New Trade Theory - The Theory's Impact

The Theory's Impact

Although there was nothing particularly 'new' about the idea of protecting 'infant industries' (an idea offered in theory since the 18th century, and in trade policy since the 1880s) what was new in "new trade theory" was the rigour of the mathematical economics used to model the increasing returns to scale, and especially the use of the network effect to argue that the formation of important industries was path dependent in a way which industrial planning and judicious tariffs might control.

The models developed were highly technical, and predicted the possibilities of national specialization-by-industry observed in the industrial world (movies in Hollywood, watches in Switzerland, etc.). The story of path-dependent industrial concentrations can sometime lead to monopolistic competition or even situations of oligopoly.

Some economists, such as Ha-Joon Chang, had argued that free trade would have prevented the development of the Japanese auto industries in the 1950s, when quotas and regulations prevented import competition. Japanese companies were encouraged to import foreign production technology but were required to produce 90% of parts domestically within five years. It is said that the short-term hardship of Japanese consumers (who were unable to buy the superior vehicles produced by the world market) was more than compensated for by the long-term benefits to producers, who gained time to out-compete their international rivals.

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