Auto Tariffs? Bring ’em on!

February 21, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-autos/automakers-brace-for-u-s-government-report-on-import-tariffs-idUSKCN1Q503G

A Commerce Department report that likely labels auto imports a national security threat which, under Section 232 of the World Trade Organization, would clear the way for Trump to impose tariffs, is now in Trump’s hands.  It could happen at any time now.  It’s impossible to overstate the consequences of such a move.  Without question, it would be the biggest shake-up in global trade since the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947.

Let’s begin with some perspective.  In 2018, 17.3 million cars and pickup trucks were sold in the U.S.  Of these, only about half of these vehicles were produced domestically.  The rest are imports.  Through November, the annualized value of imported cars in 2018 was approximately $180 billion.  The annualized value of auto parts was approximately $165 billion.  Together, that’s $345 billion worth of imported cars and trucks.  Roughly half of the cost to produce autos and parts is labor – about $172 billion.  If we assume that the average annual wage paid to auto workers is about $50,000, then that’s a total of about 3.5 million jobs that are lost to imports.

With that background, let’s take a look at the above-linked Reuters article about the possibility of Trump imposing a 25% tariffs on imported autos and parts.

The report’s recommendations may bring the global auto industry a step closer to its worst trade nightmare – U.S. tariffs on millions of imported cars and parts of up to 25 percent that many in the industry fear would add thousands of dollars to the cost of vehicles and potentially cost hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the U.S. economy.

While it may be a “nightmare” for the “global auto industry,” it would be a dream come true for domestic U.S. manufacturers.  A 25% tariff would indeed drive up the cost of imports by thousands of dollars, and could even increase the cost of domestic autos some, depending on the amount of imported parts used in their manufacture.  The net result?  It’s not hard to imagine.  If you were in the market for a new vehicle that currently costs $30,000, which would you buy?  An import that now costs $37,500 or a domestic that now costs maybe $31,000.  It’s a no-brainer, one that would be repeated millions of times per year by new car buyers.  The result is that domestic auto manufacturing would soon double in volume while imports would slow to a trickle.  It’s as simple as that.

So how can one claim that  “hundreds of thousands of jobs” would be lost throughout the U.S. economy?  It’s easy to make that claim as long as you’re talking only about jobs lost and don’t include job gains elsewhere.  Sure, there’d be lots of jobs lost (and a couple hundred thousand is feasible) in the distribution, sales and servicing of imported autos.  But the loss of those jobs would be offset ten-fold or more by gains in the manufacturing, distribution, sales and servicing of domestic autos, not to mention the jobs involved in building the required manufacturing facilities, including buildings and machinery.

And what about this?

Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, recently introduced legislation that would shift responsibility for Section 232 investigations from Commerce to the U.S. Defense Department. The law containing the provision was passed in 1962 to keep U.S. industries healthy to meet Cold War defense needs.

“There is no way that minivans from Canada are a national security threat,” Portman told reporters.

Portman is wrong on two levels.  First of all, every imported car and truck weakens our manufacturing sector.  That could be critical in a time of war.  Just as important as our victories in the battlefield that ultimately forced the surrender of Germany and Japan in World War II was America’s industrial might that supplied them with weapons and materials.  No other nation on earth could even come close to matching America’s industrial power.  By the end of World War II, America’s shipyards were building complete destroyers, from the keel up, in two days, and Ford’s Willow Run factory in Michigan cranked out B-24 bombers at the rate of one per hour around the clock, or 650 bombers per month.  That didn’t happen by magic.  It took a veritable army of men and women experienced in manufacturing.

Existential wars – wars fought for survival against an enemy bent on conquering you – like our war against the Axis powers in World War II, are wars of attrition.  Who wins and who loses is often determined by who runs out of something first.  It doesn’t have to be ammunition or tanks or ships.  It can be something as simple as boots.  Every nut and bolt counts.  The lack of even one component can grind a war machine to a halt.  Supply chains that depend on overseas suppliers can be quickly and easily disrupted.  In other words, it’s critical to our survival that we maintain a robust manufacturing base, one that can be quickly converted to a wartime footing to supply everything imaginable that we might need.  Anything that degrades that capability is a national security threat.

Secondly, our national debt – now over $22 trillion – has grown to the point at which it threatens the viability of our economy.  Our national debt is directly tied to our trade deficit.  Every dollar drained from our economy by purchases of imports must somehow be put back to work in the economy, and the only mechanism available to do that is through federal deficit spending, financed by the sale of debt to those countries awash in our trade dollars.  Our debt is now growing by nearly a trillion dollars per year, and the $345 billion trade deficit in autos and parts is a major contributor.  The trade deficit is, without question, a national security threat and every imported minivan that Senator Portman references is part of the problem.

Tariffs are the only mechanism at our disposal for restoring a balance of trade – something we haven’t had since 1975 – and applying tariffs on the import of autos and parts is critical if we are to have any hope of achieving that balance.  Tariffs can’t simply be used as leverage to force other nations into trade concessions because they’ll never willingly give up their trade surpluses, regardless of their promises, as we’ve seen time and again for many decades.  We need tariffs now and they need to be permanent.

 

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Debt Denial

February 18, 2019

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/13/that-22-trillion-national-debt-number-is-huge-but-heres-what-it-really-means.html?recirc=taboolainternal

A few days ago, the national debt hit $22 trillion for the first time, and the above-linked article appeared on CNBC, essentially downplaying the seriousness of the situation.

  • What matters is the debt-to-GDP level, which is not in the danger zone now but threatens to get there before long.

Baloney.  When the people holding that debt – China, Japan, Germany and all the others who use our trade deficit money to buy U.S. debt decide to cash out and demand their money back, are they going to say “Hey, U.S. GDP, we want our money?”  Of course not.  U.S. GDP is an economic measure, not a holder of money.  They’re going to come to you.

Take another look at the picture in the article of the man looking up at the national debt clock.  Not mentioned in the article are the words just below the national debt figure:  “YOUR family share 086858.”  That’s right, the average American family now owes $86, 858.  Measured in terms of debt-to-average household net worth, the national debt has skyrocketed far beyond the average household’s net worth and ability to pay.  The reason that expressing the national debt as a percentage of GDP is so bogus is that, although the GDP has been growing steadily, the average net worth of American households has been stuck at about the same level for decades.

The source of all this debt?  The article provides a half-truth:

The main culprit of public debt is budget deficits, …

Well, yeah, but that’s like saying you owe money on your mortgage because you borrowed it.  The real question is “why do we have to keep running such huge budget deficits?  Why don’t we just stop doing that?”  Think about it.  What would happen to the economy if the federal government suddenly stopped putting a trillion dollars per year into it?  Instant recession – probably one that would quickly spiral into a depression.  Without the federal government putting that money into the economy – and it’s no coincidence that it’s almost exactly the same as the amount that the trade deficit takes out – the economy would collapse.  There are those who would tell you that balancing the budget, without addressing the trade deficit, would somehow prove to be an economic stimulus.  Don’t listen to them; they’re idiots.  The only way to deal with the budget deficit and the national debt is to eliminate the trade deficit.  Period.  Plain and simple.  There are no other options.  Let the trade deficit continue to grow and we’re soon headed for a real disaster.

It’s astonishing to me and scary how few people in the media, and even economists, understand this basic truth.


No Progress on Cutting Trade Deficit

February 15, 2019

Last week, the Commerce Department released the trade data for the month of November.  It was expected that the data for November would be the first to show that the tariffs enacted by Trump are beginning to “bite,” after the data for the previous two months was supposedly skewed by importers loading up in advance of the tariffs.

Didn’t happen.  Although the trade deficit was down slightly, the drop was insignificant.  At $49.3 billion, the overall deficit tracked right in line with previous months.  More importantly, the deficit in the all-important category of manufactured products (where jobs are concentrated) dropped by $4.8 billion to $72.5 billion.  Nice that it dropped, but it’s still the fifth worst deficit ever recorded.  Here’s the chart:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.  The deficit with China fell by only $2.8 billion to $35.4 billion – the fourth worst deficit ever recorded with China.

So far, all of the alarm raised by globalists about harm being done to the global economy has proven to be nothing more than fear-mongering.  The impact of the tariffs – 10% on half of Chinese imports and 10% on steel and aluminum – has been zilch, other than to slightly erode the profit margins of those exporting companies and adding a couple billion dollars per month to federal revenue.  And the whining by American farmers that China has stopped buying?  Exports of “foods, feeds and beverages” is running $9.0 billion ahead of the same time in 2017, led by a 20% increase in soybean exports.

In the meantime, though the economy has been booming since the enactment of the tax cut last year, the effect is beginning to fade, as does the effect of every stimulus plan enacted for decades.  Retail sales fell last month, as did industrial production, led downward by manufacturing, especially by auto production.  It’s no surprise.  Without significant measures aimed at restoring a balance of trade, the economy will be eroded as the trade deficit worsens, regardless of any economic stimuli.

The problem is that, although the tariffs implemented by Trump so far go far beyond what any president in modern times has been willing to do, it hasn’t been enough.  The tariffs are too small and too narrowly focused.  They need to include all imports from China and need to rise to 25%.  And we need the 25% tariff on autos that Trump has long threatened.

The current trade talks with China are a complete waste of time.  When the U.S. agreed to hold off on further tariffs in exchange for such talks, China had already won.  Any deal with China, no matter the terms, is a win for China because it puts them back in the driver’s seat.  All they have to do is make promises – the same thing they’ve always done.  When they fail to meet them, what will the U.S. do?  Engage them in more talks.  Trade deals in general are utterly pointless, since tariffs are the only thing that can influence other nations’ trading behavior in our favor.  It’s extremely disappointing that Trump doesn’t seem to fully grasp this.


Reuters Fumbles Story about Pickups

February 6, 2019

https://www.fidelity.com/news/article/top-news/201902050800RTRSNEWSCOMBINED_L1N1ZW1LR_1

Reuters, a global publication that often passes itself off as the expert on all matters related to trade perhaps figured that it could just pick any pickup truck at random for a story about how American automakers and workers are relying ever more heavily on sales of big pickup trucks.

Mickey McMaster is on his 12th pickup truck.

The 61-year old farm equipment dealer in Decatur, Texas, two weeks ago treated himself to a 2019 GMC Denali for around $69,000 – a reward for long hours at work.

“For me this is the Cadillac of trucks, it’s a real luxury vehicle,” McMaster said. “I’ve worked my way up to afford a truck like this and it shows that I’ve earned it.”

McMaster is the kind of customer General Motors Co ( GM ) is banking on as it plans to add 1,000 jobs at a plant in Flint, Michigan that will build a new generation of its largest pickups.

Just one problem.  The 4-door crew cab Denali that Mr. McMaster bought is built in Mexico, not at GM’s Flint plant.  Though most of GM’s pickups are built at Flint, the biggest and most expensive 4-door crew cab versions (both the GMC Denali and the Chevy Silverado) are built at GM’s plant in Silao, Mexico.  The Dodge Ram pickup trucks referenced later in the article are built at Fiat-Chrysler’s plant in Saltillo, Mexico, though FC recently announced it will move production to its plant in Warren, Michigan.

I wonder if Mr. McMaster even knows that his truck was built in Mexico?  If not, I wonder how he feels now that he does know?  If he was proud of buying American, does he now feel betrayed by GM?

That might be a more interesting story for Reuters to pursue – how Americans who think they are buying American are being duped into buying Mexican imports.

 


California Admits Failure in its Carbon Reduction Efforts

February 5, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-climatechange-california-insight/a-climate-problem-even-california-cant-fix-tailpipe-pollution-idUSKCN1PQ4MJ

Once in a while I divert my focus from the economic impact of population growth to highlight other impacts, like environmental.  This is one of those times, as the report in the above-linked article is so significant that I can’t let it pass without comment.  The state of California is admitting that its decades-long drive to reduce auto exhaust emissions is a complete failure.

For three decades, California has led the fight to control tailpipe pollution, with countless policies promoting cleaner gasoline, carpooling, public transportation and its signature strategy – the electric vehicle.  Californians now buy more than half of all EVs sold in the United States, and the state’s auto-pollution policies have provided a model being adopted around the world.

Indeed, California’s focus on reducing carbon emissions has been a model for the rest of the world.  In fact, such carbon reduction is the model upon which the Paris Climate Accord, whose stated goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level at which sustainable development can continue, is based.  The result?

Tailpipe pollution here is going up, not down, despite billions of dollars spent by one of the most environmentally progressive governments on earth.

“The strategies that we’ve used up until now just haven’t been effective,” Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters.

How is this possible – that such measures are having no effect?  The answer is quite simple, and it’s a point I’ve tried to drive home repeatedly.  The planet doesn’t give a damn how much you reduce your carbon emissions.  All it cares about is the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Population growth is negating any gains in per capita carbon emissions.  What difference does it make if everyone reduces their personal emissions by 50%, let’s say, if the population doubles?  Not one damn bit.

That failure has less to do with energy or environmental policies and more with decades-old urban planning decisions that made California – and especially Los Angeles – a haven for sprawling development of single-family homes and long commutes, according to state officials.

Note the word “development.”  It’s the same word you find in the stated mission of the Paris Climate Accord – sustainable “development.”  It’s a code word for population growth.  “Sprawling development” doesn’t happen without it.  “Sustainable development” doesn’t happen without it.  In fact, “sustainable development” has been the biggest cause of climate change and those who continue to promote it are scamming you into supporting their real agenda – profit growth for global corporations.

The fact is that there is no solution to climate change or any of the other myriad negative consequences of population growth that doesn’t BEGIN with a focus on stablizing the human population.  That’s not to say that we shoudn’t also focus on minimizing our emissions of all kinds – not just greenhouse gases but gaseous, liquid and solid emissions of all kinds.  Nor is “sustainable development” a solution to poverty.  It’s actually making it worse, with over-crowding driving down per capita consumption and, with it, employment.

Of course, there’s no overt mention of “population growth” in this article – just “sprawling development.”  So don’t be surprised if the scam continues, but with a new, additional focus on trying to drive people together into tiny apartments in high-rise housing.  Yeah, that’ll work.  That’s a future we can all really look forward to.