This article reviews interrelated power-law phenomena in geography and trade. Given the empirical evidence on the gravity equation in trade flows across countries and regions, its theoretical underpinnings are reviewed. The gravity equation amounts to saying that trade flows follow a power law in distance (or geographic barriers). It is concluded that in the environment with firm heterogeneity, the power law in firm size is the key condition for the gravity equation to arise. A distribution is said to follow a power law if its tail probability follows a power function in the distribution’s right tail. The second part of this article reviews the literature that provides the microfoundation for the power law in firm size and reviews how this power law (in firm size) may be related to the power laws in other distributions (in incomes, firm productivity and city size).
Pao-Li Chang and Wen-Tai Hsu
Scott Baier and Samuel Standaert
The gravity model of international trade states that the volume of trade between two countries is proportional to their economic mass and a measure of their relative trade frictions. Perhaps because of its intuitive appeal, the gravity model has been the workhorse model of international trade for more than 50 years. While the initial empirical work using the gravity model lacked sound theoretical underpinnings, the theoretical developments have highlighted how a gravity-like specification can be derived from many models with varying assumptions about preferences, technology, and market structure. Along the strengthening of the theoretical roots of the gravity model, the way in which it is estimated has also evolved significantly since the start of the new millennium. Depending on the exact characteristics of regression, different estimation methods should be used to estimate the gravity model.