The Effect of Fertility Reduction on Economic Growth.Abstract

We assess quantitatively the effect of exogenous reductions in fertility on output per capita. Our simulation model allows for effects that run through schooling, the size and age structure of the population, capital accumulation, parental time input into child-rearing, and crowding of fixed natural resources. The model is parameterized using a combination of microeconomic estimates, data on demographics and natural resource income in developing countries, and standard components of quantitative macroeconomic theory. We apply the model to examine the effect of a change in fertility from the UN medium-variant to the UN low-variant projection, using Nigerian vital rates as a baseline. For a base case set of parameters, we find that such a change would raise output per capita by 5.6 percent at a horizon of 20 years, and by 11.9 percent at a horizon of 50 years.

Pritchett, L. & Viarengo, M., 2013. The State, Socialization, and Private Schooling: When Will Governments Support Alternative Producers?.Abstract

Understanding the institutional features that can improve learning outcomes and reduce inequality is a top priority for international and development organizations around the world. Economists appear to have a good case for support to non-governmental alternatives as suppliers of schooling. However, unlike other policy domains, freer international trade or privatization, economists have been remarkably unsuccessful in promoting the adoption of this idea. We develop a simple general positive model of why governments typically produce schooling which introduces the key notion of the lack of verifiability of socialization and instruction of beliefs, which makes third party contracting for socialization problematic. We use the model to explain variations around the world in levels of private schooling. We also predict the circumstances in which efforts to promote the different alternatives to government production – like charter, voucher, and scholarship - are likely to be successful.

Frankel, J., 2012. The Natural Resource Curse: A Survey of Diagnoses and Some Prescriptions.Abstract

Countries with oil, mineral or other natural resource wealth, on average, have failed to show better economic performance than those without, often because of undesirable side effects. This is the phenomenon known as the Natural Resource Curse. This paper reviews the literature, classified according to six channels of causation that have been proposed. The possible channels are: (i) long-term trends in world prices, (ii) price volatility, (iii) permanent crowding out of manufacturing, (iv) autocratic/oligarchic institutions, (v) anarchic institutions, and (vi) cyclical Dutch Disease. With the exception of the first channel – the long-term trend in commodity prices does not appear to be downward – each of the other channels is an important part of the phenomenon. Skeptics have questioned the Natural Resource Curse, pointing to examples of commodity-exporting countries that have done well and arguing that resource exports and booms are not exogenous. The relevant policy question for a country with natural resources is how to make the best of them.

Frankel, J.A., Vegh, C.A. & Vuletin, G., 2012. On Graduation from Fiscal Procyclicality.Abstract

In the past, industrial countries have tended to pursue countercyclical or, at worst, acyclical fiscal policy. In sharp contrast, emerging and developing countries have followed procyclical fiscal policy, thus exacerbating the underlying business cycle. We show that, over the last decade, about a third of the developing world has been able to escape the procyclicality trap and actually become countercyclical. We then focus on the role played by the quality of institutions, which appears to be a key determinant of a country's ability to graduate. We show that, even after controlling for the endogeneity of institutions and other determinants of fiscal procyclicality, there is a causal link running from stronger institutions to less procyclical or more countercyclical fiscal policy.

Pritchett, L. & Kenny, C., 2013. Promoting Millennium Development Ideals: The Risks of Defining Development Down.Abstract

The approach of 2015, the target date of the Millennium Development Goals, sets the stage for a global reengagement on the question of "what is development?" We argue that the post-2015 development framework for development should include Millennium Development Ideals which put into measurable form the high aspirations countries have for the well-being of their citizens. Standing alone, low bar targets like the existing Millennium Development Goals "define development down" and put at risk both domestic and global coalitions to support to an inclusive development agenda. Measuring development progress exclusively by low bar targets creates the illusion that specific targeted programs can be an adequate substitute for a broad national and global development agenda.

Torres, R.C., 2012. Capital and Labor Mobility and the Size of Sub-national Governments: Evidence from a Panel of Mexican States.Abstract

We examine in this paper the relation between government size and capital and labor openness employing a panel of the 32 Mexican states over the period 1996-2006. Making use of two alternative measures of capital and labor openness and employing several alternative econometric specifications, we first find systematic positive effects of our openness measures on the size of the states’ total government spending. Thereafter, we break down total government expenditure and focus on three subcategories of spending associated with social welfare: education, health and poverty alleviation programs. We find that FDI flows, our proxy for capital openness, are not significant determinants of the state’s social spending, but labor openness, in the form of international migration, has a significant and even greater impact on some of the aforementioned categories than on total spending.

Klimek, P., Hausmann, R. & Thurner, S., 2012. Empirical Confirmation of Creative Destruction from World Trade Data.Abstract

We show that world trade network datasets contain empirical evidence that the dynamics of innovation in the world economy follows indeed the concept of creative destruction, as proposed by J.A. Schumpeter more than half a century ago. National economies can be viewed as complex, evolving systems, driven by a stream of appearance and disappearance of goods and services. Products appear in bursts of creative cascades. We find that products systematically tend to co-appear, and that product appearances lead to massive disappearance events of existing products in the following years. The opposite – disappearances followed by periods of appearances – is not observed. This is an empirical validation of the dominance of cascading competitive replacement events on the scale of national economies, i.e. creative destruction. We find a tendency that more complex products drive out less complex ones, i.e. progress has a direction. Finally we show that the growth trajectory of a country’s product output diversity can be understood by a recently proposed evolutionary model of Schumpeterian economic dynamics.