Why are there rich and poor countries? Symmetry-breaking in the world economy

Kiminori Matsuyama*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


To explain cross-country differences in economic performance, the economics of coordination failures typically portrays each country in a closed economy model with multiple equilibria and then argues that the Poor countries are in equilibria inferior to those achieved by the Rich. This approach cannot tell us anything about the degree of inequality in the world economy. A more satisfactory approach would be to build a world economy model and show why it has to be separated into the Rich and the Poor regions, i.e., to demonstrate the coexistence of the Rich and Poor as an inevitable aspect of the world trading system. In the present model, the symmetry-breaking of the world economy into the Rich and the Poor occurs because international trade causes agglomeration of different economic activities in different regions of the world. International trade thus creates a kind of pecking order among nations, and as in a game of musical chairs, some countries must be excluded from being Rich. J. Japan. Int. Econ., December 1996, 10(4), pp. 419-439. Department of Economics, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-439
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of The Japanese and International Economies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations


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