We build an equilibrium model of a small open economy with labor market frictions and imperfectly enforced regulations. Heterogeneous ﬁrms sort into the formal or informal sector. We estimate the model using data from Brazil, and use counterfactual simulations to understand how trade affects economic outcomes in the presence of informality. We show that: (1) Trade openness unambiguously decreases informality in the tradable sector, but has ambiguous effects on aggregate informality. (2) The productivity gains from trade are understated when the informal sector is omitted. (3) Trade openness results in large welfare gains even when informality is repressed. (4) Repressing informality increases productivity, but at the expense of employment and welfare. (5) The effects of trade on wage inequality are reversed when the informal sector is incorporated in the analysis. (6) The informal sector works as an “unemployment,” but not a “welfare buffer” in the event of negative economic shocks.
(Contributors: D. Autor, A. Costinot, R. Feenstra, G. Hanson, E. Helpman, N. Pavcnik, S. Redding, P. Topalova, E. Verhoogen, A. Wood)
This volume brings together the most influential theoretical and empirical contributions to the topic of trade and inequality from recent years. Segregating it into four key areas, the collection forms a comprehensive study of the subject, targeted at academic readers familiar with the main trade models and empirical methods used in economics. The ﬁrst two parts cover empirical evidence on trade and inequality in developed and developing countries, while the third and fourth sections confront transition dynamics following trade liberalization and new theoretical contributions inspired by the previously-discussed empirical evidence, respectively.