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Relative Prices, Hysteresis, and the Decline of American Manufacturing

Campbell, Douglas L. (2013): Relative Prices, Hysteresis, and the Decline of American Manufacturing.

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This study uses new measures of real exchange rates to study the collapse of US manufacturing employment in the early 2000s in historical and international perspective. To identify a causal impact of RER movements on manufacturing, I compare the US experience in the early 2000s to the 1980s, when large US fiscal deficits led to a sharp appreciation in the dollar, and to Canada's experience in mid-2000s, when high oil prices and a falling US dollar led to an equally sharp appreciation of the Canadian dollar. I use disaggregated sectoral data and a difference-in-difference methodology, finding that an appreciation in relative unit labor costs for the US lead to disproportionate declines in employment, output, investment, and productivity in relatively more open manufacturing sectors. In addition, I find that the impact of a temporary shock to real exchange rates is surprisingly long-lived. I explain the persistent effects of exchange rate movements on manufacturing using a Melitz model extension with sunk fixed costs, which leads to a dynamic gravity equation whereby shocks to trade have persistent effects that decay over time. The appreciation of US relative unit labor costs can plausibly explain more than two-thirds of the decline in manufacturing employment in the early 2000s.

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