The Dynamics of Economic Complexity and the Product Space over a 42 year period

CID Working Paper No. 189

César A. Hidalgo
December, 2009


How does the productive structure of countries' changes over time? In this paper we explore this question by combining techniques of networks science with 42 years of trade data and find that, while the Product Space remains relatively stable during this period, the dynamics of countries' productive structures is characterized by a few highly dynamic economies. In particular we identify Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, Singapore and China, as countries that transformed their productive structures considerably during these four decades, albeit following different trajectories. For instance, the economic complexity of Korea, Singapore and China was relatively high at the beginning of the observation period and continued to increase during these forty two years, moving these countries into the top spots of the economic complexity rankings for the beginning of this millennium. Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey, on the other hand, transformed their productive structures significantly during the same period of time, but did so starting from a less sophisticated foundation. We conclude the paper by moving from this and other observations into the policy implications of this view of economic development and argue that the government involvement in the private sector should be to help catalyze market activities and solve coordination problems that emerge naturally when countries try to accumulate capabilities. This represents an alternative to more traditional views of the role of government that postulate, in their extremes, that the public sector should either have no involvement in private sector activities or, on the other hand, substantial ownership of the means of production.

Keywords: Economic Complexity, Capabilities, Networks, Product Space, Structural Transformation, Economic Development

JEL codes: O11, O14, O33, O57, F43, F47