Closing the Book on Obama’s Trade Policy

March 8, 2017

The U.S. trade deficit for the month of January was posted yesterday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  It was horrible.  President Trump took office on January 20th, but he can hardly be held responsible for any of the January results.  This is all on former President Obama.

How bad was it?  The overall trade deficit rose to its worst level in nearly five years – $48.5 billion.  At $62.1 billion, the deficit in manufactured goods just missed its all-time worst reading of $62.5 billion set in March of 2015.  As you can see from this chart, if the trend in manufactured goods continues, we’ll have a new record very soon and, without the change in trade policy promised by President Trump, it will likely get worse from there:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.

Then there’s the export numbers.  In January of 2010, lacking the courage to take on the problem with imports, President Obama vowed to double exports in five years in an effort to turn the U.S. into more of an export-driven, Germany-like economy.  It never happened and never even came close.  In January of 2017 – seven years after Obama made that promise – total exports, at $192 billion – remained below the October, 2013 level.  Worse yet, exports of manufactured goods were below the level reached in September, 2011 – up only 26% from when Obama made that promise.  And that increase was due entirely to global economic recovery from the 2009 recession and had nothing to do with any real improvement in America’s export position.

So that closes the book on Obama’s trade policy, which was a total failure.  Actually, if President Trump follows through on his promise of tariffs (or border tax, or whatever you want to call it), this closes the book on a seven-decade-long experiment with free trade and globalization, begun in 1947 with the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that, by any measure of its effect on the American economy, has been a complete disaster.

  • America’s trade surplus dwindled until we ran our last trade surplus in 1976.
  • 41 consecutive years of trade deficits has yielded a cumulative deficit of $14.4 trillion.  During that time, the national debt, which is closely linked to the trade deficit, grew by $19.4 trillion.  In 1976, the national debt was only $0.5 trillion.  Virtually all of our national debt is due to the cumulative trade deficit since 1976.
  • During this period, family incomes and net worth have declined, our infrastructure has crumbled, and our nation has been bankrupted.  The manufacturing sector of the economy has been gutted.  More than ten million manufacturing jobs have been lost.  The United States, once the world’s preeminent industrial power, has been reduced to a skid-row bum, begging the rest of the world to loan us money to keep us afloat.

This is all on you now, President Trump.  You own it.  You’ve promised to straighten out this mess.  America is watching and waiting.


Week 1 Done

January 28, 2017

The world is slowly awakening to a new reality.  It has profoundly changed.  And that may be an understatement.

Throughout the campaign, Trump’s “populist” rhetoric was dismissed by many – especially by those who stood to lose the most if globalization were dismantled – as exactly that, a play for votes or posturing designed to win concessions in the highly unlikely event that he would actually be elected president.  After all, this is the author of The Art of the Deal, a book about his tactics for winning in the business world.  He’s just  staking out his opening position.  Right?

During the transition, however, he doubled down on his rhetoric and stacked the cabinet mostly with people aligned with his positions.  The world grew a little more nervous.

Then came inauguration day and, I have to admit, that even I was taken aback by his speech.  It was as though he picked up a rhetorical two-by-four and began swinging at everyone who’d had a role in America’s trade mess and economic decline, and any who doubted his intentions or who stood in his way.

Now his first week in office is history, and what a week it was.  TPP (the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal) is dead.  NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Deal) is as good as dead.  The wall on the southern border will be built.  Tariffs on Mexican imports will pay for it.  Immigration from many Middle Eastern countries has been brought to a halt.  And, in stark contrast to Obama’s visit to Mexico in the early days of presidency to discuss renegotiating NAFTA, a humiliating experience that yielded only more Mexican tariffs on American goods, Trump has put Mexico on notice.  If you can’t accept the new reality of American tariffs on Mexican imports and an all-out effort to halt illegal immigration from your country, then too bad – we have nothing to talk about.

Some seem to get it.  Some American companies have begun hedging their bets with announcements of plans to invest in American manufacturing.  Still, the world is largely in a state of denial.  Markets around the world continue to rally on optimism over the aspects of the Trump agenda that it likes – corporate tax breaks and infrastructure spending – while shrugging off the possibility that Trump means business about imposing tariffs on imports.

The world is made up of only two economies, really.  One is the economy of the more sparsely populated countries, able to gainfully employ their workers, which is dominated by the United States.  The other is the rest of the world, badly overpopulated and heavily dependent on manufacturing for export to the aforementioned countries – again, most notably, the United States.  Tariffs on imports into the U.S. will  totally alter the host-parasite relationship that exists between the two.  Those who continue to blindly invest in the economies of the latter may be making a serious mistake.

Americans have finally gotten fed up with playing the role of enabler to ever-worsening overpopulation, using immigration as a relief valve and trade to prop it up.  Trump has hastened the day when the rest of the world must face the consequences on their own.


Davos: A Monday Morning Staff Meeting …

January 17, 2017

…at a company that went bankrupt on Friday.  Other analogies come to mind:  an emergency meeting of the damage-control committee on the Titanic.  A meeting of parasites as the sick animal host walks away following a dose of antibiotics.

The participants at Davos stare across the table at each other, carrying out their agenda in robot-like fashion, but knowing full well the reality of the situation they now face.  They’re irrelevant – vestiges of a failed experiment staggering along in a zombie-like state.

As reported in this Reuters article, their agenda has taken on a new theme.  They’re suddenly, but disingenuously, interested in the fate of American workers who’ve been left behind by their globalization regime:

The titles of the discussion panels at the WEF, which runs from Jan. 17-20, evoke the unsettling new landscape. Among them are “Squeezed and Angry: How to Fix the Middle Class Crisis”, “Politics of Fear or Rebellion of the Forgotten?”, “Tolerance at the Tipping Point?” and “The Post-EU Era”.

This morning, the meeting opened with an address by Chinese president Xi Jinping, in which he declared that “no one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.”  It’s ironic that the biggest winner in today’s trade war (and make no mistake, that’s exactly what we’ve been in for decades) would lecture the biggest loser – the U.S.  It’s no different than if Japan’s Emperor Hirohito had lectured America about standing up for itself in the wake of Pearl Harbor.

He went on to denounce “protectionism,” conveniently ignoring the vast network of protectionist measures employed by his own country.  Like all participants at the Davos forum, Xi likes to forget that the enforced flow of jobs from America to China and other nations unable to grapple with their bloated labor forces, denying America the ability to engage in trade deals that are mutually beneficial – is a rigged system that it has dubbed as “free trade.”  And it decries the freedom to operate our economy as we see fit as “protectionism.”

The winners in the World Trade Organization-enforced regime, China being the biggest winner, frequently declare that trade deficits don’t matter.  If that’s true, then they shouldn’t mind taking their turn at it.  Your turn, China.  It’s time for you to relinquish your trade surplus with the U.S. and suffer a deficit for a while.  Then let’s see how you feel.

 


American Millenials Far Worse Off Than Their Parents at the Same Stage in Life

January 16, 2017

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/01/13/millennials-falling-behind-boomer-parents/96530338/

An analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group “Young Invincibles,” released on Friday, finds that the millenial generation – especially white millenials – are far worse off economically than their baby-boomer parents were at the same stage in life – in 1989.  (See the above linked article.)

  • The median net worth of millenials is 56% lower.
  • Median income has fallen 21% in spite of the fact that a larger percentage of millenials (approximately 50% more) have a college education compared to baby boomers.
  • Home ownership is down by 3%.
  • Millenials are saddled with “drastically higher” student debt.

The article observes that “the analysis fits into a broader pattern of diminished opportunity.”

Looking beyond the Federal Reserve data, millenials are clearly much worse off than their parents in many other ways:

  • While most employers offered pensions in 1989, few do today.
  • The cost of health care is orders-of-magnitude higher than it was in 1989.
  • Good jobs were still fairly plentiful in 1989.  Not today.  The example cited in the article of a college-educated lady earning minimum wage making pizza isn’t a one-off.  It’s pretty typical.
  • The millenial generation is famous for depending on their parents for housing and additional support beyond that.  It’s not a matter of immaturity among millenials.  They do it out of necessity.  In 1989, no self-respecting baby boomer would be caught dead living with his/her parents.  There was no need.

None of this should come as any surprise to those who understand the consequences of the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption.  It’s precisely what I predicted in Five Short Blasts, which I began writing in 1993.  Since 1989, the U.S. population has grown by approximately 25%.  But, worse than that, our effective population density has exploded by 200% since 1989 by economically erasing our borders and attempting to trade freely with badly overpopulated nations who prey on our market and bring nothing in return to the trading table but bloated labor forces, hungry to take jobs from Americans.  Diminished opportunity and worsening poverty is inescapable in those circumstances.

Sadly, most millenials are oblivious to what’s been done to them through globalization, which has been slickly packaged and sold to them as some sort of utopian state where we all live in perfect harmony together, masking the underlying truth – that their economic civil rights have been trampled by the greed of global corporations who feed on population growth to stoke their bottom lines.

 

 

 


Employment & Trade Data Sum Up Obama’s Presidency

January 11, 2017

https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the employment/unemployment report for December, while the Bureau of Economic Analysis released the trade data for the month of November.  I usually comment on these two reports separately but, frankly, in these waning days of the Obama administration, these looks backward seem rather irrelevant.  In each case, we knew what we were going to get with the economy locked into a “new normal” status quo by Obama’s trade policy.  Nevertheless, it’s worth taking a look at them since, together, they kind of “sum up” the economic results of Obama’s presidency.

It was yet another so-so month for the employment report.  The job growth number was respectable, but wasn’t corroborated by the “employment level” portion of the household survey, which rose only 26,000.  In fact, the employment level rose by only 43,000 in the last three months.  Not only that, but the civilian labor force actually contracted by 72,000.  As a result, unemployment rose slightly.

Meanwhile, the trade report was bleak.  The deficit in manufactured products rose to $60.5 billion, just $0.5 billion off the record high deficit set five months earlier.  Manufactured exports remained stuck at the same level as in March of 2011.  That’s five and a half years of zero growth.  Remember Obama’s pledge to double exports in five years?

These two reports aren’t the kinds of numbers you’d expect from a healthy economy.  President Obama likes to highlight the number of jobs created and the drop in unemployment as evidence of a healthy labor market.  But it’s more a case of him drinking his own Kool Aid.  Those numbers are gimmicked by workers who mysteriously dropped out of the labor force and by a proliferation of low-paying, part-time jobs.  He may fool himself and try to fool you with these numbers, but other statistics tell a different tale.  Death rates don’t rise and life expectancies don’t fall in a good economy.  Nor are wages stagnant.  And “the country is headed in the wrong direction” isn’t the number one issue on the minds of voters in an election in a healthy economy.

Taken together, these two reports do a good job of summing up the economic results of the Obama presidency – economic stagnation at best or, more realistically, a decline fueled by an ever-worsening trade picture – the very thing he promised to fix during the 2008 campaign.


On Tariffs, Indications are Trump Means Business!

December 22, 2016

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-navarro-idUSKBN14A27N

http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/21/politics/donald-trump-tariffs/?iid=ob_homepage_deskrecommended_pool

I’ve provided links above to two articles reporting on some very important developments in the Trump transition that have taken place over the last two days.  First of all, Trump has chosen a real trade hard-liner, Peter Navarro, University of California economics professor and author of Death by China: How America Lost its Manufacturing Base, as head of a newly formed White House National Trade Council.  The second article reports that the Trump team is planning to slap up to 10% tariffs not just on imports from China, but across the board on all imports.

These developments are an indication that, instead of merely pandering to populist sentiments during the election, Donald Trump was deadly serious when he made trade the centerpiece of his plan to “make America great again.”  Never mind threatening to label China a currency manipulator, complaints about unfair trade practices, enforcement actions taken up with the World Trade Organization, or any of the other mamby-pamby “actions” taken by previous administrations.  It now appears likely that Trump will go right for the jugular.  A 10% across-the-board tariff on all imports would be a death blow to globalization.

To put such a tariff in perspective, in 2015 the U.S. imported $2.76 trillion worth of goods and services.  A 10% tariff would raise $276 billion per year in federal revenue.  Opponents say that this is actually a huge tax on American consumers.  They’re lying.  Tariffs are paid by the companies who ship the products to the U.S.  Those companies then have a choice.  They can try to maintain their profit margin and pass it along to consumers, but that opens the door to domestic manufacturers who could undercut them on price.  Or they can “eat” the tariff and not raise prices, maintaining their market share but eroding their profits.  Either way, there’s a huge incentive to shift manufacturing to the U.S.

Consider another benefit.  That increase in federal revenue can be used to fund an equally large cut in income taxes for American taxpayers.  So, even if the importing companies pass along the cost of the tariff, you’ll have that much more money in your pocket to cover the higher cost.  Essentially, the tariff takes the money right out of the pockets of the global corporations and puts it into the pockets of walk-around Americans.  For all of you who have railed against the worsening income disparity between the top 1% and the rest of us, this is exactly the right way to go about addressing that problem.

For those who doubt the effectiveness of tariffs in boosting domestic manufacturing, consider this:  in spite of the fact that U.S. automakers lost half of the domestic market to imports, nearly every truck on American roads is still built in the U.S. Why?  Because trucks are one category of product on which the U.S. still maintains a 25% tariff.   Without that tariff, it’s likely that most trucks would now be imports and the “Big Three” automakers may not have survived.

Brace yourself, folks.  All hell is going to break loose on January 20th!  It’s been a long time coming and it’s going to be fun to watch.  I can’t wait.


Manufactured Exports Fall to 5-1/2 Year Low

December 7, 2016

Almost seven years ago, in the wake of his disastrous visit to Mexico to address our trade deficit – which resulted in a sharp rebuke from the Mexican president and even higher tariffs on American goods – President Obama decided to turn his focus on exports.  “Why can’t we have an export-driven economy like Germany,” he challenged his economic team.  Evidently, none of them responded that there is no other United States out there to serve as our trade patsy as we’ve done for Germany.  So, in January of 2010, the president proclaimed that, within five years, the United States would double its exports.  This would be the centerpiece of his economic agenda.

Yesterday the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its monthly report of International Trade in Goods and Services.  The overall trade deficit came in at $42.4 billion in October, right in the range where it has been throughout the Obama administration.  There isn’t another economic report that chronicles America’s economic demise as clearly as this one does, yet the reaction was the same as it’s always been:  ho-hum.  Unbelievable.

To get to the real heart of the problem – the siphoning of jobs out of our economy – you have to strip away the “noise” – the trade in services, oil and food.  What’s left is trade in manufactured products, and the picture there grows worse with each passing month.  The deficit in manufactured products was $57.9 billion in October, not far from the record of $62.5 billion set in March of last year.  Check out this chart:  manfd-goods-balance-of-trade.

Especially pathetic is the contribution of declining exports to the increase in the deficit.  In October, manufactured exports fell to $104.3 billion, the lowest level in over 5-1/2 years.  (Exports of manufactured goods were $104.9 billion in March, 2011.)  Manufactured exports have fallen by $10.3 billion since peaking at $114.6 billion exactly two years ago.  To reach Obama’s goal, exports would have had to rise to $171.7 billion.  They never even came close.  Here’s a chart showing both manufactured exports and imports since Obama made his vow to double exports:  manfd-exports-vs-goal.  A complete failure, and no surprise.  The U.S. has no control over exports.  But at least deflecting attention away from the steady growth in imports – and the corresponding steady decline in manufacturing jobs – made things more pleasant for Obama around the punch bowl at G20 meetings.

Frankly, I’m sick of tracking this statistic under the Obama administration, watching it get predictably worse.  Only two full months of data remain – November and December.  Then things get interesting again.  This deep hole that’s been dug under the (lack of) leadership by Obama becomes Trump’s baseline.  How far and how fast can he whittle down this deficit?  Could he even turn it into a surplus, like we used to enjoy forty years ago?  Time will tell.  A deficit of $60 billion in manufactured goods represents a loss of ten million manufacturing jobs, and probably an equal number of jobs in ancillary industries.  Such a demand for labor would mop up every last unemployed person in the country and send wages soaring.  If Trump accomplishes even half of this, people will be stunned at the effect on the economy.