Anti-border tax coalition

April 20, 2017

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tax-lobbying-idUSKBN17C2HQ

I’ve been predisposed for a week or so and it’s now time to get caught up on some things.  There’s been a lot in the news lately regarding Trump administration policies on immigration and trade.  I’m extremely pleased with what’s happening on immigration, less so with what I hear about Trump waffling on the idea of a “border tax” (another name for tariffs).

But I’ll start with the above-linked story that came out last week because this is a perfect example of the divergence of interests that takes place when a nation becomes “economically over-populated” or takes on the characteristics of such an economy through free trade with a badly overpopulated nation.  For the benefit of those unfamiliar with this concept, this divergence of interests is one of the consequences of the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption.  As a society becomes more densely populated, the need to crowd together and economize space begins to erode per capita consumption.  As per capita consumption declines, so too does per capita employment.  The result is rising unemployment and poverty.   It’s in individuals’ best interest – in the best interest of the common good – that this situation be avoided.  (To better understand this concept, I encourage you to read Five ShortBlasts.)

However, while per capita consumption may begin to decline as a population density reaches a certain level, total consumption continues to rise with a growing population.  Who benefits from that?  Anyone in the business of selling products.  Not only do they benefit from the increase in sales volume, but they benefit further as the labor force grows faster than demand, putting downward pressure on wages.  Thus, it’s in corporations’ best interest to see population growth continue forever, and to pursue more markets through free trade.

So it’s in the best interest of the common good that we avoid meshing our economy through free trade with nations whose markets are emaciated by overcrowding and who come to the trading table with nothing but bloated labor forces hungry for work.  But it’s in corporations’ best interests to grow the overall customer base through free trade with those same nations.  So it comes as no surprise that a big-business coalition is eager to steer lawmakers away from any tax plan that would include a “border tax” (a tariff) that might shut them out of their foreign markets.

They call themselves “Americans for Affordable Products,” making it sound as though it is individual Americans who make up this coalition and not global corporations.  They want us to believe that products will become less affordable.  While prices for imports may rise, they want you to forget that those increases would be more than offset by rising incomes and falling tax rates.  They don’t care if the border tax benefits you.  All they care about is that it may not necessarily benefit them.

So which of these competing interests will lawmakers heed – their wealthy corporate benefactors or the angry Americans who swept the Trump administration into power on his promise to enact a border tax and bring our manufacturing jobs back home?  Money talks and I fear that groups like this coalition are having an effect.  Trump and Republicans would be wise to ignore them.  Democrats paid the price for ignoring the plight of middle-class Americans when Obama betrayed his promise of “hope and change.”  Those same middle-class Americans will pull the trigger on Trump too if he doesn’t come through.

 


February Trade Report: New Administration, Same Old Deficit

April 4, 2017

OK, I know it’s not reasonable to expect anything different.  After all, Trump hasn’t yet had a chance to implement new trade policies that would have any meaningful impact on our trade results.   What he has done is meet with some leaders of nations who are among the worst offenders in terms of their trade surplus with the U.S.:  Mexico, Japan and Germany, most notably.  He meets with Chinese president Xi Jinping in a couple of days.  Reportedly, he hasn’t pulled any punches so far in expressing his displeasure with the trade deficit and has vowed to take tough action (like a “border tax”) to change the situation.  So, one thing we can say about the early evidence provided by the February trade results is that tough talk has absolutely no effect on trade results.  (As if the trade results of past administrations aren’t sufficient evidence.)

In February, the deficit dipped slightly.  Here’s a chart of the deficit in manufactured goods:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.  As you can see, though the deficit dipped slightly from January, it remains stuck in the $55-62 billion range it’s been in for two years.

As time goes on, I grow more nervous that Trump will cop out on the trade issue just as Obama did, as more and more meetings with world leaders and business leaders try to convince him of the intangible, unquantifiable benefits of free trade.  It worked on Obama.  Hopefully, they’ll find Trump a tougher nut to crack.  Time will tell.  If there is no border tax in Trump’s tax overhaul plan, we’ll know that he caved to the pressure.  We’re watching, President Trump.  You can kiss your supporters goodbye if you don’t come through on this campaign promise.


Trump to Confront China’s Xi This Week

April 3, 2017

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-markets-idUSKBN175025

In the wake of the Obama administration, it still makes me nervous any time the president sits down for talks with a foreign leader.  For Obama, there were no concessions too big for him to make.  Foreign leaders played him like a fiddle.  Americans came out the losers every time.  I say this as one who had big hopes for Obama and voted for him in 2008.

As reported in the above-linked Reuters article, Chinese President Xi Jinping travels to Florida this week to meet President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort.  The media will be focused on dealings aimed at reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.  But the real story will be their talks on trade.  America’s failed trade policy is far and away the biggest contributor to our economic decline.  All of our economic problems and virtually every other problem that is impacted by monetary resources allocated to deal with it can be blamed on our trade deficit.  The budget deficit, nearly all of our national debt, our crumbling infrastructure, our health care crisis, homelessness, poverty …. you name it, they’re all directly linked to the drain of our financial resources wrought by the trade deficit.  And no country is more responsible for that drain than China, who accounts for nearly one half of the entire deficit.

On Friday, the U.S. president sought to push his crusade for fair trade and more manufacturing jobs back to the top of his agenda by ordering a study into the causes of U.S. trade deficits and a clamp down on import duty evasion.

If the President is truly interested in the cause of U.S. trade deficits, he need look no further than this blog and can learn all he needs to know by reading Five Short Blasts.   Nations who come to the trading table with nothing to offer but bloated labor forces and markets emaciated by gross overcrowding are the cause of trade deficits.  By this criteria, China is the worst of the worst.  Only tariffs (or a “border tax,” if that term is less onerous) can maintain a balance of trade when dealing with such countries.  Negotiations are pointless since the only possible outcome is to trust the other side to take actions to rein in their appetite for our market.  Decades of experience since the beginning of the failed experiment with “free” trade has proven that they won’t.

So far, President Trump has proven that, for the most part, he can be trusted to follow through on his campaign promises.  No promise was bigger than getting tough with China on trade.  It seems that Germany’s Angela Merkel found him to be a very different president from Obama in her recent meeting with Trump.  Hopefully, he’ll be just as tough on Xi.  It seems that Trump’s “border tax” idea is now becoming more accepted as a crucial element of his upcoming tax reform plan.  Let’s hope he doesn’t negotiate away any of it this week.


February Employment Report: “Real” or “Fake?”

March 15, 2017

The employment report for the month of February (the first full month of the Trump administration) was released on Friday and the numbers looked pretty good.  The economy added 235,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell one tenth to 4.7%.  President Trump hailed the news and declared that, though the employment reports during the Obama administration were fake, that the February numbers were very real.

Let’s examine that claim.  First of all, take a look at this chart:  Labor Backlog.  Some explanation is in order.  “Actual labor force growth” is the growth in the labor force if it had grown at the same rate as the overall population as it does in reality.  The “BLS reported labor force growth” is the growth in the labor force that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to calculate the unemployment rate.  The “change in employment level” is a figure taken directly from the BLS monthly data.  It’s the growth in the number of people who report being employed in the household survey.  The “labor force backlog” is the difference between the growth in employment level and the “actual labor force growth.”  If the employment level grows faster, then unemployment should decline along with the “labor force backlog.”

Note that during the Obama years, the BLS consistently reported less growth in the labor force than what the growth in the population would suggest.  Only in 2012 and 2015 did the BLS report labor force growth that was slightly above actual growth.  The result is that the “labor force backlog” grew steadily during the Obama administration until it peaked at the end of 2014 at 6,359,000 workers who were unemployed.  By the end of 2016, that backlog had fallen only slightly to 5,994,000 workers.  In spite of that, according to the BLS, the unemployment rate plummeted from 9.9% in 2008 to 4.7% in 2016.  That’s impossible and the only way that the BLS was able to make it appear that the unemployment rate was dropping was by claiming that workers were dropping out of the labor force or by not growing the labor force as the population grew, or through some combination of those factors.  Thus, when Trump claimed that the employment data was “fake” during the Obama administration, he was exactly right.  If you’ve been a follower of this blog, you know that it’s something that I maintained all along throughout the Obama administration.

OK, so how about Trump’s claim that the numbers now are “real?”  So far, in January and February, the BLS has reported growth in the labor force of 416,000 workers.  The actual growth in the labor force – if it grows in proportion to the population – is only 89,000 workers.  In other words, so far in 2017, the BLS now claims that 327,000 “missing” workers have reappeared in the work force.  That supports Trump’s claim that his numbers are real.  But time will tell.  Two months’ of data isn’t nearly enough to judge how honest the Trump administration is being when it comes to the employment reports.  It’s something I’ll watch just as closely as the Obama numbers.


Corporate Whining Over Immigration

January 30, 2017

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-immigration-companies-idUSKBN15C0SC

As reported in the above-linked article, the corporate whining about the scale-back in immigration that President Trump began with his travel ban aimed at seven high-risk nations has begun.

While one can criticize the clumsy, sledge hammer approach to the ban, which should have allowed travel by people with valid green cards and should have allowed already-issued visas to simply expire while implementing a moratorium on new visas, the self-serving objections by the global corporations should be dismissed out-of-hand.  It’s not this travel ban that concerns them.  It’s the coming fight over the whole H-1B visa program that they use to suppress wages in the U.S. with cheap foreign labor.

That program, along with the heavily abused student visa program which fills the pipeline that supplies it, has  for decades been a major millstone around the neck of young American workers trying to get a start in life.  The student visa program is used to fill the seats of American universities with foreign students, keeping those seats in short supply for American students and propping up the sky-rocketing rate of tuition increases.  It’s the major reason that young Americans are saddled with so much student debt.  Global corporations then use those graduates to staff their American operations and suppress their labor costs.

Those people protesting the travel ban are likely the same people who rightfully are part of the whole movement that protests the truly immoral situation with income inequality.  It would be interesting to poll those people protesting Trump’s ban about their own financial status.  How many are saddled with crushing student debt?  How many can only dream of having a job like those held by these immigrants?  Does it not occur to them that they are merely pawns in the whole globalization scheme that is actually the root cause of income inequality, especially in the U.S.?

The protest of these CEOs that they have to rely on immigration for high-skilled workers is an insult to American workers.  I hope that President Trump soon turns his focus on slashing both the H-1B visa program and the student visa program.


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.


The New Civil Rights Movement

January 15, 2017

On Friday, Democratic Representative John Lewis, a pioneer of the civil rights movement, announced that he would not attend Donald Trump’s inauguration, denouncing Trump as “not a legitimate president.”  Mr. Lewis should rightly be proud of the major role he played in the civil rights movement of the ’60s, winning equal rights not just for blacks but for all minorities, and the nation owes him a great deal of respect and a debt of gratitude.

However, while Mr. Lewis and Dr. King and others were fighting for the right of minorities to be equal members of society, a new kind of civil rights abuse – one more subtle, arguably just as insidious and even more pervasive – was in the making.  The right of all Americans to make a decent living by putting their God-given talents to work as important cogs in their own economy, was already being usurped by global organizations bent on fleecing the American economy.  Americans – all Americans – black, white, Hispanic and all the rest – have become the new slaves to a new Confederacy of plantation owners:  the New World Order and its global corporations.

The American economy has been drained of trillions and trillions of dollars.  Americans’ savings have been depleted.  Wages are down.  Pensions are gone.  Health care is unaffordable.  Our infrastructure is crumbling.  Our youth are drowning in student loan debt.  No one today feels the lash of a whip, but the threat of being cast out into an economy practically devoid of opportunity might now be just as fearsome for American workers.

Mr. Lewis and others fought the good fight and won the battle.  Though prejudice will always be with us, equal rights for all are now codified into the law of the land.  So successful has that battle been that Barack Obama was embraced by the nation, including whites, as our 44th president, not once but twice.  But it was actually the dawn of this new fight for civil rights – Americans’ economic civil rights – that swept Obama into power.  Once the economy completely collapsed in 2008, American slaves to the New World Order would stand no more.  Obama’s promise of hope and change, his promise to fix our trade problems, and his “yes we can” mantra rang true to the majority of Americans who perceived the country to be “headed in the wrong direction.”

But Obama, along with both political parties, underestimated the depth of the bitterness Americans felt for their economic plight.  They propped up the bankrupt financial and auto industries, implemented some stimulus spending and, beyond that, simply set about restoring the status quo.  The G20, the World Economic Forum, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, just to name a few, happily returned to the task of sustaining the host-parasite relationship between America and the rest of the world.  Democrats and Republicans alike shamefully became willing accomplices, grovelling at the feet of the globalists to fund their campaigns.

In the 1960s, Bob Dylan sang:

“Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call.

Don’t stand in the doorways, don’t block up the hall,

for he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled.

The battle outside ragin’

will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls,

for the times, they are a-changin.”

Now, the times are changing again. Indeed, the windows and walls of Washington have been shaken and rattled to their very foundation.  Donald Trump has been swept into power by the same forces that caused Americans to put their faith in a black, freshman senator eight years ago.  This time, however, Trump has gone further, promising to break our enslavement by these global organizations.  The new civil rights movement is on.  The fight for all Americans of all colors to make a decent living and provide opportunity for their children, whether they live in the inner cities, in the suburbs or in rural America, has begun.  As Dylan said further on in his song:

“…get out anyone if you can’t lend a hand,

for the times, they are a-changin’.”

Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, Mr. Lewis, but either get involved in helping this fledgling new civil rights movement or “get out” and make way for others who will.