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Patterns of specialization and economic complexity through the lens of universal exhibitions, 1855-1900

Giacomo Domini

Explorations in Economic History, 2022, vol. 83, issue C

Abstract: The complexity of a country's product mix is related to its economic growth. This paper extends this key insight from the economic growth literature to the second half of the 19th century, by reconstructing Revealed Comparative Advantages (RCA) and Economic Complexity Indices (ECI) for tens of polities, including both independent countries and colonies. It does so by exploiting product-polity information from the catalogues of five universal exhibitions, held in Paris in the second half of the 19th century (1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, 1900). For this period, exhibition data are available at a more disaggregated level than export data, on which RCA and ECI are typically based. This is the first application of ECI to the pre-Second World War era. A significant relation is observed between ECI, the level of GDP per capita, and the latter's long-run growth. Furthermore, the evolution of RCA and ECI reveals processes of structural change and economic development, notably the emergence of Germany and Switzerland, which developed along the technological paradigms of the second industrial revolution and thus attained positions of technological and economic primacy.

Keywords: Patterns of specialization; Revealed comparative advantage; Economic complexity index; Long-run growth; Universal exhibitions (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: F14 F43 N10 O10 O47 O57 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2021.101421

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