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Are economic rents good for development? Evidence from the manufacturing sector

Daniel Schwab and Eric Werker

World Development, 2018, vol. 112, issue C, 33-45

Abstract: Are rents, or excess profits, good for development? Rents could induce firms to lobby or bribe governments to preserve the status quo; on the other hand, rents may promote growth by giving firms the needed funds to make investments in fixed capital or research and development. To test this question empirically, we use a panel of manufacturing data at the industry-country-year level, and measure rents by the mark-up ratio. We find that the relationship between rents and growth is strongly negative, with the results being primarily driven by the poorer countries (or those with worse institutions) in the sample. This result holds when we instrument for mark-up using the average mark-up in other industries in the country. Even in industries with high external financing needs and countries with less developed financial sectors, precisely the places where excess profits could be used to drive growth, we find that rents are especially harmful. Consistent with the rent-seeking mechanism we highlight, we find that high rents are associated with a slower reduction in tariffs. We also test for the most likely alternative mechanism, that higher rents cause slower growth through the channel of allowing managerial slack. We find that controlling for management has little impact on our estimate of the impact of mark-up on productivity growth.

Keywords: Firm performance; Rents; Competition; Manufacturing; Global; Developing countries (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: L25 O11 O14 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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