Time to Leave the World Trade Organization

September 16, 2020

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-wto/wto-finds-washington-broke-trade-rules-by-putting-tariffs-on-china-ruling-angers-u-s-idUSKBN2662FG

As reported in the above-linked article, the World Trade Organization has announced its finding that the U.S. broke its rules when it imposed tariffs on Chinese imports two years ago.

The timing of this announcement is curious.  Of course the U.S. broke the rules.  Everyone knew it at the time.  Trump didn’t care.  It was the only way to make any progress on halting the explosion in the trade deficit with China.  So why wait until now?  Is it because Trump faces re-election in less than two months, running against a candidate who played a big role in the advancement of the globalism that the WTO enforces?

The WTO is the enforcer of the ill-conceived trade scheme hatched in the wake of World War II to bring the world together by employing the unproven concept of “free” trade.  Decades later, the results are in and “free” trade is now a proven failure.  Instead of lifting all economies of the world and bringing the world together through an inter-dependency, the WTO has destabilized the world by establishing a host-parasite relationship between reasonably-populated nations, like the U.S., and the others – like China, so badly overpopulated that they are totally dependent on manufacturing for export and feeding off of America’s market.  The WTO is directly responsible for building up a totalitarian communist regime bent on dominating the rest of the world.

It’s time to put an end to this.  Trump can do it by simply withdrawing from the WTO, a move that would quickly lead to its collapse.  Let’s return to truly free trade, where every nation is free to set its own rules in its own best self-interest.


Trump’s Efforts on Trade a Spectacular Failure

September 9, 2020

I can’t tell you how disheartening it was to sift through the latest trade data, for the month of July, released by the Commerce Department late last week.  There’s just no getting around the fact that the administration’s efforts to cut the trade deficit and bring manufacturing back to the U.S. have failed.  “Failure” would be the word to describe results that haven’t shown any improvement.  But America’s trade picture has deteriorated so badly that the scope of the failure can only be described as “spectacular.”

In his inauguration address, Trump observed:

…  rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation …

Earlier in the address, regarding situations like that noted above, he proclaimed:

… That all changes – starting right here, and right now …

The July trade data comes 3-1/2 years into his administration – plenty of time to implement changes and to see the effects.  It’s hard to find any silver lining.  Consider:

  1. The trade deficit in manufactured goods in July soared to $80.4 billion, a new record that completely blows away the record set under the Obama administration ($63.3 billion in March, 2015).  Check out this chart:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.
  2. During the 2016 campaign, Trump vowed to quickly tear up the NAFTA deal and replace it with a much better deal.  Most of his term has been wasted negotiating the new “USMCA” trade deal that replaces it.  It finally went into effect on July 1st of this year, but the terms have been known for a long time, so you’d expect that manufacturers would have been busy implementing plans to get in compliance.  The results?  In July, the trade deficit with Mexico soared to $10. 6 billion.  When Trump took office in January, 2017 it was $3.8 billion.  Since then it has nearly tripled.
  3. When Trump took office, the deficit with China was $31.4 billion.  In July of this year it was $31.6 billion.  After Trump took office, the deficit with China continued to grow until, finally fed up with China’s promises to buy more American products, Trump imposed 25% tariffs on half of all Chinese products.  Almost immediately, the deficit with China began to shrink dramatically.  However, all momentum was lost with the signing of the “Phase 1” deal with China, when the U.S. agreed to halt plans to impose tariffs on the remainder of China’s products in exchange for Chinese promises to dramatically increase their purchases of American goods.  The results were predictable; China reneged on the deal.  They haven’t even measured up to the 2017 baseline that was used as a starting point.  Here’s the data, updated through July:  Phase 1 China Trade Deal 2020 YTD.  What has Trump done in response?  Nothing.  He continues to insist it’s a good deal, in much the same way that Obama stuck by his trade deal with South Korea while our deficit with them exploded.
  4. What progress was made in at least stagnating the deficit with China didn’t translate into any benefit to American workers.  Instead, it contributed to the tripling of the debt with Mexico and also ballooned the debt with Vietnam.  When Trump took office, the trade deficit with Vietnam, an economic back-water, was $3.3 billion per month.  In July of this year it was more than doubled to $6.8 billion per month.  Why?  Because no tariffs were applied to anyone other than China.  The tariffs motivated manufacturers to begin moving out of China, but there was no disincentive to simply move to secondary suppliers in Mexico, Vietnam and other places.

Some might say that such conclusions are unfair in the midst of the pandemic.  Not so.  The effect of the pandemic has been to cut economic activity to a depression-like level, and the effect of an economic slow-down has always been to shrink the trade deficit, not grow it.  That makes the enormous deficit in manufactured goods in July even more troubling.

Speaking of the pandemic, at least people are beginning to realize that being dependent on foreign suppliers for critical goods like ventilators and face masks is a threat to national security.  It’d be nice if that realization extended to other products that would just as easily be cut off during war time.  Better yet, wouldn’t it be nice if people realized that an economy that needs to stand on agriculture, construction, manufacturing and services is hollowed out and unstable if one of those legs is gone?

I don’t doubt Trump’s desire to truly “make America great again” by bringing back our manufacturing sector.  But he sees himself as a “deal-maker” and believes he can deal his way out of the trade deficit.  That’s where the problem lies.  For America, at least, there’s no such thing as a good trade deal.  I defy anyone to identify a single trade deal that has ever left America with anything but a growing trade deficit.

And forget about “free trade.”  That centuries-old concept is about as relevant to today’s trade environment as theories about a flat earth and how the sun rotates around it.  Today, trade is war – a war for increasingly scarce jobs in an ever more over-populated world.  Unlike America, the rest of the world understand this.  They know that what they really need is access to America’s market so that they can keep their bloated populations employed manufacturing goods for export.  Americans don’t have a clue.  They think it’s about lower price and more choice.

Had Trump simply applied tariffs everywhere where America was suffering a big trade deficit in manufactured goods, manufacturers would have come running back like refugees fleeing a war.  Instead of improving incrementally, our economy would have exploded.  Manufacturers would have eagerly snapped up any workers who lost their jobs to closures of restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, etc. during the pandemic.  Trump’s re-election would be a foregone conclusion.  Instead, he’s going to be lucky to win.  Forget about the pandemic.  It’s his failure to make progress on truly making America great again that has left him vulnerable.

Don’t interpret this post as an endorsement of Biden.  It’s reported in the news today that Trump has criticized Biden as a “globalist.”  He’s not wrong.  But it’s not just Biden.  Until Trump came along, every politician, Democrat and Republican alike, were and still are globalists.  I’d vote for Biden in a heartbeat if he vowed to use tariffs to restore a balance of trade, but he won’t.  Though the results under Trump have been disappointing, things could and would be much worse under virtually anyone else, at least until more American politicians are willing to engage in the trade war that they don’t even acknowledge today.

 

 

 

 


Emerging Lessons from The Covid-19 Pandemic

March 31, 2020

As the Covid-19 pandemic has played out, lessons have begun to emerge about our society which, in blissful ignorance over the past seven decades, we have evolved in the interests of growth and efficiency in ways that are now proving to be dangerous – dangerous to our health, our economy and even civilization as we know it.

Globalism and Global Supply Chains:

Nothing became more readily apparent as the virus took hold than our inability to produce even the most basic medical supplies – masks, face shields, gowns, medicines and ventilators.  Why couldn’t we just crank up the capacity at our factories?  Because we don’t have any.  Like everything else, we’ve made ourselves totally dependent on foreign sources for these items.  Why couldn’t those foreign sources crank up their factories and just send us what we needed?  Because they were in the same boat and needed them themselves.  The whole world quickly found itself in the same boat.  “Globalism” has provided the perfect mechanism for spreading local outbreaks across the world almost overnight and has rendered us nearly incapable of fighting them.

At the beginning of the outbreak in the U.S., we were critically short of N95 masks, a shortage that, while being addressed, threatens to persist.  So just make more, right?  Some companies are tooling up to do just that.  But that’s the problem.  It takes time to “tool up.”  We haven’t been making any such masks in the U.S., so there’s no factory where we can just add more shifts or crank up the output.  The manufacturing has to be tooled up from scratch.

How hard can it be to make simple masks?  Start with the fabric.  No fabric of any kind is made in the U.S. any more.  It has to be engineered to screen out a minimum particle size.  Now it has to be thermoformed into the shape of a mask.  That takes special molding tooling.  To make that tooling requires sophisticated machining equipment.  We have that equipment, but almost all of it is foreign-sourced.  So what happens when that equipment breaks down?  Multiply that level of complexity a thousand-fold in order to produce ventilators which also aren’t made in this country (at least they weren’t until Ford, GE and GM began building factories recently to do it).

The same goes for test kits and pharmaceuticals, all of which until now have been foreign-sourced.

President Trump recently vented his frustration with this situation in one of his daily White House briefings.  He vowed that while we can engage in trade with everyone, we can never again let ourselves be dependent on anyone.  Others have made the same observation.  Complex global supply chains that depend on pulling together materials from all over the world in order to keep society functioning is a recipe for a disaster.

It’s interesting how quickly those who, in the past have mocked others as “protectionists” and “isolationists,” have resorted to exactly those measures to stem the spread of this pandemic.  Now, isolating ourselves is our only hope for saving hundreds of thousands of people and, while doing so, we’re put at risk by the globalism that they championed.

No Spare Capacity:

Global competition has fueled a relentless drive for efficiency, just-in-time delivery supply chains and cutting costs to the bone.  That means squeezing every ounce from every capacity available, whether it’s labor capacity, factory capacity, and even the capacity of our health care system.  Everything has been functioning with virtually no capacity to spare.  Even in the best of times, the intensive care units and emergency rooms at our hospitals function at near-capacity.  Most of you have visited hospitals before all this started.  How many empty beds did you see as you walked down the halls?  How many times did you pass a patient on a gurney in the hallway?

How many times have you gone to a store – any kind of store – and found that you were fortunate enough to get one of the few remaining items you’re looking for that are left on the shelf?  Maybe there are none, and you’re told that more are arriving tomorrow.  It’s because inventory management systems have cut to the bone the amount of inventory in the warehouse.  We’ve even learned that the stockpiles of critical items maintained by FEMA and the CDC, while sufficient for smaller local or regional disasters, are woefully short of what would be needed for any kind of major disaster.  (And isn’t it interesting how our definition of “major disaster” has just changed?)

That’s all great for minimizing costs, but now we can see just how risky that can be.  People are paying for that kind of efficiency with their lives.  There is a role for government to play in assuring that a certain minimum amount of spare capacity exists throughout our supply chains – supply chains that are not dependent on other nations – that can be readily tapped in the event of national disasters like pandemics, wars, etc.

The Risks of Dense Populations:

Consider where this virus originated and where it’s hit the hardest.  It originated in a country with one fifth of the world’s population, a country so densely populated that it’s people, at least in some quarters, rely on live animal markets as a source of food.  China is four times as densely populated as the U.S.  Pause and think about that.  Imagine if the U.S. had four times as many people.  Imagine New York city with four times as many people.  Or Chicago.  Or any other city you can think of.  Imagine our rural areas with four times as many people.  They’d no longer be so rural.

Where has the virus hit hardest?  Italy is almost twice as densely populated as China.  So too is Germany and the U.K.  Most of Europe is as densely populated as China.  Major cities in the U.S. and around the world are hundreds of times more densely populated.

Even in the best of times, living in a densely populated area is a little risky.  With a sky-high cost of living (especially housing), and with many (perhaps most?) people living paycheck-to-paycheck, you’re at constant risk of finding yourself homeless.  The supply of basic necessities relies on complicated supply chains that are vulnerable to disruptions.  In the worst of times – and what we’re enduring right now, while bad, is probably not even close to being “worst” – living in such densely populated conditions is downright dangerous.  Diseases can spread like wildfire.  Natural disasters or wars could cut off supply lines.

What’s the solution?  Live in a less densely-populated society.  How is that possible?  Modern civilization requires both urban and rural areas.  Cities are needed to pull together labor forces to manufacture goods and provide certain services, while rural areas are needed for farming, forestry, recreation, etc.

The way to achieve this is with fewer, smaller cities and more rural, wide-open space.  Consider countries like Canada and Australia – each with the same size as the U.S. but with one tenth or less population density.  Though each is dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, they’re no where near the scale of what the U.S. is facing.  Why?  Because they were already more isolated to start with.

On the other hand, think about India – a place so densely populated that it’s almost impossible for them to practice any kind of social distancing.  Will they pay the price, or will the fact that India is a hot climate where the coronavirus, like the flu, can’t survive to any great extent spare them?  No one knows.  Only time will tell.

Then there’s cruise ships.  Before any of this happened, we were already hearing constant stories of norovirus outbreaks that sickened passengers, cut cruises short and necessitated thorough cleaning of the ships.  Now we’ve seen that, given a deadlier virus, those ships are death traps.  And each is just a small-scale example of what can happen in a densely-packed society.

Secure Borders:

Together with the advocates of free trade and globalism, the open border advocates have also gone silent.  Our failure to quickly shut down international travel exacerbated the spread of the virus in the U.S.  How much worse could it have been had we not been able to shut down the borders at all?  How much worse could it have gotten had we not already taken steps to secure our southern border?  Now we can see the value in maintaining secure borders, and the need to further tighten down on illegal immigration.

Beyond these, there are many, many other lessons to be learned about preparedness for major disasters.  One lesson that will only become clear as our economy begins to recover is that we’re going to pay for decades for the folly of allowing our economy to be siphoned away to drive growth in the rest of the world.  Our dependence on deficit spending to offset the drain of the trade deficit had already become dangerous as our national debt swelled to an unsustainable level.  We were already bailing as fast as we could to keep our leaky boat afloat.  Now, the $2 trillion stimulus package, together with the $4 trillion in additional debt that the Federal Reserve is issuing, will blow the transom off the boat.  It will prove impossible to keep the economy afloat while maintaining a trade deficit.  It’s critical that we get serious about restoring a balance of trade, both to reinvigorate our manufacturing base and to stop the hemorrhaging of our national debt.

Economists have long boasted that “mankind is clever enough to overcome all obstacles to further growth.”  At the same time, survivalists have built bomb shelters, amassed stockpiles of food, ammunition, batteries and other gear, and have practiced survival skills.  Suddenly, the latter group looks a little less wacky and the economists seem a bit humbled.  Mankind is not clever enough to overcome all obstacles to growth because, in a finite world, it’s impossible for so many reasons that they can’t even be listed.  Try as we might to keep growing the population, nature will find a way to restore balance in ways that we can’t even imagine, and likely with consequences too horrible to contemplate.

We’d better learn these lessons, because next time it could be much worse.  Though this virus is very contagious and much deadlier than the flu, it’s not as deadly as it could be.  In 1918, the Spanish flu killed approximately 50 million people at a time when the world’s population was just 3 billion.  In 2003, the SARS virus killed 10% of the people it infected.  Luckily, SARS was only contagious when it when symptoms became obvious, making it easy to identify and isolate those infected, which limited the number of cases to just over 8,000 world wide.  Then there’s ebola, a virus that kills half of everyone it infects.  Imagine if a virus emerged that was that lethal and was just as contagious as the novel coronavirus.  It could wipe out three billion people or more and threaten the very survival of mankind.  It might be a hundred years from now.  It might be tomorrow.  But fail to learn these lessons from this virus, and that’s what’s going to happen.

 

 

 


WTO Gutted by Trump Administration

December 11, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trade-wto/u-s-trade-offensive-takes-out-wto-as-global-arbiter-idUSKBN1YE0YE

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about when I say that the media slants its coverage of Trump, ignoring accomplishments and anything that puts the Trump administration in a positive light.  At the same time, it’s also an example of my complaint that Trump isn’t an effective communicator.

The above-linked article reports on one of the most significant milestones of the Trump administration.  As of yesterday, the World Trade Organization, or “WTO,” has been effectively gutted by the Trump administration’s blocking of appointments to its “Appellate Body,” rendering it unable to rule on trade disputes.

It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this milestone.  The WTO was founded in 1995, but its roots go back much further, to the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (or “GATT”) in 1947.  Its mission has been to advance the cause of undeveloped and underdeveloped countries through the transfer of industry and wealth from the United States.  As a result, the U.S. has run a trade deficit every year since 1976, a deficit that set a new record in 2018, reached a cumulative total of over $16 trillion and is responsible for 80% of our national debt.  It has shifted millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs overseas and left many millions of Americans unable to afford health care or to save for retirement.  Decades of mush-headed presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, have stood idly by while “economists,” bought-and-paid-for by global corporations, assured them that such “free trade” was in our best interest.

Yesterday should have been celebrated like the end of a major war.  Yet there was little mention of it in the media and no mention of it by Trump, who should be credited with one of the biggest achievements by an American president in decades.  I was lucky to stumble across this article on Reuters where, only an hour later, it was gone from the their web site and I had to do a search to resurrect it.

No country should ever hand over its economy to any global organization that is dedicated to managing it in favor of other countries to its own detriment, but that’s exactly what the U.S. did.  As of yesterday, Trump has effectively put an end to it.


A coming civil war? Is “Americanism,” or the lack thereof, driving us toward it?

December 5, 2019

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/12/04/modern-day-civil-war-in-united-states-how-americanism-can-save-us-column/4309670002/

I came across this above-linked opinion piece on the USA Today web site yesterday and just had to comment.  As the author observes, we’re beginning to hear an undercurrent of rumblings about the potential for another civil war in America.  I’ve heard and read reports of groups – motorcycle gangs and clubs and various militias – that are reportedly prepared to take up arms in the event that President Trump were to be impeached.  (Kudos to the author of this piece for his even-handedness in laying blame on both sides.)

Let me preface this by saying that I voted for Trump in 2016.  I did so on the basis of his promises to do something about our trade deficit and about illegal immigration, the two issues which I believe lie at the root of the ills that have beset our economy for decades.  I also voted for Obama in 2008 for the very same reason – his promise to reduce our trade imbalance – a promise not kept.

I’m not a particularly big fan of Trump.  He can be obnoxious and arrogant.  He’s not a great communicator.  But, after many decades of do-nothing presidents who stood idly by while the rising tide of “globalism” plundered our economy and while other countries played us for fools, I’m thrilled that we finally have a leader who’s willing to stand up and tell the world enough is enough and we won’t tolerate it any longer. He’s backed up his words with action, levying large tariffs on Chinese imports in spite of the tremendous pressure from the Chinese and the global business community not to do it.  Good for him.  I want to see more of it.

Does that make me a Republican?  Hardly.  The Republican party has traditionally been a big supporter of free trade – even more so than the Democrats – and staunchly opposed to the use of tariffs.  So what does that make me?  An American, one who, like million of others, was infused with the spirit of “Americanism” as I grew up, the very kind of “Americanism” the author of this piece describes when he says:

America once was, and hopefully still can be, a nation for the ambitious, hard-working, creative, productive, adventurous and entrepreneurial. That is the meaning of Americanism and the spirit of American liberty.

America once was all of that.  A few paragraphs earlier, the author stated, “If we are to avoid civil war, Americans must rediscover the principles and promise of American life that united us for over 200 years.”  Interesting that the author takes note of the 200-year milestone of our country.  That bicentennial happened in 1976.  Coincidentally, 1976 was the year that America’s trade balance swung from a small surplus to an ever-growing deficit.  2018 marked the 42nd annual trade deficit and was the largest in history.  2019 will be the 43rd.  While “the promise of American life” united us for over 200 years, it didn’t last much beyond that.

I entered the labor force in the private sector in 1974 and spent my entire working career watching “the promise of American life” steadily eroded by the forces of globalism, as global corporations turned their backs on Americans, licking their chops at the prospect of more and faster growth in the underdeveloped world – primarily in China.  I listened to the daily drumbeat about how Americans could no longer compete with foreign labor and watched our factories shut down as “made in the USA” products on store shelves were steadily displaced by those from China and Mexico.

By 2016 “the promise of American life” was gone, replaced by a dog-eat-dog existence of working minimum wage jobs while the severance packages and retirement savings were slowly exhausted.  Americans were seething with anger and ready to elect anyone who promised to do something about it.

Hillary Clinton blamed her loss to Trump on the E-mail investigation that was announced by James Comey in the final week before the election.  Baloney.  Americans didn’t care about her E-mails.  That story was already old news.  But three other things happened in that final week that set Americans on fire:  first, the Social Security administration announced that, for the 2nd year in a row, there would be no cost-of-living adjustment to social security benefits.  That was followed closely by an announcement from the Obama adminstration that “Obamacare” premiums were being jacked up by a third or more.  Finally, that announcement was followed the very next day by announcements of similar huge premium increases for private health insurance.

A “coming” civil war?!?!?  We’ve been in one for three years, and those events of the final week of the 2016 election campaign that I just described were the opening salvo, fired by globalists at the downtrodden American workers, accompanied by their battle cry, “The American Dream is dead!”  The election a week later was the return volley, fired by furious Americans whose sense of “Americanism” was reawakened.  If there was any doubt that a war was on, it was erased on January 20, 2017 when, during his inauguration speech, Trump swung a rhetorical battle-ax at the heads of globalism.

Globalism is in a full-blown panic.  They’ve done a masterful job of portraying Trump as a self-serving oligarch that threatens our very democracy.  The American media, owned and controlled almost lock, stock and barrel by foreign interests, has been relentless and unmerciful in their efforts to bring Trump down.

Will this war turn into an actual shooting war?  God, let’s hope not, but globalism won’t go down without a fight.  You can bet on that.  “Americanism?”  It’s alive and well, much to the chagrin of the globalists.

 


“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.


Trump Tariff Policy and the Risk of Recession

August 21, 2019

Early this month, Trump announced that a 10% tariff would go into effect on September 1st on all remaining imports from China.  (Half of Chinese imports were already subject to a 25% tariff.)  Stock markets plunged amid warnings of a global slowdown, inflation and the possibility of recession in the U.S.  Investors rushed to buy safe-haven bonds, sending the yield on 10-year bonds below that of 2-year bonds, producing the dreaded “yield curve inversion,” which has often been a harbinger of a looming recession.  So the warnings of recession intensified.  Every weaker-than-expected economic report blames the “trade war” and Trump’s tariffs, while every stronger-than-expected economic report – most notably a strong labor market and good GDP growth (the exact opposite of recession) is shrugged off as happening in spite of the tariffs and trade war.  The globalist media is desperately stoking fear of a recession in the hope of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Is there actually a risk of recession related to Trump’s tariff policy?  You bet there is.  But the relationship is exactly the opposite of what economists and the media would have you believe.  Trump’s “slow turkey” approach to the use of tariffs – imposing them only on China – so far hasn’t yielded anything in terms of reducing the trade deficit and bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.  Don’t get me wrong.  The tariffs on China are definitely working – reducing the trade imbalance with China by nearly 25% this year.  But companies aren’t convinced that this is anything other than a blip in U.S. trade policy or that it could extend beyond China.  So, instead of bringing jobs back to the U.S., it has shifted them to other overpopulated nations hungry for work.  It appears that countries like Mexico and Vietnam have been the big beneficiaries so far, where our trade deficit with each has grown by approximately 25%.

Our overall trade deficit hasn’t budged.  In  June (the most recent month for which data is available), our deficit in manufactured goods was $73.1 billion – the 2nd worst figure ever recorded and only $3.6 billion below the record set in December of ’18.

Trump appears to be walking a fine line, taking the “slow turkey” approach to tariffs to avoid roiling markets but, at the same time, not realizing any of the benefit of bringing back manufacturing jobs, leaving the economy dependent on deficit spending to counteract the drag of the trade deficit, making it susceptible to a recession.  It’s a huge gamble.  A recession will doom any hope of a 2nd term and, with it, any hope of sustaining this badly-needed turn in trade policy.

 


More Evidence that Tariffs are Working

March 8, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trade-emerson/as-trade-wars-rage-emerson-plots-new-u-s-expansion-idUSKCN1QP0IQ

Here’s more evidence that the tariffs on Chinese imports are working.  As reported in the above-linked article, Emerson Electric now plans to move manufacturing back to the U.S.  It’s a complete reversal from their strategy of only ten years ago.

In 2009, the chief executive of Emerson Electric Co. bluntly told investors at a Chicago conference what many of his counterparts at other manufacturing firms would only say privately.  “I’m not going to hire anybody in the United States. I’m moving,” David Farr said as he blasted U.S. taxes and regulations and called it an easy decision to expand in India and China.

A decade later, Farr has made a stunning reversal: Emerson now plans to build at least three new U.S. plants and is already expanding existing domestic operations. Farr saw a new era of U.S. protectionism coming before Trump’s election – and started planning accordingly, he said in an interview with Reuters at the company’s sprawling headquarters near St. Louis, Missouri.

“For the first time now, I’m looking for best-cost U.S. locations” to build factories, he said.

Trump’s election, Farr said, accelerated a political shift against free trade policy that is now transforming many U.S. firms’ domestic investment strategy. Protectionist policies — especially toward China — are now a rare point on which many Democrats and Trump agree, relegating formerly bold Republican free traders to the sidelines.

The article goes on to provide some details of Emerson’s plans, particularly to spend $425 million on capital projects in the U.S., including $250 million for new manufacturing facilities.

And it’s not just Emerson:

Farr’s new take on U.S. investment reflects a broader questioning of overseas expansions, especially in China, for both political and operational reasons. A survey of top managers at 500 U.S. companies conducted in December by investment bank UBS AG found that 31 percent have moved or are moving production facilities to avoid tariffs. Fifty-eight percent said they expect tariffs to “have a positive impact on domestic investment.”

It’s not just the tariffs.  Farr seems to be disillusioned with manufacturing in China.

Forces beyond politics are pushing manufacturers like Emerson to reconsider investments in China, including rising labor and logistics costs there …

… Emerson’s renewed commitment to U.S. manufacturing is also part of a larger move by global manufacturers to produce more goods in the regions where they are consumed to save on transportation costs.

I believe there are other factors at work here too.  The domestic Chinese economy is flattening out at a far lower level than CEOs expected.  They dreamt of a nation of more than a billion people becoming western-style consumers in the mold of Americans, making China a market four times the size of America.  It hasn’t happened because gross overpopulation in China strangles their per capita consumption.  They built a lot of capacity in China to serve a market that never materialized – capacity that was then dependent on exports to make it profitable.  Along with higher wages and high shipping costs, Trump’s tariffs have eroded their profits even further.  Supplying the American market from China no longer makes sense.

This story, and the one I posted about yesterday – about BMW putting on hold its plans to export EV’s from China – are just tiny examples of the effect that tariffs have in driving manufacturing back to the U.S.  Just imagine the potential as this begins to snowball.  Imagine how many factories would have to be built and how many people would have to be hired to staff them to make all of the products you see on the shelves at the box stores today that are all sourced from China.  There would be an economic explosion in this country the likes of which haven’t been seen since the end of World War II.

The tide is turning against the failed concepts of free trade and globalization.  It’s crumbling right before our eyes.  The very fact that Reuters, a pro free trade and pro globalization publication until now, saw fit to even publish this information is evidence in itself of changing sentiment.

And kudos to Reuters for pointing out that Republicans were even more guilty than Democrats for pushing the free trade globalization agenda to the detriment of the American people, and that Trump has led the charge against it.  Nice to see that some on both sides of the aisle are getting on the bandwagon.

 


Auto Tariffs? Bring ’em on!

February 21, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-autos/automakers-brace-for-u-s-government-report-on-import-tariffs-idUSKCN1Q503G

A Commerce Department report that likely labels auto imports a national security threat which, under Section 232 of the World Trade Organization, would clear the way for Trump to impose tariffs, is now in Trump’s hands.  It could happen at any time now.  It’s impossible to overstate the consequences of such a move.  Without question, it would be the biggest shake-up in global trade since the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947.

Let’s begin with some perspective.  In 2018, 17.3 million cars and pickup trucks were sold in the U.S.  Of these, only about half of these vehicles were produced domestically.  The rest are imports.  Through November, the annualized value of imported cars in 2018 was approximately $180 billion.  The annualized value of auto parts was approximately $165 billion.  Together, that’s $345 billion worth of imported cars and trucks.  Roughly half of the cost to produce autos and parts is labor – about $172 billion.  If we assume that the average annual wage paid to auto workers is about $50,000, then that’s a total of about 3.5 million jobs that are lost to imports.

With that background, let’s take a look at the above-linked Reuters article about the possibility of Trump imposing a 25% tariffs on imported autos and parts.

The report’s recommendations may bring the global auto industry a step closer to its worst trade nightmare – U.S. tariffs on millions of imported cars and parts of up to 25 percent that many in the industry fear would add thousands of dollars to the cost of vehicles and potentially cost hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the U.S. economy.

While it may be a “nightmare” for the “global auto industry,” it would be a dream come true for domestic U.S. manufacturers.  A 25% tariff would indeed drive up the cost of imports by thousands of dollars, and could even increase the cost of domestic autos some, depending on the amount of imported parts used in their manufacture.  The net result?  It’s not hard to imagine.  If you were in the market for a new vehicle that currently costs $30,000, which would you buy?  An import that now costs $37,500 or a domestic that now costs maybe $31,000.  It’s a no-brainer, one that would be repeated millions of times per year by new car buyers.  The result is that domestic auto manufacturing would soon double in volume while imports would slow to a trickle.  It’s as simple as that.

So how can one claim that  “hundreds of thousands of jobs” would be lost throughout the U.S. economy?  It’s easy to make that claim as long as you’re talking only about jobs lost and don’t include job gains elsewhere.  Sure, there’d be lots of jobs lost (and a couple hundred thousand is feasible) in the distribution, sales and servicing of imported autos.  But the loss of those jobs would be offset ten-fold or more by gains in the manufacturing, distribution, sales and servicing of domestic autos, not to mention the jobs involved in building the required manufacturing facilities, including buildings and machinery.

And what about this?

Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, recently introduced legislation that would shift responsibility for Section 232 investigations from Commerce to the U.S. Defense Department. The law containing the provision was passed in 1962 to keep U.S. industries healthy to meet Cold War defense needs.

“There is no way that minivans from Canada are a national security threat,” Portman told reporters.

Portman is wrong on two levels.  First of all, every imported car and truck weakens our manufacturing sector.  That could be critical in a time of war.  Just as important as our victories in the battlefield that ultimately forced the surrender of Germany and Japan in World War II was America’s industrial might that supplied them with weapons and materials.  No other nation on earth could even come close to matching America’s industrial power.  By the end of World War II, America’s shipyards were building complete destroyers, from the keel up, in two days, and Ford’s Willow Run factory in Michigan cranked out B-24 bombers at the rate of one per hour around the clock, or 650 bombers per month.  That didn’t happen by magic.  It took a veritable army of men and women experienced in manufacturing.

Existential wars – wars fought for survival against an enemy bent on conquering you – like our war against the Axis powers in World War II, are wars of attrition.  Who wins and who loses is often determined by who runs out of something first.  It doesn’t have to be ammunition or tanks or ships.  It can be something as simple as boots.  Every nut and bolt counts.  The lack of even one component can grind a war machine to a halt.  Supply chains that depend on overseas suppliers can be quickly and easily disrupted.  In other words, it’s critical to our survival that we maintain a robust manufacturing base, one that can be quickly converted to a wartime footing to supply everything imaginable that we might need.  Anything that degrades that capability is a national security threat.

Secondly, our national debt – now over $22 trillion – has grown to the point at which it threatens the viability of our economy.  Our national debt is directly tied to our trade deficit.  Every dollar drained from our economy by purchases of imports must somehow be put back to work in the economy, and the only mechanism available to do that is through federal deficit spending, financed by the sale of debt to those countries awash in our trade dollars.  Our debt is now growing by nearly a trillion dollars per year, and the $345 billion trade deficit in autos and parts is a major contributor.  The trade deficit is, without question, a national security threat and every imported minivan that Senator Portman references is part of the problem.

Tariffs are the only mechanism at our disposal for restoring a balance of trade – something we haven’t had since 1975 – and applying tariffs on the import of autos and parts is critical if we are to have any hope of achieving that balance.  Tariffs can’t simply be used as leverage to force other nations into trade concessions because they’ll never willingly give up their trade surpluses, regardless of their promises, as we’ve seen time and again for many decades.  We need tariffs now and they need to be permanent.

 


MAGA: Is Trump Becoming a Liability?

January 28, 2019

In the wake of the government shutdown fiasco, you have to begin to wonder whether Trump is becoming a liability to the “Make America Great Again” movement.

It isn’t so much the fact that he reopened the government.  It’s the way he did it.  He caved in.  He totally capitulated to Democrats’ insistence on maintaining an open border, getting absolutely nothing in return.  What should he have done?  First of all, he should have followed through with his threat of declaring a national emergency.  Secondly, he should have withdrawn America from NAFTA and immediately put in place tariffs on all manufactured goods from Mexico, effectively making Mexico pay for the wall like he promised.   Finally, he should have immediately begun deporting the “deferred action” illegal aliens that he offered to protect.

The “deal” to reopen the government for three weeks, supposedly for the purpose of giving Trump and congress time to negotiate a deal on border security, is a farce.  Trump has given up all leverage that he had on the border wall issue and Democrats have made it crystal clear that they’ll never support a dime for securing the border in the only way that it can be secured – by building a barrier.  Either there’ll be an impasse again, or Trump will cave in a 2nd time and try to sell something less than a barrier – maybe more funding for border patrol agents and technology – as a win.

The problem goes far beyond the border wall issue to the half-hearted, inconsistent implementation of virtually every element of his “Make America Great Again” (or “MAGA”) program, a program consisting of three key elements:  a re-balancing of trade to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.; putting an end to rampant, out-of-control immigration – both legal and illegal; and putting an end to the rest of the world behaving like a spoiled, entitled teenager treating the U.S. like a doting parent, providing everything it asks for and getting nothing but scorn in return.

We were promised a wall to virtually put an end to illegal immigration across our southern border, to be paid for by Mexico.  We were promised a prompt withdrawal from NAFTA, and tariffs on products from Mexico, which would have made fulfilling the border wall promise a snap.  We were promised tariffs on Chinese imports and on auto imports.

Soon after the inauguration, Trump invited Red China’s communist dictator to dinner at Mar A Lago and was quickly seduced into holding off on tariffs on China.  Then he caved in to pressure not to withdraw from NAFTA and instead got sucked into a ridiculously drawn out negotiation of a new agreement with Mexico and Canada that may or may not be any improvement at all, and that Congress seems in no hurry to take up.  Goodbye to any chance of getting Mexico to pay for the wall.  He did implement a small ten percent tariff on half of Chinese imports after it became clear that Chairman Xi’s promises were nothing more than a ploy, but caved in on further implementation once the global corporations began their pissing and moaning.  Now we’re sucked into the same kind of trade negotiations that the rest of the world has used for decades to stall America’s efforts to stand up for itself.

Then there’s North Korea.  Give Trump credit for using the toughest sanctions ever to forced them to agree to denuclearization, but Kim’s promises have proven hollow and North Korea seems to be off the hook once again.

I don’t blame Trump alone for all of this.  Everyone around him has been against him from the start – the Democrats who despise him and would never agree to anything he wanted, the media, global corporations, global organizations, his own staff and even members of his own family (globalists like Kushner and Ivanka) who have stonewalled his programs.

All of the backlash from the MAGA initiatives was to be expected.  I predicted as much in Five Short Blasts – a period of inflation caused by significant tariff-induced price increases, but eventually followed by explosive economic growth as manufacturing in America returned.  Trump needed to go all in with his program quickly, enduring withering criticism for a couple of years or so before having the last laugh when GDP began to explode as factories were rebuilt and as the manufacturing sector of the economy exploded.  It would have taken a lot of guts to be almost universally despised in the short term in order to have history remember him as an American hero in the long term.

However, I see a real danger in what’s happening here.  Trump’s incomplete implementation of these policies will yield only the pain without achieving the benefits that would eventually come, and will be deemed complete failures.  They’ll be forever labeled as “Trumpian” policies that no one will ever dare to attempt again.  America will be forever doomed to massive trade deficits and budget deficits, and will eventually collapse under the weight of gross overpopulation and a national debt that the rest of the world can no longer sustain.

It’s not too late for Trump, but it’s getting pretty darn close.  He needs to immediately begin ignoring all of globalist noise and whining and go all in with what he knows needs to be done.  Declare an emergency.  Build the wall.  Withdraw from NAFTA and slap tariffs on Mexico, and tell congress that if they don’t like it, then they can pass the new agreement he negotiated.  Slap tariffs on all Chinese exports and raise them to 25% or higher.  Slap 25% tariffs on all auto imports.  Tell the rest of the world that we’re willing to buy from them only as much as they buy from us.  Sure, the globalist outcry will be almost unbearable, but so what?  Continue down the path you’re on and history will remember you as a complete failure.  So what is there to lose?