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The Consumption Response to Trade Shocks: Evidence from the US-China Trade War

NBER 2019.11.11
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This paper provides evidence on the consumption effects of trade shocks by exploiting changes in US and Chinese trade policy between 2017 and 2018. The analysis uses a unique data set with the universe of new auto sales at the US county level, at a monthly frequency, and a simple difference-in-difference approach to measure the effect of changes in trade policy on county-level consumption. As a lower bound, I estimate the elasticity of consumption growth to Chinese retaliatory tariffs to be around ?1. This implies that counties in the upper quartile of the retaliatory-tariff distribution experienced a 3.8 percentage point decline in consumption growth. I further show that the consumption response corresponds with a decline in employment growth. These results suggest that Chinese retaliation is leading to concentrated welfare losses in the US.

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