The three central primitives of international trade theory are consumer preferences, factor endowments, and the production technologies that allow firms to transform factors of production into consumer goods. A limitation of traditional trade theory, however, is that the specification of technology treats the mapping between factors of production and final goods as a black box. In practice, the decisions of agents in organizations determine this mapping. Recently, international trade economists have incorporated insights from the field of Organizational Economics into their theories, thereby shedding new light on the mapping between factors of production and consumer goods. This research agenda is important for at least three reasons. First, it provides an explanation for phenomena that standard trade theory is unable to explain (such as the boundaries and hierarchical structure of multinational firms, or the determinants of intrafirm trade). Second, this literature illustrates how considering the endogenous response of organizations to changes in the economic environment (such as falling trade costs, declining communication costs, or improvements in contract enforcement) can dramatically affect or even overturn some predictions of standard models. Third, this line of models leads to a revision of key aspects of the design of efficient international trade agreements.
What follows is a brief account of some of my own contributions to the literature on international trade and organizations. In my joint survey article with Esteban Rossi-Hansberg,1 we have attempted to provide a more balanced overview of this literature.