Partisan Cycles in Offshore Outsourcing: Evidence from U.S. Imports
29 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2016
Date Written: November 2016
The wage and employment effects of offshoring roil politics in the United States and around the world. Firms that offshore either outsource their activities to unaffiliated businesses, or internalize production by establishing subsidiaries from which they import intrafirm. We argue that the political environment in trade partner countries influences U.S. offshoring patterns in ways that have been ignored in the extant literature. Drawing on the political business cycle literature, we expect higher production costs and lower profits for firms in capital (labor) intensive sectors when the Left (Right) is in power. These partisan cycles, in turn, shape the sectoral composition of exports from the partner to the United States, and the degree to which trade is conducted intrafirm. Under a Left‐ (Right‐) leaning government in a partner country, U.S. intrafirm imports of capital‐ (labor‐) goods increase relative to total imports in these industries. Examining highly disaggregated U.S. import data, we find strong support for our argument. Our results indicate that the effect of partisan governments on offshore outsourcing depends on factor intensities of production, which vary across industries. The degree of internalization in global sourcing is shaped in part by the distributional objectives of partisan governments, and not by economic factors alone.
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