Thursday, 4 May 2017

Comparative Advantage With Labour Inflexibility



My last post adapted Ricardo's model of comparative advantage to include internationally mobile capital.  However, what I think is much more important is the ability of labour to be redeployed between industries when production patterns are disrupted by trade liberalisation.

So I thought I'd have a go at a version of Ricardo's model that included just that.


The Model

There are two countries: England and Portugal, and three goods: wine, cloth and cars.  Each country consumes all three goods and can produce all three.  Each country has its own currency. 

Labour is the only factor input and there are constant returns to scale.  Prices are set at a fixed mark-up to unit cost, with the same mark-up in both countries and all industries.  Within each country, a single fixed nominal wage applies to all industries.  (For simplicity, the nominal wage per unit of labour, grossed up for the mark-up, is set here at one unit of the local currency, so the price of local produce is simply equal to the requisite labour input.)

Labour cannot move between countries.  Within a country, labour can generally be redeployed between different industries, with the single exception that labour currently employed in car production cannot be redeployed to wine or cloth production.  The number of labour units required to produce one unit of goods varies between industry and country as follows:


Wine
Cloth
Cars
England
1.00
1.00
1.00
Portugal
0.80
0.90
0.95


There is free trade in wine and cloth but (at least, initially) no trade in cars.  In each case of wine, cloth and cars, Portugese made versions are perfect substitutes for English made ones and there are no transport costs so, where there is free trade,  everyone just buys the cheapest.  However, wine, cloth and cars are imperfect substitutes for each other with a constant elasticity of substitution.  All income is spent currently on consumption, with a weighting in both countries of 0.45 on each of wine and cloth and 0.10 on cars.  The exact specification of consumer spending is given in the technical note at the end of the post.

As there is no saving, trade must be balanced, which is achieved by a variable exchange rate.

(To get the numbers to show what I want, I have assumed a slightly higher labour supply in England than Portugal.)


1. No International Trade in Cars

Because of the comparative advantages in wine and cloth, England ends up importing all its wine and Portugal all its cloth.  Both countries produce their own cars.


England




Portugal




Wine
Cloth
Cars
Total

Wine
Cloth
Cars
Total










Labour
0
1,081
119
1,200

913
0
87
1,000




















Goods









Produced
0
1,081
119


1,142
0
91

Traded
563
-548
0


-563
548
0

Consumed
563
533
119


579
548
91





















Expenditure









Domestic
548
533
119
1,200

463
450
87
1,000
Exports

548
0
548

450


450
Imports
-548


-548


-450
0
-450
Income
0
1,081
119
1,200

913
0
87
1,000




















Prices
Wine
Cloth
Cars
Index

Wine
Cloth
Cars
Index
Domestic
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000

0.800
0.900
0.950
0.856
Import
0.973
1.095
n/a


0.822
0.822
n/a

Consumer
0.973
1.000
1.000
0.988

0.800
0.822
0.950
0.823




















Exchange rate (£/€)
1.217









Expenditure and prices are shown in the local currency.

The domestic producer prices shown are the prices that would be paid for domestically produced product, even though there is no actual production in industries with import penetration.  The index for these prices is weighted by consumption preference, so it is the price index that would apply with no trade.  This is higher for both countries than the actual consumer price index, showing that the trade in wine and cloth benefits both nations.

The nominal wage (expressed in the local currency) is the same in each country, so the fact that the consumer price index is higher in England implies that real wages are lower in England than Portugal.


2 After Trade Liberalisation in Cars

At the prevailing exchange rate, England can produce cars more cheaply than Portugal.  This means that Portugal starts to import cars and closes down its own production.  By assumption, these workers cannot be employed elsewhere, so overall income in Portugal is reduced.  This reduces demand for cloth imports but, because of the additional import of cars, demand for foreign exchange is increased overall.  This causes the exchange rate to change, worsening the terms of trade for Portugal (making Portugese cars cheaper but still not as cheap as English ones).


England




Portugal




Wine
Cloth
Cars
Total

Wine
Cloth
Cars
Total










Labour
0
982
218
1,200

913
0
0
913




















Goods









Produced
0
982
218


1,142
0
0

Traded
607
-460
-102


-607
460
102

Consumed
607
522
116


535
460
102





















Expenditure









Domestic
562
522
116
1,200

428
397
88
913
Exports

460
102
562

485


485
Imports
-562


-562


-397
-88
-485
Income
0
982
218
1,200

913
0
0
913




















Prices
Wine
Cloth
Cars
Index

Wine
Cloth
Cars
Index
Domestic
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000

0.800
0.900
0.950
0.856
Import
0.927
1.043
1.101


0.863
0.863
0.863

Consumer
0.927
1.000
1.000
0.966

0.800
0.863
0.863
0.833




















Exchange rate (£/€)
1.159









England responds to falling cloth exports by redeploying labour to production of more cars.


Conclusions

The main result here is that, if trade liberalisation results in job losses and those workers cannot be employed elsewhere, then overall output will be impaired.  This is perhaps not entirely surprising.  But there are some more interesting points here:

Trade liberalisation results in production of cars switching to England even though Portugal can produce cars with fewer labour units and thus has an absolute advantage in car production.  The reason is that English wages are lower when expressed in a common currency.  The lower wage offsets the less efficient production (less efficient in an absolute sense, not a comparative one).

In this example trade liberalisation in car production not only results in unemployment for Portugese car workers, but actually reduces the real wages of Portugese wine workers.  This is because the increased demand for imports worsens the terms of trade.  Although they can now buy cheap imported cars, cloth has become more expensive.  Everyone in Portugal has lost out.

The same is true here even if we relax the assumption that Portugese car workers cannot be employed in other industries.  As a natural importer of cars, Portugal benefits when international trade in cars is restricted, even though that means that cars are more expensive there.  However, it is still better off than if there were no trade at all.

Reducing the nominal wage in Portugal makes no difference, as it simply leads to an offsetting exchange rate movement.  However, relative wages between industries do matter.  I have assumed that the same wage applies across industries, so that wages for Portugese car workers remain the same as for wine workers, even when they cannot be employed elsewhere.  If they were to fall (relatively), then Portugese car production could be preserved.

This change in relative wages is what standard economics says should happen.  It all comes down to opportunity cost.  The opportunity cost of Portugese car production is in fact zero, because the car workers have no alternative use.  Portugese car production is lost, because the cost to producers does not reflect the true opportunity cost.

Although trade liberalisation in the car industry is damaging in this example, that does not imply that introducing measures to restrict existing trade will be beneficial.  In fact any such measures would reduce welfare here.  If we extend the assumption on labour inflexibility, then such measures may be even more damaging as workers made unemployed from exporting industries might not be employed elsewhere.  It is the fact of change that matters here, not whether it is liberalisation or protectionism.

However, being able to adapt to change is crucial to an economy's ability to develop and grow.  Even without trade, progress involves old products and procedures dying out and being replaced.  Job losses and job creation is an inevitable part of that.  Whilst there is a strong case for factoring in the dynamic consequences of trade liberalisation, that cannot be an excuse for avoiding the need for flexibility, if an economy is to secure long-term growth.


Technical Note

Consumption of good i in each country is given by  

Ci = ai . (Pi / P ) . Y / P

where: ai is the weighting,  Ci is number of units consumed, Pi is the price of good, Y is nominal income and P is the price index, which is given by:

P = { sum for i [ ai . pi(1-σ) ] }1/(1-σ)


σ is the price elasticity of demand, set at 2 for both countries.