Douglas Irwin, Maksym Chepeliev, 09 December 2020

The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 was a significant policy change that led the move to freer trade by Britain. This column assesses the impact of the repeal using a new general equilibrium framework and input-output data from 1841. The aggregate welfare effects of the policy change were negligible, due to an offsetting terms-of-trade impact and static efficiency gains. However, there were notable distributional consequences, as the welfare of the top 10% of income earners declined while the bottom 90% benefited. In line with recent findings, the move to free trade was thus a progressive ‘pro-poor’ policy. 

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