Commodity price volatility and long-term growth

Blattman, Hwang, and Williamson (2007), “Winners and losers in the commodity lottery: The impact of terms of trade growth and volatility in the Periphery 1870-1939,” Journal of Development Economics.

Differences in price trends and volatility across primary commodities explain much of the global income divergence observed in the last century and a half. We show that most countries outside Western Europe and the US have been specialized in the export of the same handful of primary commodities for most of their history. Moreover, some commodity prices have proven more volatile than others, and some have enjoyed better secular growth…

In reconstructing nearly a century of terms of trade experience from 1870 to 1939 and assessing its impact on economic performance, we see that some commodities proved more volatile in price than others, and that those countries with more volatile terms of trade grew more slowly than other commodity-specialized nations. Countries with just one standard deviation higher volatility, moreover, grew on average more than half a percentage point per annum slower.