NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Firm Entry, Trade, and Welfare in Zipf's World

Julian di Giovanni, Andrei A. Levchenko

NBER Working Paper No. 16313
Issued in August 2010
NBER Program(s):   IFM   ITI

Firm size follows Zipf's Law, a very fat-tailed distribution that implies a few large firms account for a disproportionate share of overall economic activity. This distribution of firm size is crucial for evaluating the welfare impact of economic policies such as barriers to entry or trade liberalization. Using a multi-country model of production and trade calibrated to the observed distribution of firm size, we show that the welfare impact of high entry costs is small. In the sample of the largest 50 economies in the world, a reduction in entry costs all the way to the U.S. level leads to an average increase in welfare of only 3.25%. In addition, when the firm size distribution follows Zipf's Law, the welfare impact of the extensive margin of trade -- newly imported goods -- is negligible. The extensive margin of imports accounts for only about 5.2% of the total gains from a 10% reduction in trade barriers in our model. This is because under Zipf's Law, the large, infra-marginal firms have a far greater welfare impact than the much smaller firms that comprise the extensive margin in these policy experiments. The distribution of firm size matters for these results: in a counterfactual model economy that does not exhibit Zipf's Law the gains from a reduction in fixed entry barriers are an order of magnitude larger, while the gains from a reduction in variable trade costs are an order of magnitude smaller.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16313

Published: di Giovanni, Julian & Levchenko, Andrei A., 2013. "Firm entry, trade, and welfare in Zipf's world," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(2), pages 283-296.

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