Seven Months Into Trump’s Administration, Has Anything Changed?

August 14, 2017

I’m back from a hiatus at my north woods retreat, and there’s a bit to catch up on.  For now, however, I’m wondering what has really changed in terms of the economy since Trump took office seven months ago.  Let me begin by sharing a recent experience.

My wife and I stopped into a small restaurant in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin for dinner one evening earlier this week.  Boulder Junction is a tiny town in Vilas County in northern Wisconsin, a popular vacation area frequented mostly by folks from Chicago and Milwaukee.  A polite Asian lady, speaking broken English, seated us and told us the waitress would take our order shortly.  Upon ordering, the waitress assured us that our order would be prepared as we had requested.  It wasn’t.  When we complained, the waitress – without even offering to make it right – apologized and explained that there was a “language barrier” in the kitchen.  A language barrier in Boulder Junction!  I couldn’t believe it.

Another old lodge that we visit for dinner is staffed with waiters and waitresses from Lithuania.  They just can’t find reliable help in the north woods of Wisconsin, they explain.  However, another restaurant just up the road seems to have no problem.

I know what’s going on here.  These little businesses don’t have the wherewithal to recruit foreign laborers.  So how do they get them?  While I can’t provide proof, I’m certain that the Chamber of Commerce is importing foreign labor and pushing them on these businesses, or making them available at rates so cheap that these businesses don’t even have to bother with trying to hire locally.  So, when it comes to Trump’s promises to stop these kinds of practices, there’s no evidence that anything has changed.

Changing gears, the Commerce Department released the June trade figures last week.  Here’s a chart that shows the balance of trade in manufactured goods:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.  As you can see, it continues on the same downhill trajectory that it’s been on throughout the Obama administration.  In fact, in the 2nd quarter of 2017, the deficit in manufactured goods set a new record of $185.6 billion.  In other words, contrary to Trump’s inaugural vow that:

“… rusted out factories scattered like tombstones … stops right here and stops right now!”

matters have actually gotten worse.  While the Trump administration is currently involved in renegotiating NAFTA and in negotiations with the Chinese, and the U.S. negotiators are reportedly taking a much harder line in these negotiations, I’m very pessimistic that any improvement in our balance of trade will result.  Why?  Because there’s nothing to negotiate.  The ONLY thing that will make a difference in America’s favor is tariffs, something that no nation would agree to in “negotiations.”  Anything they will agree to will be totally unenforceable and any attempts to enforce them would be met with whining and, more importantly, a cut-off in funding of candidates unless they pressure the Trump administration to back off of enforcement actions.  These same kinds of negotiations have been tried and have failed for decades.  Most recently, Obama’s deal with South Korea, which he hailed as a “big win for American workers,” has actually proven to be a disaster.

In the meantime, the “new normal” economy that emerged during the Obama administration, in the wake of the Great Recession, goes on.  GDP growth remains stuck in the 1-2% range, wages are stagnant and job growth (when viewed in the context of the “100,000 jobs is the new zero” economy) is anemic at best.  The economy is being kept afloat by deficit spending (up 10% so far this year), a once-again growth in credit and an inflated stock market.  The illusion of good times isn’t going to last.

I’m growing impatient with the Trump administration’s dithering on these issues.  Can you tell?


Population Density Drives Trade Imbalances Again in 2016

June 26, 2017

I’ve finished my analysis of trade in manufactured goods for 2016 and, as expected once again, the news isn’t good.  The overall deficit in manufactured goods soared to yet another new record in 2016 of $680 billion, beating the previous record set one year earlier by $32 billion.  A thorough, country-by-country analysis of the data reveals one overriding factor that’s driving this deficit- population density.  Since the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, the U.S. has systematically lowered barriers to its market for all countries, as required by that treaty and by the World Trade Organization that it spawned.  But that policy has yielded vastly different results.  While the U.S. enjoyed a surplus in manufactured goods of $34 billion with the half of nations with population densities below the world median, it was clobbered with a deficit of $704 billion with the other half of nations – those with population densities above the median.  Same number of nations.  Starkly different results.

Check out this chart:  Deficits Above & Below Median Pop Density.  First, some explanation of the data is in order.  I studied our trade data for 165 nations and separated out those product codes that represent manufactured products.  That’s no easy task.  There are hundreds of product codes.  While the Bureau of Economic Analysis makes it easy to track what’s happening with “goods” in general, that includes such things as oil, gas and agricultural products – goods that aren’t manufactured.  You’d think that they’d be interested in tracking manufactured products, given the level of political rancor on that subject, but they don’t.  The only way to arrive at that data is to sift it out, product code by product code.  Subtracting imports from exports, I was able to determine the balance of trade in manufactured goods for each.  I then sorted the data by the population density of each nation and divided these 165 nations evenly into two groups:  those 83 nations with a population density greater than the median (which, in 2016, was 191 people per square mile, up from 184 in 2015) and those 82 nations with a population density below the median.  I then totaled our balance of trade for each group.

As you can see, in 2016, our balance of trade in manufactured goods with the less densely populated half of nations was once again a surplus, but a smaller surplus of $34 billion.  This is down from $74 billion in 2015, is the third consecutive decline, and has fallen by almost 80% from the record high of $153 billion in 2011.  Why?  As the manufacturing sector of our economy is steadily eroded by huge trade deficits, we simply have fewer products to offer for sale to other nations.  Exports fell by $44 billion in 2016.  (Remember Obama’s pledge to double exports?  What a laugh.)

Conversely, our balance of trade in manufactured goods with the more densely populated half of nations was a huge deficit of $704 billion, down slightly from the record level of $722 billion in 2015.

Some observations about these two groups of nations are in order.  Though these nations are divided evenly around the median population density, the division is quite uneven with respect to population and land surface area.  The more densely populated nations represent almost 77% of the world’s population (not including the U.S.), but only about 24% of the world’s land mass (again, not including the U.S.).

Think about that.  With the people living in 76% of the world’s land mass, the U.S. enjoyed a surplus of trade of $34 billion in manufactured products.  But with the rest of the world – an area less than a third in size – the U.S. was clobbered with a $704 billion deficit!  Population density is the determining factor.  It’s not low wages.  The average purchasing power parity (or “PPP,” a factor roughly analogous to wages) of the densely populated half of nations – those with whom we have the huge deficit – is almost $20,000.  The average PPP of the less densely populated nations with whom we enjoy a trade surplus was about $18,000.  Wealthy nations were just as likely to appear among the deficit nations as among the surplus nations.

Nor is the other popular scapegoat – “currency manipulation” – a factor.  Nearly every currency in the world weakened against the dollar in 2016.  (Only 19 nations experienced an increase in the value of their currency.)  Among the 19 nations whose currencies rose, we had a deficit in manufactured goods with 8, and a surplus with 11.  On average, the deficits worsened by 115%, driven by a huge increase with Madagascar.  Remove that anomaly and the deficits actually declined by an average of 8.4% – in line with the currency theory.  Among the 11 nations with whom we had a surplus, the surpluses improved on average by 14% – again, in line with the currency theory.

However, among the 85 nations who experienced a decline in their currency vs the dollar, we had deficits with 27 of them.  On average, those deficits fell by 13.4% – exactly the opposite of what the currency theory would predict.  Among the remaining nations with whom we had a surplus, the surplus rose by an average of 33% – again, exactly the opposite of what currency theory predicts.

Therefore, we can conclude that our trade deficit in manufactured goods behaved exactly the opposite of what the “currency theory” would predict 80% of the time.  Why?  As noted earlier, most currencies fell vs the dollar last year.  This happened because the U.S. economy was in better shape than the rest of the world, at least in the minds of investors.  That’s what determines currency valuations.  Not manipulation.  Currency valuation has almost nothing to do with trade imbalances.  It affects the profitability of companies operating in different countries, but rarely makes any difference in the balance of trade.

This is absolute proof positive that trade imbalances in manufactured goods are driven by population density and almost nothing else.  Any trade policies that don’t take this factor into account are doomed to failure as evidenced by the destruction of the manufacturing sector of America’s economy.  The only remedy that offers any hope of turning this situation around is tariffs (or a “border tax,” as the Trump administration likes to call it).  Preferably, such tariffs would target only high population density nations like Japan, Germany, China, South Korea and a host of others.  Why apply tariffs to low density countries with whom we enjoy surpluses and anger them unnecessarily?

Trump was elected due in large part to his promises to tear up NAFTA and withdraw from the World Trade Organization and begin imposing a “border tax.”  It’s time to follow through on those promises while we still have a shred of a manufacturing sector left to build upon.

 


Trump was right to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement

June 3, 2017

Let me begin by making clear that I am an environmentalist.  It was my concern for the environment – especially my little piece of the environment that I enjoy in the north woods – that was the genesis of my discovery of the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption, which I presented and explained in Five Short Blasts.  It’s a clear-eyed look at just where unending population growth will take us.  Few have devoted as much of their time to trying to save the planet.

Let me also make clear that I’m neither a GOP conservative nor a Democrat.  As I stated in Five Short Blasts, the platforms of both parties – both of which embrace and promote population growth – produce nothing more than weaving left and right along a path to ruin.  So this post isn’t politically motivated.

“Climate change,” the now-politically correct term for global warming, is real.  The link to human activity is undeniable.  I’ve watched Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”  and agree with its premise.  Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are building up in the atmosphere and trapping solar heat.  The science is clear.  Kudos to the scientists.

But shame on environmentalists.  The environmental movement has been a colossal failure.  If it weren’t, we wouldn’t now find ourselves in the fix that we’re in.  We wouldn’t be in the midst of a mass extinction.  The dire consequences of global warming are now inevitable.  Environmentalists admit as much.  And who is to blame for all of this?  There’s plenty of blame to go around but it could be argued that no one is more to blame than the leaders of the environmental movement themselves.  There may be a special place in hell for these people for what they’ve done.

Why do I say such a thing?  A little history is in order.  Going back decades, to the ’80s, if my memory serves me correctly, the environmental movement was in trouble.  The Vietnam war was over and young, impatient activists seized upon the environment as a new cause.  Their approach was radical and intolerant.  Industry, the civilian half of the “military industrial complex” that was the object of so much scorn by young radicals during the Vietnam era, was demonized as the enemy of humanity by the environmental movement.  The environmental movement was anti-industry, anti-development anti-everything to the point where they were perceived as being anti-humanity.

At the same time, as a result of new trade policies ushered in by GATT (the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, enacted in 1947), the de-industrialization of America was underway.  Factories were closing.  People were losing their jobs.  And the country was being flooded with imports from Japan.  Eager to find a scapegoat, industry successfully blamed the environmental movement for making it impossible to continue manufacturing in America.  People began to despise these young, impatient, intolerant and uncompromising environmentalist radicals.

Industry had its own image problems.  Both sides saw an opportunity and began to collaborate.   The environmental movement softened its approach to development and, in return for the environmentalists’ endorsement of new development projects, industry began to embrace some of their more reasonable demands and causes.  The environmental movement made a deal with the devil and the concept of “sustainable development” was born.

Soon after, the company I worked for served up an example.  They announced plans to build a new plant on a pristine “green field” site – a piece of undeveloped property they owned.  At the same time, they also announced that another such piece of property was being set aside as a sort of wildlife refuge, never to be developed.  This, they proudly proclaimed, was a prime example of “sustainable development.”  “How the hell is that sustainable?” I wondered.  Half of the property in question was now gone.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out where that will ultimately lead if such “development” is “sustained.”

The term is an oxymoron and there is no such thing as “sustainable development.”  It makes me bristle every time I hear it.  By it’s very definition, “development” means putting natural resources to work to enhance the lives of human-kind.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you recognize that, in a finite world, the process has to stop at some point.  It can’t be sustained forever. A finite resource can only sustain a certain number of people at a high standard of living.  Even a child should be able to understand this.  Yet, that is exactly what corporate leaders and their environmentalist lackeys would have you believe – that we can continue growing our population and continue to consume more and more, and thus grow their profits – “sustainably.” Forever.

Of course, the leaders of the environmental movement responsible for this mess won’t find themselves alone.  If there’s a hotter place in hell, it’s occupied by economists – those people who, in the wake of their Malthusian black eye, proclaimed that there is no limit to man’s ability to overcome all obstacles to growth, and vowed never again to even consider that population growth could present challenges.  It is yet another claim unable to stand up to even the most rudimentary scrutiny, but is the foundation upon which the concept of “sustainable development” is built. Incredibly, the environmental movement has bought into this.

With all of this said, I decided to do my own objective evaluation of the Paris Climate Agreement to decide for myself the wisdom of Trump’s move.  I started with Wikipedia’s take on the agreement, but then decided to go right to the United Nations’ web site that documents the whole thing.  I wanted to read the agreement for myself.  But, try as I might, I’ll be darned if I can find it.  There’s lots of explanation from the UN about the agreement, but I couldn’t find the agreement itself.  That kind of thing always makes me a little suspicious.

Anyway, here’s some key aspects of the agreement:

  • Certain few developed countries – most notably the U.S. – are targeted to generate all of the reduction in greenhouse gases.  Many undeveloped nations are actually allowed to increase their emissions in order to allow them to develop.  China, the world’s worst polluter, committed to only 25% of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, in per capita terms, that the U.S. committed to achieving.
  • Aid, beginning at a minimum of $100 billion per year above and beyond aid that nations are already receiving, must be provided by developed nations to help undeveloped nations develop faster and to help them deal with the effects of climate change.
  • Each nation sets its own goals, consistent with the overall goal to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or less, but then must report annually on their progress toward meeting their goals.

Already, I was beginning to have my doubts.  Forcing dramatic emissions cuts on the U.S. while allowing other nations to increase their emissions seems to preclude the U.S. from ever re-balancing trade and rebuilding the manufacturing sector of the economy, even if it meant producing products in plants that operated under strict environmental regulations as opposed to the filthy factories spewing smog in China.  This feels like some sort of “eco-trade barrier.”

Secondly, the requirement that wealthy nations boost their aid to developing nations by a minimum of another $100 billion per year to help them develop seems like a money grab.  We all know where the vast majority of funding would come from – the U.S. – just as the U.S. funds a disproportionate share of the U.N., the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, NATO, and virtually every other multi-national organization.

Finally, as I scanned through the many web pages that the UN serves up, I found the real goal of the agreement.  In the UN’s own words, here it is:

  • The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system.” It states that “such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

And there it is!  “… enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”  This agreement isn’t about saving the planet or the environment.  It’s about keeping environmental degradation just tolerable enough that we can continue to pack the planet with more corporate customers.

If climate change is the result of human activity, then isn’t it logical that any effort to combat it should begin with a focus on limiting the number of humans or their activity?  What is gained if we all cut our greenhouse gas emissions per capita by 50% but then double the population?  Absolutely nothing!

The U.S. has already made strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But it isn’t even close to being enough.  To achieve the cuts that President Obama committed to in the Kyoto protocol – cuts of 80% or more – the plan relies heavily on “carbon capture.”  That is, CO2 would be extracted from exhaust stacks and stored in tanks or underground.  Essentially, it’s a process of creating a CO2 “landfill” which, if we all cross our fingers and toes and hope real hard, maybe it’ll never leak and create such a catastrophic jump in atmospheric CO2 levels that the planet is almost instantly cooked!

Any approach to the climate change problem that doesn’t begin with a plan to stabilize and gradually reduce the human population to a level where we can all enjoy a high standard of living without threatening the planet is a hoax.  Climate change is real, but this Paris agreement is just that – a hoax.  It has little to nothing to do with fighting climate change.  Instead, it’s globalization and “sustainable development” on steroids.  There is an old saying that goes something like this:  “If you can’t bewilder them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit.”  That’s exactly what “sustainable development” does.

Critics have mocked President Trump, saying that he is incapable of grasping the complexities of the Paris agreement.  It could be argued that perhaps it was President Obama who didn’t understand that the agreement he proclaimed to be such an accomplishment actually does nothing for the climate and simply suckered the U.S. into yet another self-destructive deal.  And it’s time for all people who are concerned about climate change and the environment to wake up to the fact that the environmental movement has been hijacked by those who profit from plundering the planet and that they, too, are being suckered by the concept of “sustainable development.”

I’m not terribly concerned.  I believe that if the world doesn’t wake up to the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption, then the unemployment, poverty and rising death rate that it fosters are going to do more to put a lid on greenhouse gas emissions than the Paris agreement could have ever hoped to achieve.

In the meantime, other world leaders have rushed to the defense of the Paris agreement.  No surprise.  They can kiss goodbye the $100 billion (per year!) they were counting on.  Plus, championing the Paris agreement is all upside for politicians with no downside.  Everyone loves them for their concern for the planet and they can never be held accountable, since it’s impossible to gauge success under the agreement.  It’s like a campaign promise that never has to be kept because no one can tell whether or not you’ve delivered.

Americans have been fleeced far too much in the name of globalization.  Clearly, Trump wasn’t baffled by this BS.  I applaud him for having the guts to walk away from this deal and for being willing to take the political heat for doing so.

 

 


Trade Deficit in Manufactured Products Hits Record in April

June 2, 2017

The Department of Commerce released the April figures for international trade in goods and services this morning, and the trade deficit rose again to its worst reading since January – $47.6 billion.  Imports were up and exports were down.  But you can’t even find the worst news in the report – the deficit in manufactured goods.  The Commerce Department doesn’t even bother to calculate it.  But I do.  By subtracting from the overall deficit the figures for services, foods, feeds, beverages and petroleum products, you can arrive at a pretty good estimation of trade in manufactured goods.  The news is bad.  The deficit in manufactured products rose to $63.4 billion, beating the previous record set in March, 2015 by $0.1 billion.  Imports rose to a record level and exports fell to their lowest level in five months.  Here’s a chart:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.  As you can see, the deficit in manufactured goods continues to worsen at the same pace that it has since 2010, more than doubling in seven years.

Separately this morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a weak employment report for the month of May.  Unemployment dropped, but thanks only to the old “mysteriously vanishing labor force” trick used so often during the Obama administration.  The employment level actually fell by 133,000 workers.  An accurate reading of unemployment would have had it actually worsening by two tenths of a percent.  Manufacturing employment fell yet again by another 1,000 jobs.  No surprise, in light of what’s happening with the trade deficit.  Add this data to the extremely weak first quarter GDP and you have a picture of an economy that’s stalled and might be on the brink of something worse.

So President Trump now owns the worst performance in manufactured goods of any president.  He vowed to “Make America Great Again.” The first step in that process is to stop it from getting worse.  That hasn’t happened yet.  Talk and optimism will only carry you so far.  There’s been little action.  There’s no border tax.  NAFTA still stands.  Jobs are still heading to China and Mexico.

To be fair, it’s still early in his administration, and the Republican congress has done nothing either.  But I fear that the opportunity to “make America great again” is being frittered away.


Trump and Ross played for fools by China

May 13, 2017

In 2016, the U.S. trade deficit with China was $347 billion.  The deficit in manufactured goods was $372 billion.  China accounts for over half of the total U.S. trade deficit.  The deficit with China is responsible for the loss of five million manufacturing jobs in the U.S.  and for the downward spiral in Americans’ standard of living.

Throughout the campaign, Trump promised to impose tariffs of up to 45% on Chinese goods to restore a balance of trade.  It’s one of the key reasons he was elected.  In his inaugural address, Trump declared:

“These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public. But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge. And the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

“Right here and right now.”  Yet, four months into his administration, details of his plans for trade with China are beginning to emerge, as reported in this Reuters article.

The United States and China have agreed to take action by mid-July to increase access for U.S. financial firms and expand trade in beef and chicken among other steps as part of Washington’s drive to cut its trade deficit with Beijing.

That’s it?!?!?!?  Beef and chicken!?!?!?!?  So instead of “right here and right now,” what we get instead is that, six months into his administration, we might be able to sell China a few more hamburgers?  And what do we get in return?  Chicken imports.  Who in their right minds would eat chicken imported from China?  We can’t even feed our pets dog food from China for fear that it’ll kill them, which has actually happened.  And we supposedly got some cooperation from China in reining in North Korea.  Doesn’t Trump realize that China and North Korea work together to blunt any action on trade?  Maybe that’s what we need – some puppet state to develop nuclear weapons to threaten China.  Then we can agree to pull in on their reins if China will just agree to some heavy tariffs.

What will the next 100 days of negotiations yield?  A side order of fries?

As has always happened following trade negotiations with the U.S., Chinese President Xi must have been rolling in the aisle with laughter on his plane ride home from Mar-a-Lago.  Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross were played for total fools.  This is beyond pathetic.  It’s an insult to Trump’s supporters and all American workers.

“This will help us to bring down the deficit for sure,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said at media briefing in Washington. “You watch and you’ll see.”

Oh, we’re watching, Wilbur, and I already know what we’ll see.  Nothing.  The trade deficit with China will, if anything, get worse.  America’s been suckered yet again.


Economic Data Still Stuck in “New Normal” of Globalization

May 6, 2017

Three major economic reports were released in the past week, each of which I usually write about separately.  But there was nothing particularly noteworthy about any of them.  Taken together, however, they paint a picture of a U.S. economy that’s still stuck in the “new normal” that characterizes globalization (trading freely with all nations, regardless of whether it makes any sense) – stagnation, an imbalance in the supply vs. demand for labor that puts downward pressure on wages, and a host-parasite relationship between the U.S. and the overpopulated nations of the world.

First quarter GDP was announced last Friday, and it came in at a measly 0.7%.  Expressed in per capita terms, it rose only 0.09%.  Over the past ten years, per capita GDP has risen at an annual rate of only 0.6%.  That’s very close to no growth at all and explains a lot about Americans’ sense that the country is headed in the wrong direction.  Population growth and free trade with much more densely populated nations has become a significant drag on the economy.

Speaking of trade, that data was released Thursday.  Here’s a chart showing the monthly balance of trade in manufactured goods:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.  The deficit in manufactured goods continues to hover near its record worst level.  In fact, it was the second worst quarterly figure ever, down by only $1 billion from the record level of $177.1 billion set in the previous quarter.

The April employment report was released yesterday.  The headline numbers were that the economy added 211,000 jobs and unemployment fell to 4.4%.  No one noted that the employment level rose by a more modest 156,000 and unemployment fell because, once again, the growth in the labor force was understated at only 12,000 (while the U.S. population grew by 171,000).  Each month, as the unemployment rate ticks downward, economists proclaim the economy to be at “full employment.”  And each succeeding month, the economy adds more jobs and the unemployment rate drops more.  How can that be?  Here’s a chart of the “labor force backlog,” the cumulative amount that the government has under-reported growth in the labor force in order to make unemployment look better than it really is:  Labor Backlog.  (It’s the yellow line on the chart.)  Note that the “backlog” remains near its highest level at about 5-1/2 million workers.  Were it not for this “backlog,” an honest reading on unemployment would have the figure at 7.2% – a far cry from “full employment.”  It’s no wonder that, in spite of all of this supposed strength in labor market, there’s been no corresponding upward pressure on wages.

What does it mean when you put all of this together?  It means that the approach taken by President Trump to date – jawboning foreign leaders on trade and CEOs about manufacturing in the U.S., and making idle threats about tearing up trade deals and implementing “border taxes” – has done absolutely nothing to improve the economy.  No surprise.  These are exactly the same results that the same tactics employed by past presidents for decades has produced, which are no results at all.

Trump has seemed to be backing away from his promises on trade.  He’d better not, or he’ll find himself dealing with a recession before his first term is up.  His voters tolerate his less appealing aspects on the hope that he’ll follow through on his promise to “Make America Great Again” by fixing our trade mess.  Failure to do so won’t be tolerated.


Apple’s “Advanced Manufacturing Fund” a PR Gimmick

May 4, 2017

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-fund-idUSKBN17Z2PI

Today Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, announced plans to set up a $1 billion “advanced manufacturing” fund, making it sound as though it’s going to create manufacturing jobs in the U.S.  (See the above-linked article.)  It’s actually nothing more than a clever public relations ploy – a gimmick designed to polish Apple’s tarnished image.

Ever since Trump’s message about bringing back manufacturing jobs began to resonate with voters, free trade advocates like Cook have begun waging a campaign on two fronts designed to blunt any efforts aimed at reversing globalization.  On the one hand, there has suddenly emerged a lot of talk about how most manufacturing jobs have actually been lost to automation and not trade policy which is, of course, a lie.  If the plant you worked in has just closed, you merely need to ask yourself where that product is now being made.  Is it being made by robots in a new factory, or is it now being made in a sweat shop in China or Mexico?  The answer is obvious.

The other tactic is to make themselves appear to be gung-ho for American manufacturing, lest they risk alienating the growing majority of Americans who now see free trade as a drag on the American economy.  As part of this effort, they’ve advanced the notion of “advanced manufacturing” – something that will somehow create jobs by developing factories so automated that human workers aren’t required.  Sounds like double-talk?  Of course it is.  But they believe you’re too dumb to see through it.

Apple is a perfect case in point.  Their products are considered the epitome of “high tech.”   Such a “high tech” company must be on the cutting edge of “advanced manufacturing,” right?  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The manufacture of Apple’s electronic gizmos is about as low-tech as you can get.  Contracted out to companies like China’s Foxconn, Apple’s products are pieced together by hand, utilizing thousands of workers in sweat shop conditions to insert tiny components into circuit boards.  Truth be told, the manufacture of cars in Detroit assembly plants which utilize robots for hundreds of assembly tasks is far more advanced than anything that Apple does.  The manufacturing jobs in those assembly plants are well-paid, high-skilled jobs.  Interfacing with all of that automation is no job for dummies.

Apple could move their manufacturing back to the U.S. today, but they resist for two reasons.  One is the investment that would be required to build proper manufacturing facilities that comply with environmental and labor laws.  More importantly, however, they resist because they need to maintain their manufacturing presence in China in order to have access to the Chinese market.  China’s leaders are smart enough to insist that products sold in China be made in China.

Cook wants you to think of Apple as a good corporate citizen of the United States, interested in creating jobs for Americans.  Give me a break.  They want to sell you an iPhone.  They want you to pay as much as possible (regardless of whether or not you can actually afford it) for something that’s made as cheaply as it can be, and they want you to pay for it with money earned anywhere except at Apple.

Gimmicks like these won’t bring manufacturing jobs back.  Only tariffs (or “border taxes” or whatever you want to call them) will force companies like Apple to manufacture in the U.S. and actually create real jobs for American workers.