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September/October 1988, 
Vol. 70, No. 5
Posted 1988-09-01

Have U.S. Exports Been Larger than Reported?

by Mack Ott

Mack Ott investigates the relation between the increasingly large U.S. merchandise trade deficits occurring since the mid-1970s and a lesser-known, puzzling attribute of the U.S. balance of payments during this era—the increasingly large statistical discrepancy. Starting from the accounting relation between export reporting errors and the disagreement between the current and capital sides of the balance of payments, Ott builds the case for the discrepancy being evidence of a persistent underreporting of U.S. merchandise exports. Indirect evidence consistent with this view from studies of underreporting in international services trade and from U.S. domestic studies of understated taxable income are discussed to motivate the statistical tests which follow. The test results are consistent with an affirmative answer to the article’s question: U.S. merchandise exports have been underreported since the mid-1970s.

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