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The East-West German Gap in Revenue Productivity: Just a Tale of Output Prices?

East German manufacturers’ revenue productivity (value-added per worker) is some 8 (25) percent below West German levels, even three decades after German unification. Using firm-product-level data containing information on product quantities and prices, we analyse the role of product specialisation and reject the prominent ‚extended work bench hypothesis‘, stating a specialisation of Eastern firms in the intermediate input production as explanation for these sustained productivity differences. We decompose the East’s revenue productivity disadvantage into Eastern firms selling at lower prices and producing more physical output for given amounts of inputs within ten-digit product industries. This suggests that Eastern firms specialise vertically in simpler product varieties generating less consumer value but being manufactured with less or cheaper inputs. Vertical specialisation, however, does not explain the productivity gap as Eastern firms are physically less productive for given product prices, implying a genuine physical productivity disadvantage of Eastern compared to Western firms.

18. August 2020

Authors Matthias Mertens Steffen Müller

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The East-West German Gap in Revenue Productivity: Just a Tale of Output Prices?

Matthias Mertens Steffen Müller

in: Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming

Abstract

East German manufacturers’ revenue productivity is substantially below West German levels, even three decades after German unification. Using firm-product-level data with product quantities and prices, we analyze the role of product specialization and show that the prominent “extended work bench hypothesis” cannot explain these sustained productivity differences. Eastern firms specialize in simpler product varieties generating less consumer value and being manufactured with less or cheaper inputs. Yet, such specialization cannot explain the productivity gap because Eastern firms are physically less productive for given product prices. Hence, there is a genuine price-adjusted physical productivity disadvantage of Eastern compared to Western firms.

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