“Embrace change,” corporate America!

September 3, 2019

I was there, working in manufacturing in the 1980s, when a cold wind swept across America.  I was there when our corporations, until then led by manufacturing and the engineers who rose up through its ranks, kicked manufacturing to the curb and replaced their leadership with marketing people, skilled in the art of B.S., and bean counters, focused on nothing but cutting costs.  I was there when the United Nations and the World Trade Organization embarked on their campaign of raising poor nations out of poverty through the systematic plundering of jobs from the U.S. – as many jobs as possible without tipping the balance of power in favor of bad actors who might threaten this new concept of “globalism” and the “New World Order” – the new regime of parasites dedicated to keeping its U.S. host alive just enough to keep the blood flowing.

I was there when they began scaling back manufacturing operations, laying off good workers and closing plants.  “Embrace change,” we were told constantly by business managers with an air of condescension, as though they were addressing fools too dumb to recognize good things and good opportunities when they see it.  We had made careers of embracing change – change for the better – changes that automated our factories, boosted production, cut emissions, improved quality and grew profits.  Now we were being insulted by con men whose only goal was the next promotion, which required laying off more people than the next guy.

I was there at a big division-wide meeting – one of those meetings whose purpose was ostensibly to gather input, but it was clear from the start that input was the last thing they wanted.  What they wanted was “buy in” for the new direction of the company.  In other words, you’d better accept what’s coming enthusiastically, with a big smile on your face, if you know what’s good for you.  The leader, the division manager, asked, “what are we going to need to succeed?”  I raised my hand and replied – perhaps naively or perhaps in a thinly-veiled attempt to stand up for what I and many others present had built our careers around.  “We’ll need excellence in manufacturing.”  I was stunned by his arrogant, dismissive reply.  “Why?  We don’t need that.  We can buy that!”  I thought to myself, “you dumbass, you can buy it if you want, but you still need it, and now you’re at the mercy of your supplier.”  But it would have been a pointless example of falling on your own sword to come right out and say it.  “Embrace change.”  Here it comes.

Our final days before closing the doors were spent writing operating procedures, documenting every detail of our operations, and then training workers brought over from foreign subsidiaries.  We were forced to facilitate the widespread technology transfer that played a critical role in ruining the American economy.

It’s decades later and the tables have turned.  As it always does, the pendulum swung too far.  The globalist corporations over-played their hand, planting the seeds of political change.  Americans are sick of working for minimum wages and being the world’s chumps.  America itself can no longer fund massive trade deficits.  The wind has shifted and now blows cold on globalist dreams of reaping big profits from a China transformed into western-style consumers and from plundering the American market with cheap products.  Those dreams never had a chance.  China will never be more than a sweat-shop labor pool with their gross over-population dooming any hope of a western-style, consumer-driven economy.

In the meantime, a lot of weeds sprouted in the devastated American economic landscape.  By “weeds,” I mean business models that bring so little value to the table that they are dependent on virtual slave labor wages.  Cheap junk of poor quality has perpetuated a throw-away mindset among consumers.  Cheap clothing made of thin, flimsy fabric.  Tools that break after one use.  Auto parts and appliances that break as soon as the warranty expires.  An economy dependent on consumers burning through their severance packages.  A retail economy that employed laid-off workers manning check-out lines until everyone had burned through their savings.  An economy totally dependent on consumers buying stuff that they had no hand in producing.  All the while the economy grew.  It didn’t matter if the growth was flowers or weeds, as long as the color was green – money pouring into corporate coffers.

In the wake of Trump’s tariffs on China, retailers are having a hissy-fit when their suppliers ask for a price increase to cover the cost of the tariffs.  Products with high perceived value needn’t fear.  They’ll always find a way to be marketed successfully even if their prices do rise a few percent.  Those with low value will bite the dust.  Good riddance.  And retailers who turn their backs on good products just because the supplier needs to raise prices to make a profit – whether to cover the cost of the tariffs or, better yet, to begin manufacturing domestically – will lose out to retailers who understand their value, and they too will fail and vanish.  Again, good riddance.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of retailers.

So, corporate America, the shoe’s now on the other foot.  EMBRACE CHANGE!  Think of the possibilities and opportunities – the opportunity to cut your shipping costs dramatically, to be in charge of your manufacturing again instead of being at the mercy of Chinese companies, to boost sales to American consumers with more buying power thanks to rising wages.  EMBRACE CHANGE!!  Maybe you can mitigate some of the increased cost by cutting fat at the top layers of your organizations – those con men who grew fat and rich by ruining the lives of the people who actually did the work.  EMBRACE CHANGE!!!  Maybe you’ll survive.  If not, good riddance and adios.  Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.  Your workers will be fine.  The winning companies will snap them right up.

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“Slow-Turkey” Trade Policy

July 8, 2019

Like the animated “slow turkey” we’ve all seen on the TV ads for a quit-smoking medication, Trump’s trade policy is also taking the “slow turkey” approach.

As announced by the Commerce Department on Wednesday, the trade deficit jumped back up in May to $55.2 billion from $51.2 billion in April, but this was still below the peak of $60.8 billion in December.  (Here’s the full release from the Commerce Department:  https://www.bea.gov/system/files/2019-07/trad0519.pdf.)

More importantly, the deficit in manufactured goods also rebounded in May to $71.1 billion, up from $67.9 billion in April.  It too, however, was below the all-time record of $76.5 billion set in December.  Here’s a chart of the deficit in manufactured goods:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.

Based upon these figures, it’s difficult to see that Trump’s policy of using tariffs to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. is having any effect.  Look more closely, though, and you’ll find that things are starting to happen.  The deficit with China rose again in May, but to “only” $30.2 billion, from $26.9 billion in April and $20.7 billion in March.  But this rise follows a seasonal pattern.  The fact is that the deficit with China has been down from the same month in 2018 every single month so far this year.  The year-to-date deficit with China is $137.1 billion through May, compared to $152.2 billion for the same period in 2018.  And let’s not forget that the U.S. is now collecting a lot of revenue from half of Chinese imports – approximately $5 billion in May – an annualized rate of $60 billion.  If and when Trump imposes a 25% tariff on the other half of Chinese imports, that revenue figure will double to $120 billion per year and will further cut our deficit with China.

Yes, China is retaliating with tariffs of their own, and exports to China have dropped slightly, but imports from China have fallen much more – the net result being a lower trade deficit, which is a boost to the U.S. economy.  What about the stories about how bad America’s farmers are being hurt by this trade war?  Baloney.  Look at page 19 of the report.  Exports of “foods, feeds, and beverages” year-to-date is running almost dead even with last year.  Exports of soybeans, which get so much attention, are running 7% ahead of last year.  And overall exports are up by $2 billion from last year.

Recently, Trump announced in the wake of his G20 meeting with Red China’s dictator Xi that he is holding off the implementation of the 25% tariff on the remainder of Chinese imports that he has threatened, pending a new round of trade negotiations with China.  We can see a pattern emerging in Trump’s style of trade policy.  He’s all warm and fuzzy when meeting with global leaders like Xi, then takes the tough action when the lower-level negotiations don’t measure up.  Maybe it’s a smart approach, effectively inoculating the business world against the Chicken Little, “the sky is falling” dire warnings of trade war consequences.  The unfounded fears dissipate when the trade war is rolled out slowly and nothing bad happens.  The free trade fear mongers are losing credibility.  Each new round of tariffs gets more of a ho-hum response.

Who’s been the biggest beneficiary of the tariffs on China so far?  Mexico.  While the trade deficit with others like Germany and Japan is either stagnant or declining (South Korea), the deficit with Mexico is growing rapidly as manufacturers who have been leaving China in droves (a few examples of which are reported here:  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-strategy-tech/hp-dell-other-tech-firms-plan-to-shift-production-out-of-china-nikkei-idUSKCN1TY14G) look for their next best (low cost) solution.  Some manufacturing is coming back to the U.S., but a lot is going to Mexico.

Under current NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) rules, that may look like a smart move.  But that landscape is changing too – in “slow turkey” fashion.  A new agreement has been negotiated and is pending approval by Congress, and Trump has repeatedly threatened tariffs on Mexico imports, most recently in his effort to force Mexico to take a tougher stand against Central American immigrants.  Those companies moving to Mexico now may be throwing good money after bad and regret not facing the inevitable – that America’s tolerance of perpetual, huge trade imbalances has reached the end of the line.

This “slow turkey” approach to trade policy is frustrating for a “cold turkey” like me.  The “cold turkey” approach would already be yielding bigger benefits for American workers.  But I’ll concede that a “slow turkey” approach may be more sustainable in an environment where free trade globalists still command the attention of the media and are influential in what happens in global stock markets.  The benefits for workers may not be sustainable if investors are taking it on the chin.

It looks like the “slow turkey” approach is just beginning to show positive results.  The American economy, including the manufacturing sector, is doing well while others are faltering.  If this approach de-fangs the critics as their trade war hysteria falls flat, and the political climate becomes favorable for an 8-year “slow turkey” transformation of trade policy instead of a 4-year “cold turkey” that ultimately yields nothing more than a lame duck dead turkey, then I’m all for it.

 


March Trade Report Shows Signs that Trump Trade Policy is Working

May 11, 2019

https://www.bea.gov/system/files/2019-05/trad0319.pdf

The above-linked March trade report is showing signs that Trump’s trade policies – particularly the tariffs on Chinese imports – may be beginning to yield positive results for the U.S. economy.

The overall trade deficit held steady at the same level as February at $49.3 billion, the lowest level since June, 2018.  More importantly, the trade deficit in manufactured goods fell $1.1 billion to $68.2 billion, also the lowest level since June, 2018.  More encouraging is the way in which it fell, with imports falling $0.9 billion while exports of manufactured products rose to their highest level since May, 2018.  Here’s a chart of the trade deficit in manufactured goods:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.

In the past few months there’s been a lot of volatility in the data as U.S. businesses stocked up on Chinese imports to avoid the tariff.  Perhaps the March data reflects a slowdown in imports as businesses now find themselves overstocked, but I think that’s not likely.  I thought that when the February data was released, but it seems unlikely that such an overstocked condition could persist for three straight months.  It also wouldn’t explain why manufactured exports are at their highest level in ten months.

Most encouraging of all is that the trade deficit with China fell dramatically in March for the fifth straight month to $20.7 billion, its lowest level since March, 2014 – an unusually low deficit that year – a level more typical of the monthly deficits with China back in 2007.

Trump’s trade policies – attacking our trade deficit with tariffs – is working.  As I write this, on the very day that the tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports were more than doubled to 25%, the stock market has shrugged it off, recovering all of its early losses.  Investors are beginning to sense that all of “the sky is falling” warnings of dire consequences of the big, bad, scary U.S.-China trade war is a bunch of baloney.  They’re beginning to look past it, looking for companies that will benefit, and they’re finding plenty.  The fact is that China has been a huge drag on the American economy and even the global economy, and investors are beginning to see it that way. That’s China’s worst nightmare and a dream come true for Trump, now more  confident in pressing these policies even further.


Debt Denial

February 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

The main culprit of public debt is budget deficits, …

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

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


Fed Chair Powell “Very Worried” about the National Debt

January 11, 2019

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/10/fed-chairman-powell-says-he-is-very-worried-about-growing-amount-of-us-debt.html

As reported in the above-linked article, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is very worried about the national debt.

“I’m very worried about it,” Powell said at The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. … “it’s a long-run issue that we definitely need to face, and ultimately, will have no choice but to face,” he added.

Then he’d better start raising alarm about the trade deficit, by far the biggest cause of the federal budget deficit.  And he’d better start being more supportive of Trump’s efforts to impose tariffs in an effort to restore a balance of trade.  That’s not just my opinion.  More economists are beginning to see the light.  This op-ed piece appeared on CNBC just a few days ago:  https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/07/central-banks-are-not-the-fixers-of-last-resort—commentary.html.  Economist Michael Ivanovitch writes:

“… a rapidly improving trade balance is the only thing that could serve as a strong prop to U.S. economy.

That’s what Wall Street should be rooting for, instead of carping about Washington’s trade wars. Losing half-a-trillion dollar of purchasing power on an annual basis, America has been a victim — a trade war victim — of Chinese, European and Japanese mercantilist policies. Remember, those trade deficits are subtractions from the U.S. GDP. Over only the last five years, trade deficits have reduced the U.S. economic growth by a total of about 2 percentage points.

And the U.S. stands accused of waging a trade war!? “

Consider this:  Over the past ten years, the growth in the national debt is approximately $12 trillion.  Growth in our nation’s GDP (gross domestic product) during that same time frame has been approximately $6.3 trillion, rising from $14.4 in 2008 to $20.7 trillion in 2018.  So without the growth in the national debt (caused by the federal budget deficit), U.S. GDP would have collapsed by $5.7 trillion, a decline of nearly 40%.  In other words, without the federal budget deficit and growth in the national debt, we’d have been in a depression worse than the Great Depression for the past decade.

Over that same ten-year period, the cumulative trade deficit has totaled almost $5 trillion.  It’s no mere coincidence that the cumulative trade deficit, when added to GDP growth, almost exactly equals the growth in the national debt.  Federal deficit spending has just barely been able to offset the monetary drain caused by the trade deficit while also providing some illusion of economic growth.  Look at this chart, showing the growth in the national debt and the cumulative trade deficit:  cumulative trade deficit vs growth in national debt.  Notice how closely the two lines have tracked.  Whenever the growth in the national debt has dropped below the cumulative trade deficit, a recession has ensued.  Whenever the growth in the national debt exceeds the cumulative trade deficit, we’ve experienced an “economic expansion.”  For example, since the financial market collapse and “Great Recession” of 2008, we’ve experienced steady economic growth.  The difference between the two lines – between growth in the debt vs. the cumulative trade deficit – that you see in 2018, accounts for all economic growth since 2008.

It’s absolutely unconscionable that the Federal Reserve and the broader economic community, instead of mocking his tariffs, haven’t given Trump more support for his efforts to restore a balance of trade.

 


What Trump Needs to Do to Survive

December 17, 2018

Donald Trump was never a very likable person -arrogant, obnoxious, inconsiderate, demeaning, a womanizer and narcissistic.  The list could go on.  He’s not eloquent, not inspiring and not a role model unless, that is, you fancy yourself an entrepreneur like him.  There’s no arguing his success as such.  What he lacked in the aforementioned qualities he made up for with ruthless ambition and a keen sense for business.  So it’s not surprising that his reality TV show, The Aprentice, was a hit at a time when millions of workers were falling victim to globalization and were left with few options but to try their hands as entrepreneurs.  Even if you didn’t like Trump, it was entertaining to watch contestants get a heavy dose of reality about what it took to make it as a businessperson.

But Trump as president?  I scoffed at the idea.  No way could such an unlikable person get enough people to vote for him.  I never would have.  When he announced his candidacy, I just assumed that a businessman like him would, of course, be another globalist.  People often said that we needed a businessman to run the government more like a business.  I always replied that what would really happen is that the government would be run for the benefit of business, to the detriment of everyone else.  But he got my attention when he started talking about “making America great again” and what that meant – tearing up bad trade deals, bringing jobs back home and reining in out-of-control immigration – especially illegal immigration.  These were all the things I’d been writing about for years.

So I turned a blind eye to all of his onerous qualities and took a chance.  Why not?  It wasn’t as though I hadn’t voted for populist losers before.  To my amazement, the “silent majority,” who’d been getting their asses kicked by globalization for decades, had had enough of it and voted for him too.  Like me, they were willing to overlook his many flaws and take a chance.  It’s not as though we didn’t know what we were getting.  The Access Hollywood tape had long since been made public.  News about his affairs with “Stormy” McDaniels and Karen McDougall had already come out.

I’ve been pleased with the results – with his policy decisions – but not ecstatic.  He’s been tough on illegal immigration, but where’s the badly-needed border wall?  Making Mexico pay for it would have been easy.  Just tear up NAFTA and slap tariffs on Mexican imports.  Instead, he became mired in a year-long renegotiation of a trade deal with Mexico, which still isn’t signed and is questionable as to whether or not it represents any improvement at all for the U.S.  The tariffs on steel and aluminum were a great first step, followed by the small tariffs on half of Chinese imports.

But now his agenda is stalled, thanks to caving into to the Chinese when they promised reforms at the G20 meeting in Argentina.  We all know how that’ll go.  There’ll be promises from the Chinese that’ll never be kept, but they’ll be enough to win them more concessions from Trump.  The long-talked-about tariffs on auto imports have never happened.  The problem with all of this is that, while what Trump has done so far has been a good start toward an overhaul of trade policy, it hasn’t been enough yet to achieve the desired effect – a migration of manufacturing back to the U.S.  Our trade imbalance is now worse than ever.  Trump has ceded the podium to the hand-wringing globalists who scare the hell out of markets with their daily dire warnings of a trade war or worse.  Now they’re conjuring up images on a new Great Depression, worse they say than 1929.  It’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s having an effect as people turn negative on the economy.  And companies clearly aren’t yet taking this new trade policy seriously, as GM recently announced plans to close plants in the U.S. and move more production to Mexico, and as Boeing just announced that they’re moving some assembly to China.

Given this past week’s news about the conviction of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen on felony charges of campaign finance law violations, it seems inevitable that Trump will face impeachment.  Never mind the fact that the hush money payments were already old news when Trump won the election, indicating that those events weren’t enough to dissuade voters from desperately seeking a change in direction for the country.  Trump won’t stand a chance of re-election with impeachment hanging over his head.  And you can be sure that the House Democrats are smart enough to bring it to a head just as the election draws near.

There’s only one chance for Trump to survive.  The economy has to be going gangbusters when the next election rolls around.  The only way that happens is if he aggressively resumes his implementation of tariffs.  That means that as soon as the 90-day “truce” agreed to at the G20 ends on March 1st, he must immediately raise the tariffs on Chinese imports to 25% as originally promised, and must extend them across the board to all Chinese imports.  Secondly, he needs to immediately implement the long-promised 25% tariffs on all imported autos.  Finally, he must make it clear that the tariffs will remain in place regardless of any promised concessions from China or any auto exporters.  Tariffs cannot be negotiated away.  Lowering the tariffs can only be considered when a balance of trade has been restored, and then only incrementally.  Trump needs to immediately change the conversation, refocusing news coverage on changing trade policy and away from his legal predicaments.  If he does all of this – and the economy is doing great – voters will be willing to overlook an impeachment just as they overlooked his many flaws two years ago.

Anything short of that and Trump will be gone in two years, replaced by globalists who will undo everything he did.  And history will judge his presidency a failure.


Population Density Disparities Drive Global Trade Imbalances

July 14, 2018

In recent posts, we looked at lists of America’s best and worst trading partners in terms of the balance of trade in manufactured goods, and found strong evidence of a link to population density.  The lists of our biggest trade deficits, in both absolute and per capita terms, was dominated by densely populated nations like Germany, Japan and China.  The lists of our biggest trade surpluses was dominated by low population density nations, and by net oil exporters (caused by the fact that oil is traded in American dollars).

Now let’s include all nations*, dividing them equally around the global median population density (which is 194 people per square mile).  Look at this chart:  Balance of Trade Above & Below Median Pop Density.  With those half of nations below the median population density, the U.S. enjoyed a small surplus of trade in manufactured goods of $36 billion in 2017.  However, with those half of nations above the median population density, the U.S. suffered an enormous deficit of $761 billion.  Also, note how the disparity has dramatically worsened over the 14-year time period from 2005 to 2018.  The longer the U.S. attempts to engage in free trade indiscriminately, ignoring the role of population density, the worse the effects become.

One may argue that perhaps dividing the nations of the world around the median population density skews the results, since the more densely populated half of nations includes far more people than the less densely populated half.  Fine.  Let’s divide the world in a way that compares the half of people who live in more densely populated conditions vs. the half of people who live in less densely populated conditions.  If we do that, in 2017 the U.S. had a trade deficit in manufactured goods of $510 billion with the half of people living in more densely populated conditions, and a deficit of only $214 billion – less than half – with the half of people living in less densely populated conditions.  Still a strong correlation to population density.

But maybe that’s not the right way to look at it either.  Perhaps we should divide the world in half according to land mass – that is, the half of the world’s surface area that is less densely populated vs. the half that is more densely populated.  (No, Antarctica is not included in this analysis.)  If we do that, the results are even more dramatic.  With the half of the world’s surface that is more densely populated (accounting for 6.6 billion of the world’s 7.1 billion people), we had a trade deficit in manufactured goods in 2017 of $831 billion.  With the less densely populated half of the world, we had a trade surplus of $107 billion.  (It’s worth noting here that the split occurs at a population density of 56 people/square mile.  That is, the less densely populated half of the world has a population density of 56 or less.  The more densely populated half is greater than 56.  The population density of the U.S. is about 90.)

Think about that.  This means that the U.S. economy would fare much better if the population of the more densely populated half of the world were no greater than the less densely populated half – which would yield a world population of about 1 billion people instead of 7.1 billion.  Instead of a net trade deficit in manufactured goods of $724 billion, we’d have a trade surplus of $214 billion (double the trade surplus that we currently have with the less densely populated half of the world).  One can debate what would be an optimum population density in economic terms, but there’s no question that this is a powerful argument for factoring population density into our trade policy.  Beyond that, it also debunks in a strong way the contention of economists that an ever-growing population is essential to sustaining a healthy economy.  It does nothing of the sort.  Instead, the crowded conditions that characterize a dense population stifle consumption – and thus employment – making people dependent on manufacturing for export to escape poverty.

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* Not all nations are included in the study.  Tiny island nations have been omitted since they don’t factor into the trade equation and, while such nations tend to be densely populated, they also enjoy unique economies, based primarily on tourism.