Trump’s Efforts on Trade a Spectacular Failure

September 9, 2020

I can’t tell you how disheartening it was to sift through the latest trade data, for the month of July, released by the Commerce Department late last week.  There’s just no getting around the fact that the administration’s efforts to cut the trade deficit and bring manufacturing back to the U.S. have failed.  “Failure” would be the word to describe results that haven’t shown any improvement.  But America’s trade picture has deteriorated so badly that the scope of the failure can only be described as “spectacular.”

In his inauguration address, Trump observed:

…  rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation …

Earlier in the address, regarding situations like that noted above, he proclaimed:

… That all changes – starting right here, and right now …

The July trade data comes 3-1/2 years into his administration – plenty of time to implement changes and to see the effects.  It’s hard to find any silver lining.  Consider:

  1. The trade deficit in manufactured goods in July soared to $80.4 billion, a new record that completely blows away the record set under the Obama administration ($63.3 billion in March, 2015).  Check out this chart:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.
  2. During the 2016 campaign, Trump vowed to quickly tear up the NAFTA deal and replace it with a much better deal.  Most of his term has been wasted negotiating the new “USMCA” trade deal that replaces it.  It finally went into effect on July 1st of this year, but the terms have been known for a long time, so you’d expect that manufacturers would have been busy implementing plans to get in compliance.  The results?  In July, the trade deficit with Mexico soared to $10. 6 billion.  When Trump took office in January, 2017 it was $3.8 billion.  Since then it has nearly tripled.
  3. When Trump took office, the deficit with China was $31.4 billion.  In July of this year it was $31.6 billion.  After Trump took office, the deficit with China continued to grow until, finally fed up with China’s promises to buy more American products, Trump imposed 25% tariffs on half of all Chinese products.  Almost immediately, the deficit with China began to shrink dramatically.  However, all momentum was lost with the signing of the “Phase 1” deal with China, when the U.S. agreed to halt plans to impose tariffs on the remainder of China’s products in exchange for Chinese promises to dramatically increase their purchases of American goods.  The results were predictable; China reneged on the deal.  They haven’t even measured up to the 2017 baseline that was used as a starting point.  Here’s the data, updated through July:  Phase 1 China Trade Deal 2020 YTD.  What has Trump done in response?  Nothing.  He continues to insist it’s a good deal, in much the same way that Obama stuck by his trade deal with South Korea while our deficit with them exploded.
  4. What progress was made in at least stagnating the deficit with China didn’t translate into any benefit to American workers.  Instead, it contributed to the tripling of the debt with Mexico and also ballooned the debt with Vietnam.  When Trump took office, the trade deficit with Vietnam, an economic back-water, was $3.3 billion per month.  In July of this year it was more than doubled to $6.8 billion per month.  Why?  Because no tariffs were applied to anyone other than China.  The tariffs motivated manufacturers to begin moving out of China, but there was no disincentive to simply move to secondary suppliers in Mexico, Vietnam and other places.

Some might say that such conclusions are unfair in the midst of the pandemic.  Not so.  The effect of the pandemic has been to cut economic activity to a depression-like level, and the effect of an economic slow-down has always been to shrink the trade deficit, not grow it.  That makes the enormous deficit in manufactured goods in July even more troubling.

Speaking of the pandemic, at least people are beginning to realize that being dependent on foreign suppliers for critical goods like ventilators and face masks is a threat to national security.  It’d be nice if that realization extended to other products that would just as easily be cut off during war time.  Better yet, wouldn’t it be nice if people realized that an economy that needs to stand on agriculture, construction, manufacturing and services is hollowed out and unstable if one of those legs is gone?

I don’t doubt Trump’s desire to truly “make America great again” by bringing back our manufacturing sector.  But he sees himself as a “deal-maker” and believes he can deal his way out of the trade deficit.  That’s where the problem lies.  For America, at least, there’s no such thing as a good trade deal.  I defy anyone to identify a single trade deal that has ever left America with anything but a growing trade deficit.

And forget about “free trade.”  That centuries-old concept is about as relevant to today’s trade environment as theories about a flat earth and how the sun rotates around it.  Today, trade is war – a war for increasingly scarce jobs in an ever more over-populated world.  Unlike America, the rest of the world understand this.  They know that what they really need is access to America’s market so that they can keep their bloated populations employed manufacturing goods for export.  Americans don’t have a clue.  They think it’s about lower price and more choice.

Had Trump simply applied tariffs everywhere where America was suffering a big trade deficit in manufactured goods, manufacturers would have come running back like refugees fleeing a war.  Instead of improving incrementally, our economy would have exploded.  Manufacturers would have eagerly snapped up any workers who lost their jobs to closures of restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, etc. during the pandemic.  Trump’s re-election would be a foregone conclusion.  Instead, he’s going to be lucky to win.  Forget about the pandemic.  It’s his failure to make progress on truly making America great again that has left him vulnerable.

Don’t interpret this post as an endorsement of Biden.  It’s reported in the news today that Trump has criticized Biden as a “globalist.”  He’s not wrong.  But it’s not just Biden.  Until Trump came along, every politician, Democrat and Republican alike, were and still are globalists.  I’d vote for Biden in a heartbeat if he vowed to use tariffs to restore a balance of trade, but he won’t.  Though the results under Trump have been disappointing, things could and would be much worse under virtually anyone else, at least until more American politicians are willing to engage in the trade war that they don’t even acknowledge today.

 

 

 

 


Verdict is in: “Phase 1” Trade Deal with China is a total failure.

August 6, 2020

Trade data for the month of June was released by the Department of Commerce yesterday, so we now have a full six months of results of the “Phase 1” trade deal with China.  As I predicted when the deal was signed in January, the deal is a total failure.

You may have heard stories in the news, as I did, about how the Chinese were beginning to make progress on catching up to the goals established by this deal.  I had my doubts, so I was anxious to see the real data.  Here it is, year-to-date through June:  Phase 1 China Trade Deal 2020 YTD.

The deal established goals for the Chinese import of American goods in four categories, using 2017 trade results as a baseline:  manufactured goods, energy goods (like oil, gas, coal, etc.), agriculture goods, and total goods.  The goal was for them to increase their imports substantially in 2020, and then even more in 2021.  In the spreadsheet, I broke down those goals into monthly goals, ramping them up at a rate that would meet those goals by the end of the year.

Through May, the results were abysmal.  They failed to meet the goal in any category of product.  In fact, only their import of energy products even exceeded the 2017 baseline.  You’d think that if China were anxious to meet the goals in order to avoid further threatened tariffs, they’d at least make some good faith effort that they could point to as progress.  So what happened in June?  Their imports actually declined in every category.  They didn’t even meet the 2017 baseline in a single category.

A good faith effort to show progress?  The June results are exactly the opposite.  They are a slap in the face.  The Chinese are taunting the Trump administration – betting that they’ll be too distracted with other events to take action.

It’s time to put an end to this stupid trade deal and follow through with the threatened 25% across-the-board tariffs on all Chinese exports to the U.S.  Trump was elected, in large part, to make real progress in cutting America’s trade deficit and bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.  Aside from tariffs on half of Chinese exports and a new trade deal to replace NAFTA, little has been accomplished.  All momentum on the trade front was killed when Trump signed the “Phase 1” deal with China.  Three-and-a-half years have been frittered away.  His supporters are getting disillusioned by the lack of progress.  If Trump loses the election, it will be due in large part to his failure to fix our trade mess.

There’s no more time to waste.  It’s time to declare this deal a failure and impose the tariffs that were put on hold.  In addition, it’s time for Trump to get serious with other Asian nations and the European Union as well.  Slap all of them with tariffs and start making real progress in bringing our manufacturing jobs back.


Trump vs. Biden on Immigration

July 22, 2020

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-immigration-factbox/factbox-trump-and-biden-take-sharply-different-paths-on-immigration-idUSKCN24L122

The above-linked article is a comparison of Biden’s positions on immigration and Trump’s position and record on the same issue.  The article has a pro-Biden bias, casting his positions as having compassion for immigrants, while casting Trump’s positions as being more heartless and cruel.  Putting aside that bias, however, the comparison is relatively accurate.

Before going further, for the benefit of those new to this web site, my purpose is to bring attention to an economic consequence of population growth that has escaped economists because of their refusal to even consider the subject.  Simply put, beyond some optimum population density, further population growth begins to erode per capita consumption and, with it, employment.  While the macro economy continues to grow, it doesn’t grow at the same pace as the population.  The result is a bigger pie, but smaller slices for everyone.  Incrementally worsening poverty is the inescapable result.

With that said, let’s now talk about immigration.  Many claims are made about the supposed benefits of immigration and why it should continue.  It’s often said that immigrants are the engine of our economy, that they account for 25% of all new business start-ups, for example.  Just in the last few days, I heard it said that 19% of all long-haul truck drivers in America are immigrants.  Immigrants are doctors, engineers, scientists, professors, and so on.  At the other end of the scale, immigrants pick our crops, clean our hotel rooms, and do all of the other jobs that Americans seem loathe to do.

Regarding that last point, there’s some element of truth.  Few Americans work those jobs, but is it because they don’t like to work hard, or is it because the pay is too low?  I’d argue that many American workers would eagerly leave minimum wage jobs to do those other jobs if they paid more.  The wages are low because of the unlimited supply of immigrants who see those wages as a huge step up from what they can aspire to in their own countries.

As for those other workers – the entrepreneurs, the professional people, the long-haul truckers and skilled tradesmen, it’s true that a significant percentage are immigrants, but that’s only because a significant percentage of the population is immigrants.  They’re no more likely to fill those roles than native-born Americans.  Immigrants don’t possess any unique skills or powers to boost the economy.  They’re just people, and they want the same thing that all people want – to make a living and provide for their families.

Another claim often made is that America is enriched by the diversity that immigration provides.  Diversity, it is said, is a source of strength for our economy.  America is enriched by people with different backgrounds and different perspectives.

It can’t be argued that it isn’t interesting to learn about different cultures.  But the claim that diversity is a source of economic strength?  Baloney.  That’s a myth, invented and perpetuated by those who stand to benefit from never-ending population growth.  Who are they?  Corporations.  More people equate to more total sales and a bigger bottom line, while all of the negative consequences of population growth be damned.  Don’t believe me?  Go to the CIA World Fact Book web site and bring up a list of countries ranked by GDP per capita.  You’ll find the top of the list dominated by countries practically devoid of diversity.  Ranking high on the list is Ireland, a nation with virtually no diversity but, in terms of trade balance per capita, kicks America’s ass in trade far worse than any other country.  Diversity has nothing to do with economic prowess.

In the final analysis, the ONLY effect of immigration is to grow the population.  Growing the population makes sense only if you believe that we need more people – bigger and more crowded cities, more traffic, more demand on resources, more carbon emitters,  more trash in the landfills, and so on.  Worst of all, if you believe in the premise of this web site – that a growing population will doom the U.S. to worsening poverty by eroding per capita consumption – further population growth is tantamount to slow-motion economic suicide.

Joe Biden is an advocate for more immigration and, thus, more rapid population growth.  That position isn’t surprising and it’s not something unique to Democrats.  Virtually every Republican takes the same stance, though they tend to pay more lip service to opposing illegal immigration.  Both parties are in agreement on immigration.  Why?  Because that’s the stance that their corporate benefactors pay them to take.

Only very recently have some environmentalists begun to awaken to the fact that they’ve been hoodwinked by the faux-environmentalists who would have you believe that the planet can be saved from the vast array of negative consequences of worsening over-population through technological gimmicks like cutting carbon emissions, paving the way for more “sustainable development,” a corporate euphemism for more population growth.  In light of this awakening, policies that promote population growth may soon seem out-of-step with the reality of the challenges that confront this planet.

Trump is unique in being opposed to both legal and illegal immigration alike.  If we can believe him, his motivation is his belief that immigrants hold down wages and take jobs from American workers.  Is there an element of racism?  He denies it.

I wish Trump were a more likable person – more eloquent, more compassionate, less hot-tempered, a better role model.  Would I vote for Biden over Trump if Biden took a hard line on immigration like Trump?  You bet, especially if he also favored restoring a balance of trade through the use of tariffs, as Trump does.  If there were no differences in their positions on these two critical issues, I’d vote for Biden in a heartbeat.  But that’s not the case.

 

 


“Phase 1” Trade Deal with China a Major Disappointment

December 17, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-details-factbox/whats-in-the-u-s-china-phase-one-trade-deal-idUSKBN1YH2IL

On Friday, the Trump administration announced that it had reached a “Phase 1” agreement with China that cancels a new round of tariffs that were to have taken effect Sunday, and rolls back some other tariffs, in exchange for … well, nothing really, except some empty promises by the Chinese.  (The above-linked article details what’s included in the deal.)  This is a huge disappointment.  It sends a message to manufacturers that waiting out the tariffs was the right move, as opposed to repatriating their manufacturing operations, and it’s now “business as usual” with China.

Trump clearly got suckered on this one.  China has a long history of reneging on their promises and this will be no different.  Actually, it’s worse than that.  Even if most of these promises are kept, it’ll have no impact on America’s economy.  Why?  Let’s go through the items in the deal as listed in the above-linked article, and see why.

China canceled its retaliatory tariffs due to take effect that same day, including a 25% tariff on U.S.-made autos.

China scarcely imports any U.S. autos anyway, and that’s not going to change regardless of whether or not they’ve placed tariffs on them.  China is awash in auto manufacturing capacity and isn’t about to put their auto workers out of business in order to import cars from the U.S.  So this concession is of zero value to the U.S.

U.S. officials say China agreed to increase purchases of American products and services by at least $200 billion over the next two years, with an expectation that the higher purchases will continue after that period.

Note that it’s “U.S. officials” making this claim.  China hasn’t actually agreed to this and they would never do it.  They have no capacity to absorb such imports.  Mark my word, U.S. exports will scarcely rise at all in the next two years.

China has committed to increase purchases of U.S. agriculture products by $32 billion over two years. That would average an annual total of about $40 billion, compared to a baseline of $24 billion in 2017 before the trade war started. … China agreed to make its best efforts to increase its purchases by another $5 billion annually to get close $50 billion.

They might actually increase their imports of U.S. agriculture products some, but so what?  If they do, Europe will return to buying theirs from South America (where the Chinese have been sourcing theirs), so the increase in Chinese imports will be offset by a loss of other exports.  The impact on American farmers will be zilch.  Regarding that last statement, “China agreed to make its best efforts …”  That’s their way of saying they won’t.

China has committed to reduce non-tariff barriers to agricultural products such as poultry, seafood and feed additives as well as approval of biotechnology products.

For the reasons I just stated, this commitment is meaningless.  Shifting American exports from other markets to the Chinese market accomplishes nothing.

The deal includes stronger Chinese legal protections for patents, trademarks, copyrights, including improved criminal and civil procedures to combat online infringement, pirated and counterfeit goods.

The deal contains commitments by China to follow through on previous pledges to eliminate any pressure for foreign companies to transfer technology to Chinese firms as a condition of market access, licensing or administrative approvals and to eliminate any government advantages for such transfers.

China also agreed to refrain from directly supporting outbound investment aimed at acquiring foreign technology to meet its industrial plans — transactions already restricted by stronger U.S. security reviews.

They’ve agreed to these same things many times in the past.  When it doesn’t happen and an American company complains, China will brush it off as an isolated incident that they’re addressing.

The currency agreement contains pledges by China to refrain from competitive currency devaluations and to not target its exchange rate for a trade advantage — language that China has accepted for years as part of its commitments to the Group of 20 major economies.

So here’s another agreement that the Reuters article correctly identifies as nothing new.  Besides, as I’ve explained many times in other posts, currency values have absolutely nothing to do with trade imbalances.

Under dispute resolution is an arrangement allowing parties to resolve differences over how the deal is implemented through bilateral consultations, starting at the working level and escalating to top-level officials. If these consultations do not resolve disputes, there is a process for imposing tariffs or other penalties.

I’m sure the Chinese love this one.  “Dispute resolution” is something they’ve used for decades to forestall any meaningful retaliation when they violate or fail to live up to their agreements.

U.S. officials said the deal includes improved access to China’s financial services market for U.S. companies, including in banking, insurance, securities and credit rating services.

When China was given “most favored nation” trading status by Clinton in the late ’90s, it was clear that the manufacturing factor sector of our economy was about to be destroyed.  The free trade globalists promised that America would be transformed into a services powerhouse economy.  It never happened.  Such services are nothing more than computer transactions and create few jobs.  The inclusion of a promise of more access to the Chinese economy would mean virtually nothing to the American economy, even if it did happen, which it likely will not.

All of the emphasis in this trade deal is on exports to China, with no emphasis on the reduction of imports.  It’s as though Trump has taken a page from Obama’s playbook when Obama promised in 2010 to re-balance trade by doubling exports in five years.  How did that work out?  Five years later, exports of manufactured goods were up by only 9% – not even keeping pace with inflation, which means that exports actually fell.  By the time Obama left office, exports were even lower.  Obama’s failure to do anything meaningful to re-balance trade during his two-term tenure was a major factor in Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.

So that’s it.  Trump’s trade agenda has been not just stalled, but rolled back to some degree, for nothing more than promises that won’t be kept.  The emphasis on boosting farm exports is a blatant pandering to Trump’s electoral base.  It seems as though, with this trade deal, Trump believes that the U.S. will be better off if it returns to being an agrarian society.  If we were a country of 100 million people, like in the late 19th century, that might be true.  With a population of 330 million people, we can’t have a viable economy without an industrial base.  The de-industrialization of America has got to stop.  When dealing with a badly overpopulated nation like China, it’s impossible to export your way out of a trade deficit.  They have no capacity to boost their imports because their per capita consumption, emaciated by overcrowding, prohibits them from even absorbing their own domestic industrial capacity.

So what would a better deal look like?  No deal at all.  No overpopulated nation like China will ever deal away the manufacturing for export that is so vital to their economy, and wouldn’t comply with any deal that threatened it.  The only way to restore a balance of trade with China is to levy heavy tariffs to make their products noncompetitive with American-made goods.  If it ultimately leads to a cessation of trade with China altogether, the American economy would enjoy a $450 billion/year boost.  The American economy would actually be far better off if China fell off the map.

The Trump administration needs to stop seeing tariffs as negotiating leverage, and start seeing them as the only way to maintain a balance of trade.  Trump is frittering away his opportunity to truly “Make America Great Again,” something he can’t legitimately claim has happened until America is restored to the industrial powerhouse that it once was.

 

 

 


A coming civil war? Is “Americanism,” or the lack thereof, driving us toward it?

December 5, 2019

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/12/04/modern-day-civil-war-in-united-states-how-americanism-can-save-us-column/4309670002/

I came across this above-linked opinion piece on the USA Today web site yesterday and just had to comment.  As the author observes, we’re beginning to hear an undercurrent of rumblings about the potential for another civil war in America.  I’ve heard and read reports of groups – motorcycle gangs and clubs and various militias – that are reportedly prepared to take up arms in the event that President Trump were to be impeached.  (Kudos to the author of this piece for his even-handedness in laying blame on both sides.)

Let me preface this by saying that I voted for Trump in 2016.  I did so on the basis of his promises to do something about our trade deficit and about illegal immigration, the two issues which I believe lie at the root of the ills that have beset our economy for decades.  I also voted for Obama in 2008 for the very same reason – his promise to reduce our trade imbalance – a promise not kept.

I’m not a particularly big fan of Trump.  He can be obnoxious and arrogant.  He’s not a great communicator.  But, after many decades of do-nothing presidents who stood idly by while the rising tide of “globalism” plundered our economy and while other countries played us for fools, I’m thrilled that we finally have a leader who’s willing to stand up and tell the world enough is enough and we won’t tolerate it any longer. He’s backed up his words with action, levying large tariffs on Chinese imports in spite of the tremendous pressure from the Chinese and the global business community not to do it.  Good for him.  I want to see more of it.

Does that make me a Republican?  Hardly.  The Republican party has traditionally been a big supporter of free trade – even more so than the Democrats – and staunchly opposed to the use of tariffs.  So what does that make me?  An American, one who, like million of others, was infused with the spirit of “Americanism” as I grew up, the very kind of “Americanism” the author of this piece describes when he says:

America once was, and hopefully still can be, a nation for the ambitious, hard-working, creative, productive, adventurous and entrepreneurial. That is the meaning of Americanism and the spirit of American liberty.

America once was all of that.  A few paragraphs earlier, the author stated, “If we are to avoid civil war, Americans must rediscover the principles and promise of American life that united us for over 200 years.”  Interesting that the author takes note of the 200-year milestone of our country.  That bicentennial happened in 1976.  Coincidentally, 1976 was the year that America’s trade balance swung from a small surplus to an ever-growing deficit.  2018 marked the 42nd annual trade deficit and was the largest in history.  2019 will be the 43rd.  While “the promise of American life” united us for over 200 years, it didn’t last much beyond that.

I entered the labor force in the private sector in 1974 and spent my entire working career watching “the promise of American life” steadily eroded by the forces of globalism, as global corporations turned their backs on Americans, licking their chops at the prospect of more and faster growth in the underdeveloped world – primarily in China.  I listened to the daily drumbeat about how Americans could no longer compete with foreign labor and watched our factories shut down as “made in the USA” products on store shelves were steadily displaced by those from China and Mexico.

By 2016 “the promise of American life” was gone, replaced by a dog-eat-dog existence of working minimum wage jobs while the severance packages and retirement savings were slowly exhausted.  Americans were seething with anger and ready to elect anyone who promised to do something about it.

Hillary Clinton blamed her loss to Trump on the E-mail investigation that was announced by James Comey in the final week before the election.  Baloney.  Americans didn’t care about her E-mails.  That story was already old news.  But three other things happened in that final week that set Americans on fire:  first, the Social Security administration announced that, for the 2nd year in a row, there would be no cost-of-living adjustment to social security benefits.  That was followed closely by an announcement from the Obama adminstration that “Obamacare” premiums were being jacked up by a third or more.  Finally, that announcement was followed the very next day by announcements of similar huge premium increases for private health insurance.

A “coming” civil war?!?!?  We’ve been in one for three years, and those events of the final week of the 2016 election campaign that I just described were the opening salvo, fired by globalists at the downtrodden American workers, accompanied by their battle cry, “The American Dream is dead!”  The election a week later was the return volley, fired by furious Americans whose sense of “Americanism” was reawakened.  If there was any doubt that a war was on, it was erased on January 20, 2017 when, during his inauguration speech, Trump swung a rhetorical battle-ax at the heads of globalism.

Globalism is in a full-blown panic.  They’ve done a masterful job of portraying Trump as a self-serving oligarch that threatens our very democracy.  The American media, owned and controlled almost lock, stock and barrel by foreign interests, has been relentless and unmerciful in their efforts to bring Trump down.

Will this war turn into an actual shooting war?  God, let’s hope not, but globalism won’t go down without a fight.  You can bet on that.  “Americanism?”  It’s alive and well, much to the chagrin of the globalists.

 


Evidence Mounting that Trump Tariffs are Working

September 9, 2019

The July trade data released on Friday by the Commerce Department provides evidence that the tariffs implemented by the Trump administration on Chinese imports are working.  The purpose of the tariffs, of course, is to shift manufacturing away from China and back to the U.S. to bolster the U.S. economy and manufacturing employment and break America’s dependence on massive budget deficits to counteract the damage done by trade deficits.

You won’t find much evidence of it in the headline number – the overall trade deficit – which shrunk marginally in July to $54 billion, a figure actually slightly worse than a year ago – $53.4 billion in July, 2018.  You have to look deeper at what’s happening with manufactured goods – not just “goods” in general, which the Commerce Department tracks and which includes trade in resources like oil and and farm products that have little impact on job creation.  The trade deficit in manufactured goods has been deteriorating rapidly for many years, interrupted only by the “Great Recession” in 2008/2009.  From January, 2010 to December of 2018, the deficit in manufactured goods nearly tripled, from $28.6 billion to $76.5 billion.  However, in the past twelve months, the deficit in manufactured goods has risen by only $0.3 billion – an actual decline when adjusted for inflation – and has actually fallen by $6.4 billion since the record of $76.5 billion set in December.

The impact on trade with China has been dramatic.  Through 2018, the deficit with China had been rising at a rate of about 10% per year, from $56.9 billion in 1998 to $419.5 billion in 2018.  In 2019, however, the deficit has fallen by 12% and the rate of decline is accelerating, though it ticked up slightly in July, likely the result of importers stockpiling goods in anticipation of the next round of tariffs.

The effect on manufacturing employment in the U.S. has been much less dramatic, though there has been some effect.  Manufacturing employment gains have been slow in 2019 after a strong 2018, but that may be about to change.  The Labor Department reported on Friday that, while the average work week in the U.S. rose a tenth of an hour to 34.4 hours, the manufacturing work week rose by 0.2 hours to 40.6 hours.  That bodes well for an overdue jump in manufacturing employment as employers look to cut overtime costs.  Also, although the headline number of Friday’s employment report – 130,000 jobs added in August (according the establishment survey portion of the report) – was below expectations for a gain of about 158,000 – what went unreported was that employment in the U.S. (as measured by the household survey portion of the report) rose by nearly 600,000!

And there’s this:  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-economy-women/tight-u-s-labor-market-shrinks-gender-and-race-gaps-to-record-lows-idUSKCN1VR2JC.  In August, the gap in the labor force participation rate between men and women fell to an all-time record low and black unemployment also fell to an all-time record low.

Still, job gains in manufacturing at this point could be and should be much better.  What’s holding it back is Trump’s failure to expand his tariff policy beyond China, enabling companies to shift production from China to secondary suppliers in other countries – especially Mexico – where the trade deficit has jumped 24%.  Mexican workers have been the biggest beneficiaries of the tariffs on China, not Americans.

Trump can’t really claim that he’s “Made American Great Again” until manufacturing jobs come back to the U.S. in a much bigger way.  That can’t happen until he applies tariffs beyond China to include Mexico and imported autos from Europe, Japan and South Korea.  The results with China prove that they work.  Why is he holding back?


Trump Tariff Policy and the Risk of Recession

August 21, 2019

Early this month, Trump announced that a 10% tariff would go into effect on September 1st on all remaining imports from China.  (Half of Chinese imports were already subject to a 25% tariff.)  Stock markets plunged amid warnings of a global slowdown, inflation and the possibility of recession in the U.S.  Investors rushed to buy safe-haven bonds, sending the yield on 10-year bonds below that of 2-year bonds, producing the dreaded “yield curve inversion,” which has often been a harbinger of a looming recession.  So the warnings of recession intensified.  Every weaker-than-expected economic report blames the “trade war” and Trump’s tariffs, while every stronger-than-expected economic report – most notably a strong labor market and good GDP growth (the exact opposite of recession) is shrugged off as happening in spite of the tariffs and trade war.  The globalist media is desperately stoking fear of a recession in the hope of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Is there actually a risk of recession related to Trump’s tariff policy?  You bet there is.  But the relationship is exactly the opposite of what economists and the media would have you believe.  Trump’s “slow turkey” approach to the use of tariffs – imposing them only on China – so far hasn’t yielded anything in terms of reducing the trade deficit and bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.  Don’t get me wrong.  The tariffs on China are definitely working – reducing the trade imbalance with China by nearly 25% this year.  But companies aren’t convinced that this is anything other than a blip in U.S. trade policy or that it could extend beyond China.  So, instead of bringing jobs back to the U.S., it has shifted them to other overpopulated nations hungry for work.  It appears that countries like Mexico and Vietnam have been the big beneficiaries so far, where our trade deficit with each has grown by approximately 25%.

Our overall trade deficit hasn’t budged.  In  June (the most recent month for which data is available), our deficit in manufactured goods was $73.1 billion – the 2nd worst figure ever recorded and only $3.6 billion below the record set in December of ’18.

Trump appears to be walking a fine line, taking the “slow turkey” approach to tariffs to avoid roiling markets but, at the same time, not realizing any of the benefit of bringing back manufacturing jobs, leaving the economy dependent on deficit spending to counteract the drag of the trade deficit, making it susceptible to a recession.  It’s a huge gamble.  A recession will doom any hope of a 2nd term and, with it, any hope of sustaining this badly-needed turn in trade policy.

 


Tariff news coverage makes me want to scream!

May 13, 2019

The simple-minded, sound-byte news coverage of the tariffs on China just makes me want to scream.  “Trump lied!  China isn’t paying for the tariffs!  American consumers are going to pay!  It’s going to cost every household $1,000 per year in higher prices!  A million jobs will be lost! China will retaliate with tariffs on American imports!  American farmers are getting killed by the loss of exports to China!”

I could go on.  The list of ways in which the sky is falling is endless as every business failure or challenge is now blamed on the tariffs on China.

The problem with the warnings that I’ve singled out above is that there is some truth to all of it – but only a half-truth.  Less than half, actually.  But the media sees an opportunity to stir up Trump hysteria, and hysteria always stirs more interest than factual, balanced reporting.  It’s the very reason that the evening news on every channel begins with a frantic proclamation of “BREAKING NEWS!!!” delivered breathlessly by a news anchor in a tone of voice that sounds like he/she just stopped in to the studio while fleeing the apocalypse to warn us all to run for our lives.  Then you find out it’s not breaking news at all, but some damn thing that happened earlier in the day – something of little significance to 99.9% of the viewing audience – that some reporter just found a new little twist on the story.  And so it is with the story about the tariffs on China.

So I’m here to lend some balance to the tariff story.  Let’s take the above claims one-by-one.

  1.   “Trump lied!  China isn’t paying for the tariffs!  Etc.”  Maybe he did mislead us a bit with this one, as it actually is the importer that will pay the tariff, not the Chinese exporter.  However, in some cases, those are one and the same, since Chinese exporters have set up importing companies in the U.S.  Regardless, China will pay in a big way and China will be hurt badly, much worse than the U.S.  Chinese companies will be pressured to cut their prices to offset the tariffs paid by the importers, and they will, in many cases perhaps offsetting the entire tariff.  They may actually sell their products below cost, wiping out all profit for the Chinese company and all revenue that the Chinese government would have collected.  Chinese exports will fall dramatically as American companies find new, cheaper sources for their products.  Unemployment and civil unrest in China will rise.  China’s ability to fund its military expansion will be badly crippled.
  2. “American consumers are going to pay … $1,000 per year in higher prices!”  Yeah.  No one has ever denied that.  But what’s missing here is the fact that someone is going to give you $2,000 per year – maybe more – to cover it.  Who’s going to do that?  Your employer.  If not your current employer, your new employer – the one who just built a factory in your town to make some product that’s now too expensive to be imported from China.  Uncle Sam will be chipping in too.  Now that he’s collecting revenue from importers – that is, from people who still insist on buying the now-expensive Chinese imports, he has room to cut your income taxes without blowing up the federal budget.  Don’t like paying the tariff on the import?  Then don’t.  Buy the cheaper American-made alternative.
  3. “A million jobs will be lost!”  This one isn’t even a half-truth.  It’s an outright lie perpetrated by globalist economists who don’t like American efforts to restore a balance of trade.  They arrive at this figure by assuming that consumers won’t be able to afford the higher prices and will stop spending, forcing retailers to lay off workers throughout the supply chain – shipyard workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, people stocking shelves and working cash registers.  They hope it won’t dawn on you that people will immediately seek out cheaper alternatives and will quickly find them in new products provided by new companies and entrepreneurs who have seized on the opportunity.  Truth be told, if the trade deficit with China were completely eliminated, as it will be if both sides escalate their tariffs higher and higher, the U.S. would add several million manufacturing jobs to its economy, not to mention the jobs involved in building that manufacturing capacity.
  4. “China will retaliate with tariffs on American imports!”  Maybe, but not if they’re smart.  Don’t forget that the real prize here to restore a balance of trade with China.  Any combination of imports and exports that gets us to that point yields the same positive benefit for the American economy.  If China wants to choke off U.S. exports altogether, then we can achieve a balance of trade by completely choking off Chinese imports.  We’re still the big winner and China will be an even bigger loser.
  5. “American farmers are getting killed … !”  Hogwash.  While farmers’ exports to China may be taking a hit, the free-trade globalists don’t want you to know that farmers are more than making up for it by increased exports to other countries.  It’s easy to verify this for yourself.  Just look at the trade report published monthly by the Commerce Department.  Farm exports (including the much-publicized soybeans) were actually up in 2018 and year-to-date in 2019 are running ahead of 2018 exports.  I also read a story that blamed the demise of family farms on the China tariffs.  More hogwash.  Family farms have been vanishing for decades, unable to compete with the huge corporate farms that are swallowing them up.

Higher prices that are more than offset by higher wages are a good thing, not a bad thing.  That’s the very mechanism that has enabled our standard of living to advance.  We all pay higher prices for every product than we did in the past, but we have a higher standard of living because the demand for labor has driven our wages higher.  “Wages aren’t higher today,” you may say.  Yeah, and why is that?  It’s because of our huge trade imbalance, the very thing Trump is tackling with these tariffs.

If all Americans understood the truth about trade and the damage that huge trade deficits do to an economy, we’d all be cheering for Trump – Republicans and Democrats alike.  We’ve been in a trade war for decades and have been losing badly.  Finally we have someone willing to take up the fight.  That’s the truth.


Trump, tariffs are not “unfair.”

April 25, 2019

https://www.fidelity.com/news/article/top-news/201904230802RTRSNEWSCOMBINED_KCN1RZ144-OUSBS_1

As reported in the above-linked article, President Trump complains that EU (European Union) tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles are “unfair.”  I disagree.  Tariffs are neither “fair” nor “unfair.”  They’re simply a tool used by nations to manage foreign access to their economy.  Every nation should be free to use them as they see necessary for their own best interest.  In this case, the EU has decided that it doesn’t want Harley Davidson infringing on their domestic motorcycle industry.  That’s fine.  That’s their right.

We should do the same.  Is it acceptable for EU motorcycle imports to infringe on our motorcycle industry?  If we see value in having a vibrant motorcycle manufacturing industry, then the answer is no, and the U.S. should impose its own tariffs on EU motorcycle imports.  Both sides win.  The EU protects its motorcycle industry and the U.S. does likewise.  Otherwise, if we don’t really care if we have any motorcycle industry in the U.S., then there’s no need for tariffs.

It’s as simple as that.  It’s pointless to try to threaten the EU into dropping their tariffs.  They’ve already decided that they need them, in spite of the potential ramifications that they surely considered when they imposed them.  So stop putting our trade policy in the hands of our competitors and seize control of the situation by taking actions that are within our control – not theirs.

Beyond the motorcycle industry, Trump needs to consider a whole range of imports from the EU that impact our economy.  For example, is it in the best interest of our domestic auto industry and our labor force to cede a large percentage of auto sales to EU imports?  Of course not.  But that’s exactly what we’re doing.  We have an enormous trade deficit in automobiles with the EU.  It’s long past time to impose tariffs that will restore balance to trade in automobiles.  We should buy no more from them than they buy from us.  Imposing large enough tariffs on EU auto imports is the only way to make that happen.

Come on, Mr. President, it’s time to stop playing the victim, as your predecessors have done for decades, and take meaningful action to restore a balance of trade with the EU.

 


A Trump Report Card

April 23, 2019

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, and thought it’d be a good time to give President Trump a sort of mid-term report card, albeit a little late.  I’ll grade him in two subjects only – immigration and trade policy – since these two areas address the economic effects of population growth, both actual growth the effect of growth imported through trade with overpopulated nations, the focus of this blog.  Beyond these, little else matters.  What about environmental policy?  Without a focus on stabilizing our population (and virtually all of America’s population growth is driven by immigration), all other environmental policies are doomed to failure.  What about foreign policy?  It’s impossible to project strength in the world if you’re weak on trade.

So, with that said, let’s begin with the good news:

Immigration Policy:  A+

Trump has done a fantastic job on both illegal and legal immigration, each of which had been contributing a million people per year to America’s population growth.  Thanks both to Trump’s zero tolerance policy for illegal immigration and dramatic cuts in legal immigration, the Census Bureau reduced its estimate of the U.S. population by 1.3 million people at the end of 2018.  He spent a lot of political capital in his efforts to get funding for a border wall and, when Congress wouldn’t agree, had the guts to declare a national emergency to obtain the funds.  “What emergency?” the media cried at first, but not for long, when their own reporters in the field began reporting on the humanitarian crisis at the border that resulted from the adminstration’s efforts to enforce the law instead of turning a blind eye to illegal immigration as previous administrations have done.  Now there’s virtually no complaints about Trump’s enforcement efforts or his emergency declaration.  His policies are likely responsible for the fact that increases at the low end of the wage scale are outpacing higher income increases.  Recently, during a trip to the southern border, Trump declared that “Our nation is full.”  Truer words were never spoken.  Ultimately, this is the biggest reason that immigration needs to be reduced.  Trump has done an absolutely fantastic job of reining in out-of-control immigration.

That’s the good news.  Now for the not-so-good:

Trade Policy:  D

Such a low grade may seem surprising and harsh, especially in light of the tariffs on metals and his seemingly tough position with China, including a 25% tariff on some items and a 10% tariff on half of all Chinese imports.  However, it’s those very actions that elevate his score to a “D” from an “F”, the score I’d give to every previous president going as far back as Franklin Roosevelt.  They’ve been a nice start, but fall far short of what we were led to expect from him in the way of trade policy.  Like all previous presidents of the modern era, Trump has been sucked into endless trade negotiations, a ploy that nations with large trade surpluses have used successfully for decades to forestall meaningful action by the U.S. – namely, tariffs.  We were promised that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be torn up or promptly replaced.  Trump’s administration did negotiate a new agreement, but one that reportedly does little to shrink the enormous deficit with Mexico and it may never even be enacted, if Congress has its way.

Action on China is stalled.  Tariffs on auto and parts imports now appear to be idle threats.  Beyond China, there’s been no action on reducing the trade imbalance with other nations like Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and a host of others.  The trade deficit in manufactured goods has continued to explode to new record levels under Trump.  Employment in manufacturing has stalled once again.  Trump sees trade as a venue for demonstrating his deal-making prowess, and he sees tariffs as leverage to use in trade negotiations.  He doesn’t understand that favorable “deals” with overpopulated nations are impossible and a waste of time, and that tariffs are the only way to restore a balance of trade with those nations.  Regarding the ongoing trade negotiations with China, he recently declared that the U.S. will win, whether a deal is reached or not.  He’s wrong.  The Chinese have already won by sucking him into time-wasting talks that, at best, will yield a deal that the Chinese will use to continue to grow their trade surplus with the U.S.  He had them on the ropes with the tariffs and then caved in, letting them off the hook.

In summary, Trump’s trade policy is stalled and our trade deficit is getting worse, not better.  This has been a major disappointment.  He’s wasted valuable time.  As I’ve said many times, a tariff program will produce some pain in the short term as prices rise and companies are slow to build manufacturing capacity in the U.S., but will ultimately yield incredible economic growth once that capacity is in place.  Had Trump been more aggressive with tariffs, the short term pain would have given way to some major economic gains by the time of the 2020 election.  Now, that’s probably not possible and, instead, his economic program is at risk of stumbling into the election.

He’s done a terrific job on immigration but all may be lost if he doesn’t get his trade policy off dead-center.