America’s Worst Trade Deficits in 2018

October 22, 2019

With little more than two months left in 2019, I’ve finally finished compiling and analyzing America’s trade data for 2018.  Why the delay?  Thanks to the government shutdown early this year, the trade data wasn’t released this year until nearly July – four months later than usual.  And tabulating the results for hundreds of 5-digit end use code products for 165 nations is no small feat.

What we’re looking at here are the deficits in manufactured goods as opposed to services and various categories of natural resources.  Why?  Because manufacturing is where the jobs are.  Yes, there are jobs associated with the harvesting and mining of natural resources but, pound for pound, those jobs pale in comparison to the number generated by manufacturing.

And it should be noted that there are more than 165 nations in the world.  The CIA World Factbook lists 229.  Nearly all of the 64 nations that I left out of this study are tiny island nations with whom, combined, trade represents only a tiny fraction of America’s total.  Also, their economies tend to be unique in that they rely heavily on tourism and their manufacturing sectors are virtually non-existent, if for no other reason than a lack of space to accommodate manufacturing facilities.

It should also be noted that I’ve rolled the results for tiny city-states into their larger surrounding nations – states like Hong Kong, Singapore, San Marino, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Monaco and others.  They too tend to have unique economies, heavily dependent on services like financial services, and mostly devoid of manufacturing for the same reason as small island nations – a lack of space.  There is no room for sprawling manufacturing complexes.

So, with that said, let’s begin with a look at America’s biggest trade deficits.  Here are the top twenty:  Top 20 Deficits, 2018.

It comes as no surprise that China once again has topped the list with a whopping $416 billion deficit – up from $385 billion the year before.  It’s more than four times as large as the next biggest deficit – Japan.  But Japan is less than one tenth the size of China, making the deficit with Japan nothing to scoff at.  Look at our deficit with Ireland.  It’s one tenth that of China, but China is 200 times as large as Ireland.

There are many other interesting observations that can be made about this list:

  1. There’s a lot of variety on this list – nations big and small, rich and poor, Asian, European and Middle Eastern nations.  But there’s one thing that all except one have in common – a high population density.  The average population density of this list is 629 people per square mile.  Compare that to the population density of the U.S. at 92 people per square mile.  On average, the nations on this list are seven times more densely populated than the U.S.
  2. With a few exceptions, these are not poor countries where wages are low.  Half of the top ten nations have a “purchasing power parity” (or “PPP,” a measure of wealth that is roughly analogous to wages) near or, in two cases – Ireland and Switzerland, above that of the U.S. ($59,500).  Only one nation in the top ten – Vietnam – has a PPP of less than $10,000.  So, the conventional wisdom that low wages cause trade deficits isn’t supported by this list.
  3. Two nations on this list – China and India – represent 40% of the world’s population.  On the other hand, there are others that, combined, make up less than 1% of the world’s total.  Naturally, if we have a trade deficit with a big nation, it tends to be really big.  In order to identify the factors that influence trade, we need to factor sheer size out of the equation.
  4. On average, the U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods has risen by 166% with this group of nations over the past ten years.  Whatever it is that drives trade deficits has a very potent effect.  The fastest growing deficit is with India, rising by 428% in ten years.  India is the 2nd poorest nation on the list.  Perhaps low wages do play a role here?  On the other hand, nearly tied with India (in terms of the rate of growth in the deficit, not the deficit itself, which is actually larger) is Switzerland, the 2nd wealthiest nation on the list – wealthier than the U.S. – debunking the low wage theory.
  5. It’s often said that America needs to be more productive in order to compete in the global economy.  Yet we see nations like France and Italy on this list – nations notorious for long vacations, short work weeks, etc. – not exactly bastions of productivity.  So if productivity is an issue, why are we losing out to nations who are much less productive?
  6. In 2018, the U.S. had a total trade deficit of $816 billion in manufactured goods.  Of the 165 nations in this study, the top nine deficits on this list account for more than that entire total.  The U.S. actually has a small surplus of trade with the other 156 nations of the world combined.

Trade deficits matter.  As noted above, our overall deficit in manufactured goods in 2018 was $816 billion.  On a per capita basis, that’s a deficit of $2,500 for every man, woman and child in the U.S., or a deficit of nearly $10,000 for an average household of four.  That’s how much poorer you are than if we had a balance of trade.

In my next post, we’ll take a look at the other end of the spectrum – America’s top twenty trade surpluses in manufactured goods.  If population density is a factor, then we should see that list comprised of nations with low population densities.  And if low wages aren’t a factor, we shouldn’t see anything much different than what we saw on this list presented here – a list peppered with rich and poor nations alike.  So stay tuned.  You won’t find this in-depth analysis of trade or the factor that actually drives it anywhere else.

Student Visas

February 24, 2017

The subject of student visas aggravates me as much as illegal immigration (although we’re finally getting some great news on that front).

Why?  “What’s the problem with student visas?” you might ask.  For most, the topic probably conjures up images of foreign exchange students coming to the U.S. to experience life here and return home to spread the news about what a great place the U.S. is and to help spread our value system around the world.  Or maybe you envision students coming here for an education that can be put to work back home in some underdeveloped country, helping to raise living standards there.  But the reality of the situation is nothing like this.  The student visa program boils down to money.  It’s a system designed to suck trade dollars back into the U.S. economy and to prop up inflated tuitions.

Let’s begin with some data.  Here are the statistics for non-immigrant visas issued from 2011 through 2015.  (The data for 2016 is not yet available.)  Student visas are primarily “F” visas.  “M” visas are for vocational students.  Taken together, they totaled nearly 700,000 in 2015.  These are “non-immigrant” visas, but don’t be fooled.  A large percentage of these students receive immigrant visas (leading to permanent status) almost automatically upon graduation.

Where do these students come from?  About 280,000 came from mainland China.  75,000 came from India.  28,000 came from Saudi Arabia.  27,000 came from South Korea.  17,600 came from Vietnam.  An equal number came from Mexico.  17,000 came from Japan.  The rest are spread across the remaining nations of the world.  The significance of this list will be discussed later.

To get an idea of what the student visa program is really about, take a look at this web site, which provides information for foreign students for how to apply:

What it boils down to is this:  you have to explain why you want to study in the U.S. and, more importantly, you have to prove that you can pay for it.  There’s no student loan program here, at least not through U.S. agencies.  If you can get scholarship money from your native country, fine, but regardless of how you get the cash, you have to be able to pay your way.  You must also declare your intent to return to your home country when you’re finished with your studies.  But that’s a formality, one easily skirted when you actually get your degree.

In 2015, over 677,000 “F” visas were issued.  223,000 applicants were refused.  In other words, about three quarters of all applicants are accepted.

Now, let’s take a look at some interesting findings about the student visa program published in a study by the Brookings Institution in 2012.  Here’s the link:

“From 2008 to 2012, 85 percent of foreign students pursuing a bachelor’s degree or above attended colleges and universities in 118 metro areas that collectively accounted for 73 percent of U.S. higher education students. They contributed approximately $21.8 billion in tuition and $12.8 billion in other spending—representing a major services export—to those metropolitan economies over the five-year period.”

Got that?  They paid full tuition and living expenses, bringing over $33 billion into the economy.  And that was through 2012.  In 2015, when 25% more visas were issued than in 2012, that figure rises to over $42 billion.

Two-thirds of foreign students pursuing a bachelor’s or higher degree are in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) or business, management and marketing fields, versus 48 percent of students in the United States.

Remember how tech companies claim that they depend heavily on immigrants to provide the advanced skills that they need?

Forty-five (45) percent of foreign student graduates extend their visas to work in the same metropolitan area as their college or university.

In other words, these students then go on to become the H1-B visa workers that the tech industry (and many others) claim that they need.  So the “non-immigrant” nature of student visas, and the declaration of intent to return to their home country, is truly a joke.  Here’s further evidence that student visas are used as the pipeline for H1-B visas:

These companies who claim that they’re dependent on immigrants for the skills they need are trying to pull the wool over your eyes.  What they need are STEM graduates and they get them from American universities.  They like the fact that foreign students contribute to a glut of labor that helps to keep their payroll costs suppressed.  When Apple claims that, if immigrants aren’t allowed to travel freely to work in the U.S., then they might need to relocate to where they can have easier access to immigrant labor, that’s a “crock” and they know it.  Go ahead, Apple, move to Yemen or  Iran or Libya or one of those other countries, and let’s see how successful you can be there.  What you really need are the STEM graduates of American universities.  You won’t find them in those other places.  But what you will find are poverty, illiteracy and oppressive governments.  But you say you can do better there.  So prove it.  Just leave.  Go ahead.  Go.

There’s a mind-numbing amount of information in these links.  Let’s boil it all down:

  • Immigrants currently fill 1.2 million of the seats available in American universities.  That’s a significant percentage of the seats available.
  • Approximately three quarters of foreign students who apply are accepted.  Compare that to the acceptance rate for American students at most prominent universities, where only 10% or fewer attain admission.
  • Why the preference for foreign students?  Because they pay full tuition, propping up the ridiculous rate of tuition increases.
  • Foreign students are given preference over American students because of their ability to pay.  This effectively shuts American students out, especially from STEM curricula.
  • The influx of foreign students actually counts as an export of services.  Can you believe that?  It’s one of the tricks used by the government to draw trade dollars back into the U.S. economy and to keep our trade data from looking even worse than it does.
  • University sports teams have also gotten in on the act, now recruiting foreign students through the “student” visa program, denying athletic scholarships to deserving American athletes.  When it comes time for the Olympics, those athletes, trained in America, compete for their home countries, leaving the American teams thin.
  • Almost half of foreign students then go on to work in America, shutting American students out of those jobs as well.
  • The student visa program feeds into the H1-B visa program, which then begins to feed many of the other immigrant categories such as immediate relatives and family-sponsored preferences.

OK, remember the above list of countries that send the most students?  Did you notice anything about that list?  Did you notice that it includes the countries with whom America has the biggest trade deficits?  That should give you a clue as to where these foreign students are getting the money they need for tuition.  Their parents are getting rich on manufacturing for export to the United States.  What this means is that, in addition to taking your job, they then use your money to pay for their kids to come over here and take your kids’ jobs too!  Can this scheme possibly get any more outrageous?

If you’re an American student who hasn’t been able to get accepted into the school or program of your choice, the student visa program is probably the main reason.  If you’re a recent graduate and find yourself now saddled with crushing student loan debt, you can blame the student visa program for propping up ridiculous tuition rates.  And if you now find yourself struggling to find a job, you can once again blame the student visa program.

The student visa program is an outrage perpetrated on unsuspecting parents and students, depriving them of opportunities to help America out of its trade-created cash crisis, to help greedy universities prop up inflated tuition rates and to help corporations suppress wages with a labor glut.  It has to stop.  No foreign student should be admitted until every last American kid who wants a college education has gotten a seat in a university.  President Trump … please … take a close look at the student visa program and rein it in.

We Need Better-Trained Workers to Compete with The Rest of The World?

November 26, 2012

It’s often said by our political leaders and economists that the United States needs a better-trained work force in order to compete with other nations and bring manufacturing jobs back home.  If that’s true, then how do you explain the following? 

Regarding illiteracy among the world’s population, the CIA World Fact Book notes that:

… over two-thirds of the world’s 793 million illiterate adults are found in only eight countries (Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan) …

I did some checking.  Of these eight highly illiterate nations, the United States actually has a trade deficit in manufactured products with five of them.  It has surpluses with  Egypt, Ethiopia and Nigeria.  (These surpluses are almost entirely in the form of aid.  The U.S. counts aid as exports.) 

In fact, these five relatively illiterate nations – Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and Pakistan – accounted for over 77% of our entire trade deficit in manufactured products in 2011.  Clearly, the outsourcing of our manufacturing jobs can’t be explained by companies seeking out highly-trained work forces.  If training were the issue, then why did our manufacturing jobs leave the best-trained work force in the world in the first place in favor of work forces that were completely illiterate? 

The temptation is to say that these jobs actually left not because of better-trained work forces but in search of cheap labor.  However, that argument falls flat when you consider that our trade deficits with high-wage nations like Japan and Germany are even worse than any of these five afore-mentioned nations. 

What they all have in common is an extreme population density, making them incapable of reciprocating our consumption of their imports with consumption of American goods.  We have trade deficits with these nations not because of the training of their workers or because of cheap labor or even because of manipulated currency exchange rates, but because of American trade policy that fails to account for the role of population density in driving global trade imbalances.

Geithner’s Veiled Threat to Swap India for China

April 6, 2010

Here’s a new trade strategy twist.  As reported in the above-linked Reuters article, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner proposes that India and the U.S. work together to rebalance global growth.  The implication is clear:  the U.S. is threatening to steer imports away from China and toward India.  While this might be an effective strategy for applying leverage to get our way with China, we’d simply be trading a terrible trade deficit with China for an even worse one with India. 

U.S. trade with the two nations is an interesting contrast.  While imports from China have exploded in the past decade, trade with India has remained stuck in low gear – a tiny fraction of our trade with China.  That’s a bit surprising when you consider that India is a long-time ally of the U.S., was once ruled by Great Britain, and has just as large a population (known to corporations as consumers), making it an even more hospitable environment for American businesses than China.

The biggest reason that trade with India has floundered is that it was never a communist super-power and a threat to the U.S. like China.  With the death of Mao and the ensuing acceptance of capitalism by the new generation of Chinese leaders, the U.S. and other western nations fell all over themselves in a bid to use trade to defuse tensions and make China a responsible member of the global community.  India (like most other undeveloped nations) was left holding the bag.  So rapid and thorough was the shift of manufacturing jobs to China that there is little left carrying “made in the U.S.A.” labels whose manufacturing can be outsourced to India. 

It is interesting that Geithner seems to believe that a bigger trade relationship between the U.S. and India could blossom in a balanced way that trade with China could not.  With a population density 2-1/2 times that of China, India is even less capable of absorbing imports from the U.S. than China (because overcrowding has even more seriously eroded their potential domestic per capita consumption), while their even worse excess labor capacity makes them that much more of a threat to American manufacturing.  Only tariffs or import quotas imposed on India would have any hope of assuring balanced trade with the U.S.  Would India be willing to subject themselves to such restrictions while China is not?  Why?  And would the U.S. even be smart enough to insist on them?  We haven’t demonstrated such trade policy savvy for the last six decades.  Why should we believe we’d start now? 

It’s an interesting trade policy twist, but one that seems to be more of a transparent ploy to make China squirm a little (something we’d all love to see) than a serious change in trade policy.  Time will tell, but I wouldn’ t take it very seriously.

Decades of Population Management Foot-Dragging in India

February 3, 2009

I came across this article about population management policy in India, and thought you might be interested.  There’s not much to comment upon here, except that even in India, one of the most densely populated nations on earth – ten times as densely populated as the U.S. and 2-1/2 times as densely populated as China – their population continues to rise in spite of government policies intended to stabilize it.  The problem seems to be a lack of resolve in enforcing their policies. 

Appalled by the indifference of state governments to the implementation of the national population policy to tackle the problem posed by rapid population growth that put dwindling food stocks under strain, the Supreme Courton Monday put their chief secretaries on notice.

By the way, to save you the inconvenience of looking up the word in the dictionary, the word “crore,” a word used throughout this article but one I’d never heard before, means “ten million.” 

It seems that India recognized the need to implement a population management policy all the way back in 1976, but the policy has met with decades of foot-dragging. 

In 1976, a statement on the `National Population Policy (NPP)’ was given in Parliament linking population control to poverty reduction. But, it took another 24 years for the government to formulate and announce NPP-2000, the PIL said.

You have to wonder whether India really believes that overpopulation is a problem, or have they too been taken over by the economists and business leaders who believe that population growth is an essential ingredient for economic growth.  If that’s the case, the future for India is grim.

Tide Turning on Globalization?

July 30, 2008

First of all, in an article I posted yesterday, I predicted that the U.S. would cave in to the demands of China and India in the “Doha round” of trade negotiations at the WTO (World Trade Organization).  I’ll be the first to happily admit that I was wrong!  As reported in the above article, the talks completely collapsed yesterday, and some say they may not be revived for years, if ever.  Is it possible that the tide is turning on globalization?  Could it possibly be that U.S. leaders are beginning to recognize the incredible damage that’s been done to our economy by parasitic, overpopulated nations? 

We can only hope.  There’s one particularly revealing paragraph in this article that deserves comment:

The talks’ failure may mark a watershed after two decades of increasing globalization. The collapse comes against the backdrop of a weakening global economy and growing opposition to foreign trade and the associated high-profile job losses in the U.S. The Doha Round, named for the Qatari capital where the talks began in November 2001, was designed to benefit poorer nations by reducing trade-distorting farm subsidies. The U.S. and Europe would reduce their generous payments to farmers, it was hoped, in return for broader access to developing countries’ markets for industrial goods.

This is an unusually frank admission that free trade has been harmful to the U.S. economy and that the real agenda of these talks was not to advance the concept of free trade but to benefit poorer nations.  I’ve said over and over again that this is the real agenda of the WTO, to transfer America’s wealth around the world and that it does this by actually enforcing protectionism for two thirds of its member states. 

The following paragraph merits comment as well:

… The issue that scuttled the talks involved a demand by India and China for the right to increase tariffs if food imports surged. Both countries have several hundred million small-scale farmers whose livelihoods would be threatened by larger, more efficient U.S. and European producers.

Oh, I see, it’s OK for China and India to protect domestic production.  They demand the right to raise tariffs if imports surge.  What about the $250 billion of imports (from China alone, in excess of exports) that have wiped out millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs in America?  If America so much as utters a peep of complaint, we’re mocked as “protectionists!” 

It’s time to fight fire with fire and bring back the tariff policies that the U.S. relied upon for the first 171 years of its history to protect domestic industry from such predatory practices.  It’s time to eliminate the trade deficit.  The “developing world” (especially China) likes to brag that it has “decoupled” from the U.S. economy.  It’s time for them to prove it.  Let’s wean them from America’s free trade breast. 

WTO Negotiations: U.S. Gives, China and India Take

July 29, 2008

Here’s yet another example of America’s prowess in trade negotiations and why the U.S. economy is now collapsing under the weight of an unbearable trade deficit. The WTO (World Trade Organization) is in a panic to conclude its Doha round of negotiations before Bush leaves office, knowing that he is a patsy who will sign anything. And, of course, America’s ambassador to the WTO cares nothing about the U.S. economy. He’s a Bush stooge who is working hard to please his boss. So he has literally given away the farm (by agreeing to huge cuts in farm subsidies, not to mention more cuts for American manufactured goods), and is now surprised that China and India are reneging on previous “voluntary” agreements.

The outcome here is predictable. The U.S. will cave in and back off of its demands, and there will soon be an agreement. The U.S. will cut subsidies and tariffs (what few remain) and China and India will not. There’s nothing you or I can do about that. But when the agreement comes to a vote in Congress, that’s where we’ll have our say. I’ll keep you posted as to when this happens and when we all need to bombard our legislators with calls and letters to prevent the further compounding of our national economic disaster.

Five Short Blasts – Some feedback on the theory

March 28, 2008

I’m out in Los Angeles at an annual conference that I attend regarding our enterprise trucking software for our intermodal trucking division. We had many presenters, one of which was a VP from the Port of Los Angeles talking about all the various upcoming projects (which will result in more tariffs), new “clean air” initiatives, etc. There are many industry experts and many leading intermodal trucking companies represented and since all we (the intermodal trucking companies) deal with are imports/exports I couldn’t be closer to a source of “economic impact” if I wanted to. Needless to say, at lunch and dinner I got into some interesting economic discussions related to what we do. Everything from illegal immigrant drivers, outsourcing, lack of labor pool in the U.S., etc. I presented your theory (or at least parts of it) and got some interesting (as always) responses that I felt compelled to share with you. As always any comments are appreciated.


1.       At dinner everyone at my table argued that there are not people in the U.S. that would do the jobs that we have these “illegal” or legal immigrants doing (farming, McDonald’s, and Hotel Room cleaners were some of their examples). Even at much higher wages which I was certain to point out. They were absolutely adamant that regardless of the wages (reasonable obviously) people simply would NOT do that type of work. I remember you being very adamant that people WOULD in fact do these jobs for better wages.

2.       The 2nd common theme was that there are simply not enough technically proficient people (we were talking specifically IT) in the U.S. labor pool. I’ve been hearing this a lot lately and apparently Bill Gates agrees.

3.       Lastly, a couple of the people I talked to agreed or could understand that “as population densities increase, per-capita consumption declines”; however they said that this only applied to places like China or India and doesn’t apply to the United States. An example one of them used was that of Manhattan, New York. He said that there is a lot of money there and people buy more “stuff” than you can imagine. Apparels was one specific example I remember. I found this to be interesting as it didn’t occur to him or concern him that we could very easily become a China or India.

Again I simply wanted to share this experience. As an aside my best friend (who is a Mortgage Officer) borrowed my copy of “Five Short Blasts” many months ago and has finally got around to reading it. He has called me on multiple occasions and conveyed his interest and acceptance of this theory. It was definitely a wake-up call or at least an exercise in awareness for him and he said he was going to read it again.

-Brian D.