Why Are There Rich and Poor Countries? Symmetry-Breaking in the World Economy

Kiminori Matsuyama

NBER Working Paper No. 5697
Issued in August 1996
NBER Program(s):International Trade and Investment

To explain cross-country differences in economic performance, the economics of coordination failures typically portrays each country in a closed economy model with multiple equilibria and then argues that the poor countries are in an equilibrium inferior to those achieved by the rich. This approach cannot tell us anything about the degree of inequality in the world economy. A more satisfactory approach would be to build a world economy model and show why it has to be separated into the rich and the poor regions, i.e., to demonstrate the co-existence of the rich and poor as an inevitable aspect of the world trading system. In the present model, the symmetry-breaking of the world economy into the rich and the poor occurs because international trade causes agglomeration of different economic activities in different regions of the world. International trade thus creates a kind of pecking order among nations, and as in a game of musical chairs, some countries must be excluded from being rich.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5697

Published: Matsuyama, Kiminori, 1996. "Why Are There Rich and Poor Countries? Symmetry-Breaking in the World Economy," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 419-439, December. citation courtesy of

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