Structural Transformation and Patterns of Comparative Advantage in the Product Space*

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 128

Ricardo Hausmann and Bailey Klinger
August 2006


In this paper we examine the product space and its consequences for the process of structural transformation. We argue that the assets and capabilities needed to produce one good are imperfect substitutes for those needed to produce other goods, but the degree of asset specificity varies widely. Given this, the speed of structural transformation will depend on the density of the product space near the area where each country has developed its comparative advantage. While this space is traditionally assumed to be smooth and continuous, we find that in fact it is very heterogeneous, with some areas being very dense and others quite sparse. We develop a measure of revealed proximity between products using comparative advantage in order to map this space, and then show that its heterogeneity is not without consequence. The speed at which countries can transform their productive structure and upgrade their exports depends on having a path to nearby goods that are increasingly of higher value.

Keywords: structural transformation, discovery, technological change

JEL subject codes: F19, O14, O33, O40

*This paper has been shortened and revised into CID Working Paper No. 146, The Structure of the Product Space and the Evolution of Comparative Advantage.