Discussion Paper Details

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Title: The Effect of Trade on the Demand for Skill - Evidence from the Interstate Highway System

Author(s): Guy Michaels

Publication Date: January 2007

Keyword(s): highways, skill premium and trade

Programme Area(s): Development Economics

Abstract: Since changes in trade openness are typically confounded with other factors, it has been difficult to identify the labour market consequences of increased international trade. The advent of the United States Interstate Highway System provides a unique policy experiment, which I use to identify the effect of reducing trade barriers on the relative demand for skilled labour. The Interstate Highway System was designed to connect major metropolitan areas, to serve national defence and to connect the United States to Canada and Mexico. As a consequence - though not an objective - many rural counties were also connected to the highway system. I find that these counties experienced an increase in trade-related activities, such as trucking and retail sales, by 7-10 percentage points per capita. Most significantly, by increasing trade the highways raised the relative demand for skilled manufacturing workers in counties with a high endowment of human capital and reduced it elsewhere, consistent with the predictions of the Heckscher-Ohlin model.

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Bibliographic Reference

Michaels, G. 2007. 'The Effect of Trade on the Demand for Skill - Evidence from the Interstate Highway System'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research.