Auto Tariffs on the Table

November 14, 2018

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-autos/white-house-to-consider-commerce-department-auto-tariff-recommendations-officials-idUSKCN1NH2JP

There’s a lot in the above-linked article, reporting on the Trump administration’s consideration of tariffs on imported autos, that I can’t let pass without comment.  In short, the Commerce Department has submitted recommendations to the White House on whether and how to proceed with tariffs on imported autos and parts, based on its determination of whether auto imports pose a national security risk, something allowed under “Section 232” of the World Trade Organization rules.  The administration may hold off on implementation of tariffs, pending progress in talks with Europe and Japan aimed at restoring a balance of trade in autos and parts.

You may ask how auto imports pose a “national security risk.”  Good question.  I don’t know the administration’s rationale for it.  Imported cars themselves are surely not a risk.  It’s not as thought Toyota and VW and Honda and Mercedes and Hyundai and BMW have secretly planted bombs inside the cars.  The cars aren’t a risk.  However, what is definitely a national security risk is the enormous trade deficit in autos and parts.  There is no greater threat to the long-term viability of our economy than a big, sustained trade deficit that drives our budget deficit and national debt ever further out of control.  And we’ve now run a huge trade deficit for forty-three consecutive years.

The only mystery here is why the administration hasn’t acted already.  It’s becoming clear that the remaining globalists in Trump’s cabinet, like Larry Kudlow, Director of Trump’s Economic Council, and John Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, have the upper hand over trade hawks like Trump’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro.  As a result, Trump is being sucked into the kind of endless “trade negotiations” that have paralyzed U.S. trade policy for decades.

But having the Commerce report ready for action would underscore a consistent threat from President Donald Trump – that he would impose tariffs on autos and auto parts unless the EU and Japan make trade concessions including lowering the EU’s 10 percent tariff on imported vehicles and cutting non-tariff barriers.

… Last month, the administration said it would open formal trade talks with the EU and Japan in early 2019 after the 90-day required congressional notification period ends.

Such talks are a complete waste of time.  Lowering barriers in the EU and Japan will make absolutely no difference in the trade deficit.  Europeans and Japanese don’t buy imported American cars because their countries are so crowded that their per capita consumption of vehicles is a fraction of that of Americans.  They don’t buy them because there’s no place to park cars and their roads are so crowded that they can’t make practical use of cars.  The only way to achieve a balance of trade in autos and parts is to keep their imports out.  Tariffs are the most effective method of doing that.

Of course, stories such as this are never complete until the free trade advocates have their chance to scare you with dire predictions.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include General Motors Co (GM.N), Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) and Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T), warned the price of an imported car would increase nearly $6,000, while the price of a U.S.-built car would increase by $2,000.

A study released by a U.S. auto dealer group warned the tariffs could cut U.S. auto sales by 2 million vehicles annually and cost more than 117,000 auto dealer jobs, or about 10 percent of the workforce.

If the price of imports goes up by $6,000 while the price of domestically-manufactured cars goes up by only $2,000, which are you more likely to buy?  The answer is obvious, but the above-mentioned groups only want you to focus on the fact that the cost of all autos will increase.  They want you to think that you won’t be able to afford a car any more.  They hope that you’re too dumb to realize that shifting manufacturing back to the U.S. will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and will drive a demand for labor that will also drive wages higher – more than enough to offset any price increase.  U.S. auto sales won’t fall by 2 million vehicles annually.  They’ll actually increase as rising wages make cars more affordable.  And regarding the loss of auto dealer jobs (117,000 estimated in the article), you can bet that dealer jobs will be lost at the imports’ dealers if the foreign companies aren’t smart enough to begin building their cars in the U.S., but those folks will quickly find new work at GM, Ford and Chrysler.

Trump is wasting precious time by dithering with these worthless “trade negotiations.”  He needs to implement tariffs now and make them big enough – at least 25% – to have the desired effect, which is driving manufacturing back to the U.S.  Before the next elections in two years, Americans need to see tangible results in the form of a falling trade deficit and rising wages, or the globalists will surely regain the upper hand.

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Low Wages Don’t Cause Trade Deficits!

July 31, 2018

Now that we’ve established (in previous recent posts) that it’s disparities in population density between the U.S. and its trading partners that causes our enormous trade deficit, let’s take a closer look at what role low wages might play.  Judging by the data we saw in the lists of America’s best and worst trade partners, there appeared to be little difference in the “purchasing power parity,”  or “PPP,” between the lists, suggesting that low wages (which track PPP) play no role.

Let’s begin by looking at America’s balance of trade with the twenty poorest nations in the world.  Here’s the list:  20 Poorest Nations.  First of all, you’ll notice that this list is dominated by poor African nations, with a few others like North Korea and Afghanistan thrown in.  The U.S. actually has a small trade surplus of just over a million dollars (an almost perfect balance of trade) with this group.  If low wages cause trade deficits, why doesn’t the U.S. have a huge trade deficit with this group of nations?  In the interest of fairness, I should point out that all foreign aid is booked as exports from the U.S., and the nations on this list are nearly all heavy recipients of U.S. foreign aid.

Let’s move on.  At the other end of the scale we have the twenty richest nations.  Since U.S. PPP is about $50,000, the U.S. would fall somewhere in the middle of this list.  So wages shouldn’t be much of a factor with this group.  Look at the list:  20 Richest Nations.  As you can see, we have a small trade deficit of $9 billion with this group of nations – virtually insignificant when compared to our total trade deficit in manufactured goods of $724 billion.

What we need to do is divide all of the world’s nations in half according to PPP and compare our balance of trade with the poorest half of nations to the richest half.  If we do that, the results are pretty startling.  With the poorest half of nations, the U.S. has a trade deficit in manufactured goods of $60.7 billion.  But with the richest half of nations, the deficit explodes to $663.5 billion!

How can we explain that?  First of all, to be honest, even the richest half of nations is made up almost entirely of nations that are poorer than the U.S.  Only about a dozen nations are richer than the U.S.  So one could argue that the low wage theory still holds.  Not true.  If it did, then it should be the poorest half of nations that we have the biggest trade deficit with, not the opposite.

The real explanation is that there is a relationship between trade and wages, but the cause and effect are quite the opposite of the “low wage theory.”  Low wages don’t cause trade deficits.  Instead, large trade surpluses like China, Germany and Japan have with the U.S., cause higher wages.  Manufacturing for export sops up excess labor supply and drives wages higher.

When the U.S. trades with poor but sparsely populated nations, they become wealthier but soon run out of labor.  Their now-wealthier populace becomes good customers for American products and trade levels off in a state of balance, more or less.

But when the U.S. trades with poor, badly overpopulated nations, wages rise but their overcrowded conditions leave them unable to consume products at anywhere near the rate needed to become customers for imported products.  Their oversupply of labor persists and a trade deficit with such a nation grows steadily worse.

America’s trade imbalance can never be resolved as long as it pursues policies that don’t target the real problem – disparities in population density.


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.


Harley-Davidson’s Response to EU Tariffs

June 27, 2018

In response to European Union (EU) tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Harley-Davidson announced on Monday that it would shift production of its motorcycles for the EU market overseas in order to avoid $90-100 million in tariffs.  (It wasn’t clear if it planned to move production to the EU or somewhere else.)  The tariffs imposed by the EU were in response to the Trump administration’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.  In addition to the tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the EU also imposed tariffs on Kentucky bourbon and Levi’s jeans.  (Apparently, the EU isn’t aware that Levis are no longer made in the U.S.)

In response to Harley’s announced move, Trump attacked Harley-Davidson on Tuesday:  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-harley-davidson-tariffs/trump-threatens-harley-davidson-over-european-production-move-idUSKBN1JM1AF.

So what does this all mean?  Is this proof that tariffs don’t work, as free-trade advocates claim?  Hardly.  It is proof, however, that in order to be effective, tariffs must be applied across-the-board to all of the manufactured products from the country or region in question.  Rather that attack Harley-Davidson, the president’s next move should be a reciprocal (or larger) tariff on all motorcycle imports from the EU.  No more BMW’s.  No more Triumphs or Nortons or Ducatis.

Harley-Davidson has a right to move production overseas, just like the above-mentioned EU motorcycle manufacturers would then have a right to move production to the U.S. to avoid its tariffs.  Better yet, Harley-Davidson would suddenly find itself in a better position to begin manufacturing motorcycles in the U.S. to compete in those segments of the market.  Harley-Davidson would come out the winner, and EU motorcycle manufacturers would be the losers.  Net employment in motorcycle manufacturing would actually rise in the U.S.

No doubt, the EU would respond with more tariffs on U.S. products, though it’d be hard-pressed to find ones that it imports from the U.S. in greater measure than it exports.  But why wait for that?  Let’s hit them where it really hurts and put a 25% tariff on EU auto exports.  No more VW’s.  No more Mercedes Benzes.  No more Audis, Jaguars, Land Rovers, Fiats, Alfa Romeos and Volvos.

The EU will respond with tariffs on U.S. auto imports, you might say.  What imports?  Imports of American cars to the EU are virtually non-existent.  Oh, there are a few, but they’re dwarfed by European imports into the U.S.  The net result would be soaring employment in the U.S. auto industry as American consumers shunned the now-more expensive European imports.

Come on, President Trump.  You’re off to a good start in fixing our trade mess.  It’s time to go “all in” and apply tariffs across-the-board on all European imports.  When you’re done with that, you can have an even bigger impact in Asia.


Red China Runnin’ Scared

April 18, 2018

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-eu-exclusive/exclusive-china-seeks-trade-firewall-with-u-s-allies-in-rush-of-ambassador-meetings-sources-idUSKBN1HO1Y0

It all began with Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum.  Red China responded with tariffs on about $3 billion of American exports.  Trump upped the ante with a proposal for tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports.  Red China responded in kind, including tariffs on American soybeans, and they promptly began buying their soybeans from Brazil.  No dummies, the Brazilians.  They raised their prices.  And the EU, now unable to buy from Brazil, placed big orders for American soybeans.  No skin off the noses of American soybean farmers.

Trump then responded with a proposal for tariffs on another $100 billion of imports from Red China, whose tit-for-tat strategy was now exhausted since they import so little from the U.S.  Instead, they threatened severe retaliation in some form that remains unspecified.  But their rhetoric was threatening.  Not Islamist “rivers of blood running through your cities” threatening, but scary enough to those who don’t really understand international trade.

Now it’s looking a whole lot like a bluff.  As reported in the above-linked article, the Chinese are now running scared, trying to drum up support for “free trade” (their version of it) with the EU (European Union).

Some of the western diplomats involved in the meetings with Fu Ziying, who is also a vice-commerce minister, have viewed the approaches as a sign of how anxious Beijing is getting about the expanding conflict with Washington, the sources said.

The rush of meetings last Thursday and Friday with ambassadors from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and the European Union, may be a signal that China is trying to build a firewall against Trump’s aggressive trade measures, the severity of which some foreign diplomats said Beijing had miscalculated.

“China is showing confidence, but internally they appear quite concerned. They have apparently underestimated Trump’s resolve on trade,” the diplomat said, adding that Beijing is nervous about China’s major trading partners siding with Washington.

It’s not likely they’re getting much sympathy from the EU.  In 2016, the EU had a $175 billion trade deficit with Red China.  If anything, the EU is probably realizing that America’s new get tough policy has Red China running scared and, just maybe, they ought to try a little of that tariff medicine themselves.


More Trade War Hysteria

April 7, 2018

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/04/one-of-the-biggest-us-trade-wars-of-the-past-had-a-tragic-consequence–heres-what-happened.html?recirc=taboolainternal

I was hoping to spend some time tallying the U.S.’s global trade results for 2017, but then this popped up and I just can’t let it pass.  Actually, I was wondering when the free trade globalists would dredge up the subject of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, blaming it for the Great Depression, as they usually do.  But the writer of the above linked article, in an apparent attempt to ratchet up fears of a trade war, goes a step further and blames Smoot-Hawley for World War II!

She begins by creating the impression that Smoot-Hawley was an opening salvo in a trade war in the 1930s.  She either doesn’t have a clue, or is intentionally trying to mislead her readers.  Let’s get some facts straight.  First of all, the use of tariffs was standard trade policy for the United States since its founding.  In fact, until 1913, there was no need for an income tax in the U.S. because all federal revenue was derived from tariffs.  The Smoot Hawley Act was nothing more than a minor tweak of tariff rates that had been in effect since the Fordney-McCumber Act of 1922.  It increased tariffs on average by 2.7%.  It changed the tariff basis from an ad valorem (percentage) basis to a fixed dollar basis which, under normal circumstances, would actually have slowly reduced tariffs as inflation eroded the value of the tariff.  But, of course, the Great Depression resulted in a protracted term of deflation instead of inflation.

Blaming Smoot-Hawley for the Great Depression is bad enough.  Not only was the change in tariff rates minuscule, but it wasn’t enacted until June of 1930, a year-and-a-half after the stock market crash of 1929 which actually precipitated the Great Depression.  And at the height of the Great Depression in 1933 when GDP (gross domestic product) had fallen by 33%, or $33.1 billion from its 1929 level, the total value of imports and exports had declined by only $6.5 billion.  It was actually the Great Depression that caused the drop in trade, and not the other way around, just as the “Great Recession” that began in 2008 resulted in a sharp decline in trade.

To blame Smoot-Hawley or a “trade war” that didn’t even exist for World War II is truly outrageous.  It was actually the aftermath of World War I and the severe war reparations that were imposed on Germany, resulting in soaring inflation and unemployment, that fostered Hitler’s rise to power.  And that just happened to coincide with the growing aggressiveness of imperialist Japan.  Trade had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Sure, the world made a turn toward free trade following the war with the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, but it wasn’t because anyone blamed a “trade war” for causing World War II.  It was because economists, eager to try out the concept of free trade, successfully (but disingenuously) blamed tariffs for the Great Depression and made an argument that the interdependence that would come with free trade could preclude any future world wars.

Actually, if one were to be honest, free trade and the enormous global trade imbalances it has fostered is directly responsible for our current trade tensions.  We need to restore balance to global trade through the use of tariffs or quotas before things get any worse.


“U.S.” Chamber of Commerce Sides with China

March 16, 2018

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade/chamber-of-commerce-warns-trump-against-china-tariffs-idUSKCN1GR29G

There are few groups I despise as much as the “U.S.” Chamber of Commerce.  First of all, let’s be clear about who they are.  It’s not an American organization that promotes American interests.  Rather, the “U.S.” Chamber of Commerce is the U.S. branch of a global trade organization that was founded in France in 1599.  Its mission is the promotion of trade and they consider all trade, regardless of winners and losers, to be good.  If trade benefits China to the detriment of the U.S., then that’s fine with them and they want more of it.  They couldn’t care less that it results in an enormous, unsustainable trade deficit that drives unemployment and poverty in the U.S.

So it should come as no surprise that it opposes any efforts by the administration to restore a balance of trade.  After imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum, the Trump administration is now taking aim at certain imports from China that have thrived on the theft of American intellectual property.  Protecting national security from the theft of such property is a no-brainer, though past administrations haven’t had the guts to do it.  Naturally, the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t like it.  Siding with the Chinese, here’s what they have to say:

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in a statement on Thursday that such tariffs, associated with a probe of China’s intellectual property practices, would be “damaging taxes on American consumers.”

… Donohue said the Trump administration was right to focus on the negative economic impact of China’s industrial policies and unfair trade practices, but said tariffs were the wrong approach to dealing with these.

… “Tariffs of $30 billion a year would wipe out over a third of the savings American families received from the doubling of the standard deduction in tax reform,” Donohue said. “If the tariffs reach $60 billion, which has been rumored, the impact would be even more devastating.”

… “Tariffs could lead to a destructive trade war with serious consequences for U.S. economic growth and job creation,” hurting consumers, businesses, farmers and ranchers.

Of course, the Chinese wholeheartedly agree:

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Donohue’s comments were correct, adding that recently more and more American intellectuals had made their rational voices heard.

“In fact, U.S. trade with China in the past 40 years very objectively reduced American families’ per capita spending burden,” Lu told reporters. “We have said many times, there are no winners in a trade war.”

These statements are loaded with lies about trade that have been perpetrated for decades by globalists and their organizations like the World Trade Organization and the Chamber of Commerce.  Here’s the truth:

  1. Tariffs are not taxes on American consumers.  They’re taxes on the companies who export to the U.S.  They’re incentives to encourage corporations to produce domestically, driving a demand for workers.  They’re incentives to encourage consumers to buy the cheaper, domestically made alternatives.  If some consumers choose to continue buying the more expensive imports, then the revenue from the tariffs enables the federal government to keep individual tax rates low.  In the first half of America’s history, all federal revenue was generated by tariffs.
  2. Tariffs don’t cause trade wars.  All trade is a “war”  and those who run chronic trade surpluses are the winners and those with chronic trade deficits – the U.S. has the worst in the world by far – are the losers.  We’ve been in a trade war since the birth of our nation.  In 1947, with the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the U.S. gave up the fight in the hope that doing so would placate the aggressor nations who had initiated the past world wars.  It’s the global equivalent of local businesses paying “protection” money to local gangsters.  At some point – the point the U.S. has now reached – the extortion becomes too much to bear.
  3. When you have such an enormous trade deficit as the U.S. – the goods deficit now approaching a trillion dollars per year – it’s impossible to come out the loser by imposing tariffs and restoring a balance of trade.  Contrary to the claims of the globalists, costs for American consumers would actually go down when those costs are measured as a percentage of their incomes, which is the only rational way to measure it.  Who cares if prices rise when your wages rise even faster?  That’s exactly what would happen.

Don’t listen to the self-serving traitors like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The tariffs that the U.S. used throughout its history to build itself into the world’s preeminent industrial powerhouse will work again just like they did in the past.  It’s time to force grossly overpopulated nations with bloated labor forces to deal with their own problems.  Americans are tired of footing the bill.  Bring on more tariffs!