U.S. Balance of Trade in 2019 vs. Population Density

May 1, 2020

So far we’ve looked at the two ends of the spectrum of America’s 2019 balance of trade – our worst trade deficits and our best trade surpluses.  We found that the list of our worst trade deficits is heavily dominated by nations with a high population density.  Conversely, we found the list of trade surpluses is dominated by two groups of nations – low population densities and net oil exporters.  Now let’s look at the whole 2019 trade picture, which includes 165 nations.  (The CIA World Fact Book lists a total of 229 nations in the world.  Not included in my study are tiny island nations and city-states which, combined, account for less than 1% of trade.)  Here’s a chart of America’s balance of trade with all nations that are more densely populated than the U.S. vs. all nations that are less densely populated, from 2005 through 2019:  Balance of Trade Above & Below U.S. Pop Density.

The difference in the results couldn’t be more stark.  With those nations that are less densely populated than the U.S., we enjoyed a small surplus of $111 billion in 2019 – down slightly from $119 billion in 2018 and essentially flat for the past ten years.  With those nations that are more densely populated than the U.S., we suffered an enormous deficit of $941 billion in 2019 – a deficit that has exploded over the past decade, more than doubling from $428 billion in 2009.

There are 114 nations more densely populated than the U.S., and 51 nations that are less densely populated.  So, you might think, maybe the uneven distribution of countries was a factor in skewing the results.  Fine.  Let’s divide the countries evenly – 82 nations that are more densely populated vs. 83 that are less densely populated.  The results are little different.  With the half of nations more densely populated, the U.S. suffers an enormous trade deficit of $842 billion, vs. a trade surplus of $129 billion with the 83 nations that are less densely populated.  By the way, the median population density is 193 people/square mile – about double that of the U.S.

I should point out that, divided around the median population density, the half of nations that are above the median account for 5.6 billion people, while the half of nations below the median population density account for only 1.7 billion people.  One might argue that, to be a fair analysis, there should be an equal number of people on each side, and not an equal number of nations.  OK, let’s look at it that way.  In order to do that, because it has such a large population, China has to be divided, allocating 59% of its population to the more densely populated half, and 41% of its population to the less densely populated half.  The deficit with China will be divided proportionately.  If we do that, the U.S. has a trade deficit of $557 billion with the half of the world’s population that lives in more densely populated conditions vs. a trade surplus of $273 billion with the half of the population living in less densely populated conditions.

But splitting the population evenly, as we did above, results in a huge discrepancy in the land surface area of the world in one half of the analysis vs. the other – 5.2 million square miles vs. only 0.7 million square miles.  If we divide the world evenly in terms of surface area, the U.S. has a trade deficit of $924 billion vs. a trade surplus of $94 billion with the more densely populated half of the world’s surface area vs. the less densely populated half.

No matter how you look at it, population density is consistently the biggest driving force in determining the balance of trade.  So if the U.S. wants to achieve a balance of trade with the rest of the world, it’s only logical to employ a mechanism aimed at population density – a tariff structure, for example, that’s indexed to a nation’s population density.  Applying tariffs on any other basis isn’t fair.  Should a nation be punished because it’s big instead of little?  Developed vs. undeveloped?  “Free trade” is an example of an unfair tariff system – unfair to the U.S.  It applies a tariff of zero to everyone on no basis whatsoever – without any justification – and the results speak for themselves.  The U.S. is being killed with a huge trade imbalance that has destroyed its manufacturing sector.

Who would (or should) be hit hardest by a population density-indexed tariff structure?  We’ll look at that next.

 

 


Planet of The Humans

April 23, 2020

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-earth-day-documentary/michael-moores-planet-of-the-humans-asks-what-if-green-energy-cannot-save-the-planet-idUSKCN2231U8

It’s the mission of this blog to raise awareness of the economic consequences of “overpopulation,” that is, what happens when we become so densely populated that we become incapable of gainfully employing everyone.  There are other consequences of overpopulation – environmental consequences among them.  There’s no shortage of people, however, devoted to that topic.  I’m the only one dedicated to raising alarm about the economic consequences, so I try to stick to that topic.

On the rare occasions when I’ve addressed the topic, I’ve been highly critical of environmentalists, like in this post.  The environmental movement struck a deal with the devil decades ago when it agreed to turn a blind eye to the problems of population growth and the notion of “sustainable development” (an oxymoron) in exchange for corporations’ embrace of simpler issues like air and water pollution controls.

The above-linked article is perhaps the first example I’ve seen of a life-long environmentalist who is finally opening his eyes to the fact that the environmental movement has been a colossal failure, and that reining in population growth and “sustainable development” is this planet’s only hope.  The documentary film that’s the subject of the article, directed and narrated by environmentalist Jeff Gibbs, can be watched for free on youtube.  Here’s the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk11vI-7czE&feature=youtu.be.  It’s a great film and I encourage you to watch.


America’s Biggest Trade Surpluses in 2019

April 21, 2020

In my last post, we saw from the list of America’s worst trade deficits that every country but one was more densely populated than the U.S., suggesting a relationship between population density and balance of trade.  If that’s true, then we should see the opposite when we look at a list of our biggest trade surpluses.  We should see a list of countries with lower population density.  So here’s the list of our biggest trade surpluses in manufactured goods in 2019:  Top 20 Surpluses, 2019.

At first glance, this list doesn’t seem quite as supportive of a relationship between population density and balance of trade.  Exactly half of the nations on this list are less densely populated than the U.S., whose density is 93 people per square mile.  But look more closely at the list and some countries jump out at you:  United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Nigeria.  Four of these five nations are far more densely-populated than the U.S.  What comes to mind when you look at this list?  Oil.  All are net exporters of oil to the U.S.  And without exception (including smaller oil exporters who didn’t make this list), the U.S. has a trade surplus with net oil exporters.  Why?  Because all oil sold world-wide is priced in U.S. dollars.  If you want to buy oil from Saudi Arabia, you pay for it with U.S. dollars.  If you want to buy oil from Nigeria, you pay with U.S. dollars.  The result is that net oil exporters are loaded with U.S. dollars and – you may not realize this – but the United States is ultimately the only place where U.S. dollars can be used as legal tender (with the one exception of oil in other countries), meaning that net oil exporters must buy something from the U.S. with those dollars.  It can be anything – products, government securities, real estate – anything that is sold in the United States.   A good share of those petro-dollars are used to buy American exports.

Two other very densely-populated, non-oil-producing nations on the list also need explanation.  The Netherlands and Belgium are both very densely populated.  But together they have the only deep-water ports on the Atlantic side of the European Union.  So many of the American exports that are destined for other nations in Europe are imported through those two countries.  Ships arrive full of American exports.  Somehow, however, only half as many imports from those countries head back to the U.S.  Obviously, those ships don’t return only half full.  So how do I explain it?  Frankly, I can’t, but what I suspect is happening is that imports from other European nations that depart from the Netherlands and Belgium ports are actually booked as exports from those originating nations and not from the port of departure.  We need to look at Europe as a whole (a continent nearly as densely populated as China) and, when we do, we find a massive trade deficit.

In spite of the presence of those nations that cloud the results from this list, the validity of the relationship between population density and the balance of trade is still evident.  The average population density on this list is 248 people/square mile vs. 617 people/square mile on the list of our biggest trade deficits.  And the combined population density (total people divided by total land mass) is only 46 people/square mile vs. 510 people/square mile on the list of deficits.  That’s a pretty powerful correlation!

There are other important takeaways from this list:

  1. The total of the trade surpluses on this list is $180.4 billion, vs the total of our top twenty trade deficits of $978.7 billion.  That’s a difference of almost $800 billion, which pretty accurately represents the amount of money drained from our economy each year through trade.
  2. Over the past ten years, the average growth in the trade surpluses with the nations on this list is only 7%, which is less than the rate of inflation, meaning that our actual trade surpluses are shrinking.  Compare that to the average rate of growth in the deficits of 298%.  It’s clear that the manufacturing sector of our economy is very rapidly being decimated by trade.
  3. The average “purchasing power parity” (“PPP”) of the nations on the list of our top twenty trade surpluses is $36,780.  That almost exactly matches the average PPP of the list of our top twenty trade deficits:  $35,445.  It seems clear from comparing these two lists that wages play absolutely no role in determining balance of trade.

These two lists that we’ve compared contain both very large countries and very small countries.  For example, the list of deficits includes China and India who together represent almost half of the world’s population, but also include Ireland and Denmark who together represent less than one tenth of one percent of the world’s population.  Is it possible that these results are skewed by the sheer size of countries?  Can we factor that out?  Yes, and that’s exactly what we’ll do in an upcoming post.

However, before we do that, and now that we’ve looked at both ends of the spectrum, we’ll take a look at the entire trade picture with the whole world to see whether the influence of population density is still evident.  That’ll be my next post.


America’s Worst Trade Deficits in 2019

April 19, 2020

I’ve just finished the long, tedious process of analyzing the international trade data for 2019, which was posted by the Commerce Department in late February this year, instead of the mid-summer release caused by the government shutdown last year.  We’re going to look at this data in a lot of different ways in this and upcoming posts, so let’s begin with the basics.  The biggest problem with international trade is that the U.S. has been running a massive, ever-growing trade deficit for the past forty-five years.  All of the deficit is due to imports – and very weak exports – of manufactured products, and this category of products is where it hurts the most.  A deficit in manufactured products hurts the most because that’s where the most – and the highest-paying jobs – are lost.

So let’s begin this analysis with a list of our worst trade deficits in manufactured goods:  Top 20 Deficits, 2019.  The deficit with these 20 nations is almost $1 trillion!  It’s no great surprise that our deficit with China leads the list, by a wide margin.  And it would be worse by $20 billion if I hadn’t included Hong Kong with China.  (The Commerce Department tracks them separately, but we’re kidding ourselves to think that Hong Kong is an independent city-state.)  What’s new and interesting however is that the deficit with China is actually down substantially – by $73 billion – from 2018.  This is thanks to the Trump administration’s program of imposing tariffs on Chinese imports.  Look at how much the deficit with China has changed over the past ten years.  Though it grew rapidly for the first nine years of this period, it fell enough last year to yield only a 24% growth in the last ten.  That’s the 2nd slowest growth among the twenty nations on this list.

The deficit with Mexico has grown rapidly – 154% over the past ten years – to become our 2nd worst trade deficit.  However, if we are to believe the President, this should begin to change as the new USMCA agreement with Mexico and Canada – which replaces the now-defunct NAFTA agreement – begins to take effect this summer.  We’ll see.

Note that, contrary to the belief that low wages cause trade deficits, this list of our worst trade deficits is actually dominated by wealthy, developed nations, including many European nations.  In fact, if we add up the EU nations on this list, the combined deficit is $187 billion.  (The UK and Switzerland are not in the EU.)  By the way, the growth in the deficit with the U.K. – 3,125% in ten years – isn’t a typo.  When I first wrote Five Short Blasts in 2007, the U.K. was one of a few anomalies where, in spite of the high population density, we actually enjoyed a trade surplus with them.  But that trade surplus evaporated and, in 2010, the U.S. actually had a very small trade deficit with the U.K.  The deficit of $9.6 billion in 2019 is more than thirty times larger than the small deficit in 2010.  It’s growing rapidly.

As we’ve seen every year, it’s not low wages that cause our trade deficit.  So what does cause it?  I just gave you a hint.  Look at the population density of the nations on this list and compare it to the population density of the U.S. – 93 people/square mile.  The average population density of the nations on this list is almost seven times greater.  The combined population density of the nations on this list – the total number of people divided by the total land mass – is more than five times greater.  Only Sweden, near the bottom of the list, is less densely populated.  Nineteen of these twenty nations are more densely populated than the U.S.  Most are more than four times as densely populated.  Now that’s a powerful correlation to our balance of trade!

But why?  Why does something so seemingly unrelated have such a powerful effect on the balance of trade?  It’s because people who live in over-crowded conditions are incapable of using as many products as people who enjoy living in more wide open spaces.  They have no place to store them and no place to use them.  (Think cars.  the average Japanese person doesn’t have a garage and the roads are too crowded to drive anyway.)  Yet, they are every bit as productive.  The inescapable consequence is that, in order to be gainfully employed, they must produce far more than they consume, and there’s ony one thing that can be done with their excess production:  export it.  Unless the nation that those excess products are exported to takes some kind of action to keep those products out, their own citizens are now doomed to be put out of work by the market share they’ve lost.  Trading freely with badly overpopulated nations causes a massive shift of manufacturing jobs to the more densely populated nation.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Trade deficits are just one end of the trade spectrum.  What about surpluses?  Will we find that those nations are less densely populated, which the population density theory would predict?  Stay tuned.


Led by China, Trade Deficit Falls in 2019

February 10, 2020

Click to access trad1219.pdf

As reported by the Commerce Department on Thursday, America’s trade deficit in goods and services fell in 2019 for the first time in six years.  Trade in goods fell for the first time since 2016.  The decline was due entirely to the reduction of imports from China as a result of the tariffs put in place by the Trump administration.

The trade deficit in goods in 2019 fell to $853 billion from $875 billion in 2018. The decrease was led by a huge decrease in the deficit with China, which fell to $345.6 billion from $419.5 billion in 2018.  The trade deficit with China was the lowest since 2015.  Even more encouraging, the trade deficit in goods with China fell for the 5th consecutive month in December to $24.8 billion.  Imports from China fell by $87 billion in 2019.

Last month, the Trump administration signed the “Phase 1” trade deal with China, which rolled back some tariffs on Chinese imports in exchange for Chinese promises to boost imports of American goods.  The deal had been in the works for months.  If the Chinese wanted to demonstrate enthusiasm for this deal, they certainly didn’t show it in December.  The Chinese promised to increase their purchases of American goods in four different categories, using their 2017 imports as a baseline.  In 2020 they are to increase their purchase of American manufactured goods from $88.2 billion in 2017 to $121.1 billion this year.  They ended 2019 with purchases of $88.4 billion.

They promised to increase their purchases of American energy exports to $27.6 billion this year from $9.1 billion in 2017.  They ended 2019 with purchases of only $3.6 billion.

They promised to increase their purchases of American agricultural products to $36.5 billion this year from $24.0 billion in 2017.  They ended 2019 with purchases of only $10.2 billion.

And they promised to increase their purchases of American services.  That data hasn’t been released yet.

China needs to ramp up its purchases of American goods dramatically, beginning with the month just ended.  Did they?  We won’t know until next month when the January trade data is released.  Personally, I doubt that we’ll see much increase from China, if any.  They’ve already signaled that they think the coronavirus outbreak should give them a pass.  Trump will be a fool if he lets China get away with reneging on this deal.

Next month I’ll begin reporting on China’s monthly progress in meeting the terms of this deal.  I’ll also be keeping a close eye on the balance of trade with Mexico, now that the USMCA agreement has been signed into law.  I’m extremely skeptical of both of these agreements.  The only way to achieve a balance of trade with such densely populated nations is through the use of tariffs.  Such nations would never willingly agree to any deal that endangers their surplus of trade with the U.S.  But they’ll agree to any deal that forestalls the implementation of tariffs because it simply buys them more time for business as usual.

Time will tell, beginning next month.

 


Why Population Density Drives America’s Trade Imbalance

November 21, 2019

The Problem:

In my last few posts, we’ve seen a powerful correlation between America’s trade imbalances and the population density of its trading partners.  But how does that work?  It seems odd – something that seems highly unlikely to be a factor.  And you’ve likely never heard of it before.  What you have heard about are a host of other “factors,” things like low wages, trade barriers, intellectual property theft, lax labor and environmental standards, just to name a few.  All of them seem like more plausible explanations for trade imbalances than something like “population density.”

The reason population density has such a powerful effect on trade is what it does to the per capita consumption of products.  Beyond a certain critical population density, over-crowding begins to rapidly erode people’s need for and ability to use (or “consume”) virtually every product you can think of, with the exception of food.  At first glance, you might think that’s a good thing.  Everyone lives more efficiently, reducing their environmental footprint and their demand for natural resources.  However, the real problem is that per capita employment is tied directly to per capita consumption.  Every product not bought is another worker that is out of work.  As population density continues to grow beyond that critical level, an economy is rapidly transformed from one that is self-sufficient and enjoys full employment to one with a labor force that is bloated out of proportion to its market, making it dependent on other nations to sop up its excess labor or, put another way, making it dependent on manufacturing products for export to rescue it from what would otherwise be an unemployment crisis.

Let’s consider an example.  The dwelling space of the average citizen of Japan, a nation ten times as densely populated as the U.S., is less than one third that of the average American.  It’s not hard to imagine why.  In such crowded conditions, it’s only natural that people will find it impractical to live in single-family homes in the suburbs and will instead opt for smaller apartments.  Now think of all the products that go into the construction of dwellings – lumber, concrete, steel, drywall, wiring, plumbing, carpeting – literally thousands of products.  And think of furnishings and appliances.  A person living in a dwelling that is less than one third the size of another consumes less than a third of all of those products compared to someone living in less crowded conditions.  And what about the products used to maintain the lawns and gardens of single-family homes?  Consumption of those products doesn’t just reduce – it vanishes altogether.

Consequently, per capita employment in those industries involved in building, furnishing and maintaining dwellings in Japan is less than a third of that in America.  So what are all of those unemployed Japanese to do?  Will they be put to work building cars for domestic consumption?  Hardly.  As you can imagine, the per capita consumption of vehicles by people living in such crowded conditions is impacted dramatically as most opt for mass transit.  So emaciated is the Japanese auto market that even Japanese automakers have trouble selling cars there.  So now add to the workers who aren’t employed in the home industry those workers who also aren’t employed building cars for their domestic market.

And so it goes with virtually every product you can think of.  Japan is an island nation surrounded by water.  Yet their per capita consumption of products for the boating industry is virtually zero compared to other nations, simply because it’s so crowded.  There’s only so much marina space to go around.  Put a town of 100 families next to a marina with 100 slips and it’s likely that every single family will own a boat with a motor and fishing gear.  Put a city of a million families next to that same marina and, though the marina is still full, on a “per capita” basis boat ownership has effectively fallen to zero.

Japan’s only hope for employing its badly under-utilized labor force is to use them to manufacture products for export.  This is exactly why America’s second largest trade deficit in manufactured goods is with Japan.  It’s not so much that we buy too much stuff from Japan.  The problem is that Japan buys so little from us in return.  It’s not that they don’t want to.  They can’t.  Their market is so emaciated by over-crowding that they can’t even consume their own domestic production.  Why would they buy more from us?  The same is true of nearly every major U.S. trading “partner” that is badly over-crowded.  Attempting to trade freely – without tariffs or other barriers – is tantamount to economic suicide.  It’s virtually certain to yield a huge trade deficit.

Why have I never heard of this before?

Few, aside from those who follow this blog or have read my book, have ever heard of this before.  Even if you have a degree in economics, you’ve never heard of it.  In fact, you were likely taught the opposite.  If you studied economics, at some point you were surely introduced to the late-18th century economist Malthus, and were warned to never give any credence to any theories that revolved around over-population, lest you be derided as a “Malthusian,” which would surely doom your career as an economist.

In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus published his essay titled “Essay on Population” in which he warned that a growing population would outstrip our ability to meet the need for food, effectively dooming mankind to a fate of “misery and vice.”  This led to the field of economics being dubbed “the dismal science,” something that really rankled other economists.  Yet, the idea gained some traction until, that is, as years passed and improvements in farming productivity exceeded the requirements of a growing population.  The other sciences mocked the field of economics unmercifully, proclaiming that mankind is ingenious enough to overcome any and all obstacles to growth.  Economists acquiesced and vowed to never, ever again give any consideration to any concerns about overpopulation.

And so it is today that economists have a huge blind spot when it comes to the subject of population growth.  You can’t discover something that you’re not even willing to look at.  It’s not unlike the medieval Catholic Church labeling Galileo a heretic for theorizing that the earth revolved around the sun instead of vice versa.  Where would we be today if the study of astronomy ended at that point?  Where would we be if Newton was mocked for his theory of gravity and the field of physics ended at that point?  That’s what economists have done.  They’ve turned their backs on what is arguably the most dominant variable in economics.

What does this mean for trade policy?

In the wake of the Great Depression, soon followed by World War II, economists disingenuously laid blame for what had transpired on U.S. tariffs and, eager to put to the test the theory of free trade, promised that it would put an end to such wars and depressions.  So, in 1947, the U.S. signed the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, taking the first step to implement the concept of free trade on a global basis.  Within three decades, the trade surplus the U.S. had enjoyed was wiped out.  In 2018, the U.S. ran its 44th consecutive annual trade deficit which, by the way, set a record in 2018 and continues to worsen.

The problem is that the concept of free trade doesn’t take into consideration the role of population density in making over-crowded nations absolutely dependent on running trade surpluses in manufactured goods, and simultaneously sapping the life from the manufacturing sector of other nations.  No amount of trade negotiations can correct this imbalance.  No nation that is dependent on manufacturing for export would ever agree to anything that would slow their exports and it’s impossible for them to increase their imports because, after all, it’s their emaciated market that has caused the trade imbalance in the first place.  The only way to restore a balance of trade is to force the issue through the use of either tariffs or import quotas.  Any trade policy that doesn’t employ those tactics when trading with badly over-crowded nations is doomed to failure and puts our overall economy at risk.

Since World War II, other presidents have tinkered with tariffs in those rare instances when the World Trade Organization has green-lighted their use to correct for some other nations’ trade transgressions.  But President Trump is the first president in seven decades to implement a significant tariff program aimed at reducing our trade imbalance with China.  But much, much more needs to be done.  There are many other nations whose trade imbalances on a per capita basis are much worse, nations like Germany, Japan, Mexico, Ireland, South Korea, Taiwan and a host of others.  While many are allies, none of them are “allies” when it comes to trade.  All are eager to sustain and even grow their trade imbalances at the expense of American workers and families.  All want the U.S. economy to bear the cost for their overpopulation.  None want to face their own problems.  The U.S. needs to put an end to pointless – even counterproductive – trade negotiations, and do the things that are within our power to force the restoration of a balance of trade.

 


America’s Best Trading Partners

November 12, 2019

In my last post, we looked at a list of America’s worst per capita trade deficits (in manufactured goods) in 2018 and found a strong correlation with population density.  Nearly every nation on the list was much more densely populated than the U.S.  Conversely, there was virtually no correlation with low wages, as measured by those nations’ “PPP” or Purchasing Power Parity.

Now it’s time to look at the other end of the spectrum – America’s best per capita trade surpluses in manufactured goods.  If population density is a factor in driving trade imbalances, then this list should be populated with more sparsely populated nations.  Here’s the list:  Top 20 Per Capita Surpluses, 2018.

Well, we do indeed see many nations that are more sparsely populated, but there are some very densely populated nations on this list too.  Many of them can be explained by the fact that they’re net oil exporters and, as we established in my post from October 23rd about our largest trade surpluses, oil exporters use their “petro-dollars” to buy American-made goods.  In that same post, we also noted that The Netherlands and Belgium appear on this list because they take advantage of their location to make themselves into European trading hubs and, as such, are a destination for American goods that will ultimately be distributed throughout Europe.

Still, there is solid evidence that population density plays a major role in driving trade imbalances on this list, just as it did on the list of our worse deficits, but this time driving surpluses in our favor.  Here are more observations that support that:

  • The average population density on this list is 216 people per square mile, compared to an average of 540 people per square mile for the nations on the list of our largest per capita trade deficits.  The population density of the nations on the list as a whole – total population divided by total land mass – is only 22 people per square mile.  Compare that to the population density of the twenty nations on the list of our biggest per capita deficits, which is 377 people per square mile.
  • The average PPP for the nations on this list is $45,995.  Factor Qatar out of this list and the average drops to $41,842 – nearly the same as the average PPP of $39,040 for the nations on the list of our biggest per capita deficits.  So which seems more likely to be driving trade imbalances – the 1600% disparity in population density or the 18% disparity (leaving Qatar in the average) in PPP?
  • Over the past ten years, our per capita surplus in manufactured goods with the top twenty nations has grown by 84%.  Meanwhile, our per capita deficit with our worst trading partners has grown 114%.  Our trade deficit is eroding the manufacturing sector of our economy, leaving us with fewer and fewer products to export.

That’s the two ends of the trading spectrum, a total of forty countries with whom we have the biggest per capita deficits and per capita surpluses in manufactured goods.  It’s already pretty strong evidence that trade imbalances are driven almost entirely by population density and by very little else.  But what about the other 124 nations that are included in the study?  Will the correlation look as strong when we throw them all together?  Stay tuned, that’s coming up next.


“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.


“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

Click to access 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.