Richard Friberg, Frode Steen, Simen Ulsaker, 02 July 2019

Consumers often travel to neighbouring countries to shop at cheaper prices. This column uses sales data from a Norwegian grocery chain to examine how cross-border shopping into Sweden responds to changes in relative prices. It shows that the response to price changes is highest at some distance from the border, where consumers respond by reconsidering whether or not to travel abroad for their shopping.

Michael Keane, 26 May 2019

Launched in 2006, Medicare Part D allows beneficiaries to enrol in subsidised drug coverage plans sold by private insurers, but navigating the different plans can be complex and lead to sub-optimal choices. This column uses Medicare administrative data for 2006-2010 to understand the quality of consumer decision-making in the Part D marketplace. It finds that the vast majority of elderly place too much weight on premiums relative to out-of-pocket costs, care a great deal about the particular combination of plan features, and are highly likely to choose the same plan every year regardless of changes in prices and alternatives.

Giuseppe Berlingieri, Holger Breinlich, Swati Dhingra, 12 March 2018

There has been a surge in the number of trade agreements over the past two decades. This column investigates the impact of trade agreements implemented by the EU between 1993 and 2013 and asks how consumers benefit from such agreements. The evidence shows that trade agreements increased quality by 7% on average but did not affect prices or variety. This translates into a cumulative reduction in consumer prices of 0.24%, equivalent to savings of €24 billion per year for EU consumers. Higher-income EU countries enjoyed much stronger quality increases and larger overall consumer benefits.

Mary Amiti, Mi Dai, Robert Feenstra, John Romalis, 28 June 2017

China has become the world’s largest exporter, with a rapid rise in its world trade share just after it joined the WTO in 2001. This column finds that China’s WTO entry reduced the US manufacturing price index by 7.6% between 2000 and 2006, with most of this effect arising from China reducing its own import tariffs. US consumers gained because they paid less for manufactured goods and because they had access to more varieties of goods.

Jason Furman, Katheryn Russ, Jay Shambaugh, 12 January 2017

Tariffs – taxes on imported goods – likely impose a heavier burden on lower-income households, as these households generally spend more on traded goods as a share of expenditure/income and because of the higher level of tariffs placed on some key consumer goods. This column estimates the tariff burden by income group and by family structure using a new dataset constructed by matching of granular data on trade and consumer spending. The findings suggest that tariffs function as a regressive tax that weighs most heavily on women and single parents.

Javier Cravino, Andrei Levchenko, 23 November 2015

Large exchange rate swings remain a prominent and recurring feature of the world economy. This column uses household consumption patterns to examine the distributional impact of the devaluation of the peso during Mexico’s ‘Tequila Crisis’. Cost of living increases are found to be 1.25 to 1.6 times higher for the poor compared to the rich. In the interests of equity, exchange rate policy should take account of such distributional impacts.

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