Monday, June 6, 2011

Shortsightedness and tariffs

International trade theory is in large part about optimal trade theory, yet it is incapable to explain the observed level of tariffs. While under rather general circumstances theory will tell you that zero tariffs will improve general welfare, once you take into account that governments threaten and negotiate in a Nash equilibrium, tariffs should be at about 30%. They are generally far below that. It is a big challenge to explain the difference.

Mario Larch and Wolfgang Lechthaler argue that all that is needed is for trade theory to finally catch up with the rest of economics and use some dynamics. Specifically, transform the problem into a dynamic Nash equilibrium, take into account transition paths, and you get some realistic numbers if you assume that the negotiating politicians are short-sighted, which is certainly not far from the truth. This is important because the various transitional effect of a tariff change take different times. Indeed a decrease in tariffs has a faster and positive impact on consumption through an immediate increase in consumption. A counter-effect through the closing of inefficient firms takes much longer. Impatient politicians discount heavily the latter.

No comments: