Reconciling observed tariffs and the median voter model
Median voter theory applied to trade policy predicts positive tariffs in capital-abundant countries and negative tariffs in labor-abundant countries. Negative tariffs are rare, and this paper reconciles the median voter theory with observed protectionism across countries. By considering large countries, I show the optimal tariff is a sum of the median voter component and a positive in terms of trade component. Positive terms of trade effects raise tariffs in all countries, and can overcome the negative median voter component in labor-abundant countries. Testing the tariff prediction with cross-section and panel data from the 1990s, I show the median voter component is negative in labor-abundant countries and positive in capital-abundant countries. As expected, terms of trade effects raise tariffs across all countries and are stronger among non-members of the WTO.
15 July 2014 Paper Number CEPDP1285
This CEP discussion paper is published under the centre's Trade programme.