Matilde Bombardini

Associate Professor
Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), Fellow
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), Research Associate
Canadian Journal of Economics, Co-Editor

I am an Associate Professor in the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia, a Fellow in the Institutions, Organizations and Growth Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, a Research Associate in the Political Economy Program of the National Bureau of Economic Analysis and Co-Editor of the Canadian Journal of Economics.

My research covers various aspects of International Trade and Political Economy. In particular I have worked on the link between skill distribution and comparative advantage, the lobbying decision of firms and the behavior of lobbyists.

I obtained my PhD in 2005 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and my undergraduate degree from the University of Bologna in Italy.

Please click on paper titles for abstracts and full text downloads.


The structure of protection across sectors has been interpreted as the result of competition among lobbies to influence politicians, but lobbies have been treated as unitary decision makers and little attention has been devoted to the importance of individual firms in this process. This paper builds a model where individual firms determine the amount of resources to allocate to political contributions and shows that, in the presence of a fixed cost of channeling political contributions, it is efficient for a lobby to be formed by the largest firms in a sector. Therefore the size distribution of firms plays an important role: sectors with a higher share of firms above a given size exhibit higher intensity of political activity. This prediction is borne out by the data: industries characterized by higher firm size dispersion obtain a higher level of protection. The model is also tested against the leading "Protection for Sale" paradigm, employing a newly matched data set on firm-level political contributions. The empirical evidence shows that, accounting for individual firm behavior, the model explains a larger fraction of the variation of protection across sectors.

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This paper investigates the relationship between the size of interest groups in terms of voter representation and the interest group’s campaign contributions to politicians. We uncover a robust hump-shaped relationship between the voting share of an interest group and its contributions to a legislator. This pattern is rationalized in a simultaneous bilateral bargaining model where the larger size of an interest group affects the amount of surplus to be split with the politician (thereby increasing contributions), but is also correlated with the strength of direct voter support the group can offer instead of monetary funds (thereby decreasing contributions). The model yields simple structural equations that we estimate at the district level employing data on individual and PAC donations and local employment by sector. This procedure yields estimates of electoral uncertainty and politicians effectiveness as perceived by the interest groups. Our approach also implicitly delivers a novel method for estimating the impact of campaign spending on election outcomes: we find that an additional vote costs a politician on average 145 dollars.

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This paper develops and empirically examines a model of relative productivity differences both within and across industries for small open economies. We decompose the e ffect of industry productivity on export performance into direct e ffect of own firm productivity and an indirect eff ect of higher peer firm productivity. In a sample of Chilean and Colombian plants, we find evidence of both a positive direct e ffect and a negative indirect eff ect. The empirical evidence supports our theoretical prediction that industry-specifi c factors of production and asymmetric substitutability between domestic and foreign varieties drive the negative indirect e ffect.

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This paper employs a novel data set on lobbying expenditures to measure the degree of within-sector political organization and to explore the determinants of the mode of lobbying and political organization across U.S. industries. The data show that sectors characterized by a higher degree of competition tend to lobby more together (through a sector-wide trade association), while sectors with higher concentration and more differentiated products lobby more individually. The paper proposes a theoretical model to interpret the empirical evidence. In an oligopolistic market, firms can benefit from an increase in their product-specific protection measure, if they can raise prices and profits. They find it less profitable to do so in a competitive market where attempts to raise prices are more likely to reduce profits. In competitive markets firms are therefore more likely to lobby together, thereby simultaneously raising tariffs on all products in the sector.

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Is skill dispersion a source of comparative advantage? In this paper we use microdata from the International Adult Literacy Survey to show that the effect of skill dispersion on trade flows is quantitatively similar to that of the aggregate endowment of human capital. In particular we investigate, and find support for, the hypothesis that countries with a more dispersed skill distribution specialize in industries characterized by lower complementarity of workers’ skills. The result is robust to the introduction of controls for alternative sources of comparative advantage, as well as to alternative measures of industry-level skill complementarity.

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We employ a novel data set to estimate a structural econometric model of the decisions under risk of players in a game show where lotteries present payoffs in excess of half a million dollars. Differently from previous studies in the literature, the decisions under risk of the players in presence of large payoffs allow to estimate the parameters of the curvature of the vN-M utility function not only locally but also globally. Our estimates of relative risk aversion indicate that a constant relative risk aversion parameter of about one captures the average of the sample population. In addition we find that individuals are practically risk neutral at small stakes and risk averse at large stakes, a necessary condition, according to Rabin (2000) calibration theorem, for expected utility to provide a unified account of individuals’ attitude towards risk. Finally, we show that for lotteries characterized by substantial stakes non-expected utility theories fit the data equally well as expected utility theory.

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This paper develops a tractable multi-country, multi-sector model of international trade with unobservable skills and search frictions in the labour market. Comparative advantage derives from (i) cross-sectoral differences in the substitutability of workers’ skills and (ii) cross-country differences in the dispersion of skills in the working population. We establish the conditions under which higher skill dispersion triggers specialization in sectors characterized by higher substitutability of skills across workers.

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Do lobbyists provide issue-specific information to congressmen? Or do they provide special interests access to politicians? We present evidence to assess the role of issue expertise versus connections in the lobbying process and illustrate how both are at work. In support of the connections view, we show that lobbyists follow politicians they were initially connected to, when those politicians switch to new committee assignments. In support of the expertise view, we show that there is a group of specialists that even politicians of opposite political affiliation listen to. However, we find a more consistent monetary premium for connections than expertise.

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Has the expansion in exports affected pollution and health outcomes across different prefectures in China in the two decades between 1990 and 2010? We exploit variation in the initial industrial composition to gauge the effect of export expansion due to the decline in tariffs faced by Chinese exporters. We construct two export shocks at the prefecture level: (i) PollutionExportShock represents the pollution content of export expansion and is measured in pounds of pollutants per worker; (ii) ExportShock measures the dollars per worker associated with export expansion. The two measures differ because prefectures specialize in different products: while two prefectures may experience the same shock in dollar terms, the one specializing in the dirty sector has a larger PollutionExportShock. We instrument export shocks using the change in tariffs faced by Chinese producers exporting to the rest of the world. We find that the pollution content of export affected pollution and mortality. A one standard deviation increase in PollutionExportShock increases infant mortality by 2.3 deaths per thousand live births, which is about 15% of the standard deviation of infant mortality change during the period. The dollar value of export expansion tends to reduce mortality, but is not always statistically significant. We show that the channel through which exports affect mortality is pollution concentration: a one standard deviation increase in PollutionExportShock increases SO2 concentration by 5.7 ug/m^3 (the average is around 60). We find a negative, but insignificant effect on pollution of the dollar-value export shocks, a potential "technique" effect whereby higher income drives demand for clean environment. We find that only infant mortality related to cardio-respiratory conditions responds to exports shocks, while deaths due to accidents and other causes are not affected.

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Does opening a market to international trade affect the pattern of matching between firms and workers? And does the modified sorting pattern affect welfare? This paper answers these questions both theoretically and empirically in three parts. We set up a model of matching between heterogeneous workers and firms where variation in the worker type at the firm level exists in equilibrium only because of the presence of search costs. When firms gain access to the foreign market their revenue potential increases. When stakes are high, matching with the right worker becomes particularly important because deviations from the ideal match quickly reduce the value of the relationship. Hence exporting firms select sets of workers that are less dispersed relative to the average. We then document a novel fact about the hiring decisions of exporting firms versus non-exporting firms in a French matched employer-employee dataset. We construct the type of each worker using both a traditional wage regression and a model-based approach and construct measures of the average type and type dispersion at the firm level. We find that exporting firms feature a lower type dispersion in the pool of workers they hire. This effect is comparable and larger than the common finding in the literature that exporters pay higher wages because, among other factors, they employ better workers. The matching between exporting firms and workers is even tighter in sectors characterized by better exporting opportunities as measured by foreign demand or tariff shocks. Finally, we show that revenue loss is lower relative to the optimum allocation for exporting and more productive firms. In a calibrated general equilibrium version of the model we show that trade opening increases welfare by more when search costs are high, pointing to an additional source of gains from trade.

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We explore the robustness of the hypothesis, first put forward by Grossman and Maggi (2000) (GM), that countries with higher skill dispersion specialize in the sector characterized by a submodular production function, i.e. the industry that cross-matches workers of different skills (henceforth referred to as SDC hypothesis). We relax the assumption of constant returns to skill, breaking the link between submodularity and the concavity of isoquants, a key feature in GM. We show that when a submodular sector displays convex isoquants, it no longer benefits from higher skill dispersion and higher skill dispersion countries may specialize in the supermodular sector. We investigate this theoretical possibility by performing a variety of simulations, based on empirical skill distributions, and find that in the vast majority of cases the SDC hypothesis is not violated.

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This paper presents a model and an automated methodology for assessing gains from network distortions in cities. Distortions arise from excluding traffic along certain routes. Distortions degrade network connectivity, but can be paradoxically useful for congestion amelioration. We show that such distortions are quantitatively large,increasingly pervasive in larger cities, and potentially very valuable. The results ultimately support the view that Braessí(1968) paradox is not just a theoretically interesting possibility, but a widespread feature of city road networks.

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Trade, Pollution and Mortality in China.
(with Bingjing Li)

Interest Groups and the Regulation of the Dodd-Frank Act.
(with Marianne Bertrand and Francesco Trebbi)

Quality of Imported Inputs and Firm Performance.
(with Keith Head and Maria Tito)


My Google Scholar Profile is available here.

Econ 590A – International Trade Theory (Graduate – Fall 2007)
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Econ 455 – International Trade (Undergraduate – Fall 2007)
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Econ 355 – International Trade (Undergraduate – Fall 2006)
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Winter 2016

ECON455 International Trade Sections

International trade theory and policy in general equilibrium; relative costs, factor proportions, imperfect competition and the pattern of trade; efficiency and distribution. Credit granted for only one of ECON355 and ECON455.

Winter 2016

ECON555 International Trade Sections