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.

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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.


U.S. Trade Deficit with EU Rises to New Record in 2017

April 5, 2018

The U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods with the EU (European Union) rose to a new record of $148.2 billion in 2017.  Here’s a chart of that deficit, dating back to 2001:  EU.  After falling slightly in 2016, it rose again to eclipse the record 2015 deficit by $0.3 billion.

This deficit is a lot less than our deficit with Red China, but some perspective is in order.  The population of the EU is 556.6 million people.  The population density of the EU is 327 people per square mile.  The population of Red China is 1.38 billion people and their population density is 383 people per square mile.  Our trade deficit in manufactured goods with Red China in 2017 was $405 billion.  In per capita terms, our trade deficit in manufactured goods with Red China was $294.  In per capita terms, our trade deficit in manufactured goods with the EU was $246.

So the only reason that our deficit with the EU is that much less than our deficit with Red China is that the EU is that much smaller.  If the EU were the same size as China, our deficit with the EU (in manufactured goods) would have been $367.4 billion – only 9% less than our deficit with Red China.  The reason for this is that the EU is nearly as densely populated as Red China – only 14.6% less densely populated.

Some say that our huge trade deficit with Red China is due to low wages.  Then how do you explain that, in per capita terms (which factors out the sheer size of a country), the trade deficit with EU, where wages are about 2-1/2 times higher than Red China,  is nearly as bad as the deficit with Red China?  In fact, almost half of our trade deficit with the EU is with Germany, where wages are nearly on a par with those in the U.S.   How do you explain that?  It’s because trade imbalances are caused not by low wages, but by disparities in population density.  The EU is more than three times as densely populated as the U.S.  China is four times as densely populated.  Germany is six times.  Trade deficits with such nations are virtually assured because their over-crowded conditions drive down their consumption while they produce just as much.  They can’t absorb their own output, much less consume imports from America.

Trade negotiations with nations that are so badly overpopulated are utterly futile because it’s impossible to negotiate down the disparity in population density.  The only thing the less densely populated nation (the U.S., in these circumstances) can do to restore a balance of trade is to levy tariffs or set quotas.  It’s the only way.

If still not convinced, my next posts will take a broader look at U.S. trade results with the world as a whole, and you’ll see that the population density effect is absolutely undeniable.


“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!


Tariff Hysteria

March 3, 2018

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade/trade-wars-are-good-trump-says-defying-global-concern-over-tariffs-idUSKCN1GE1PM

Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you already know about the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that Trump announced on Wednesday.  The reaction has bordered on mass hysteria, especially among “economists.”  I put that word in quotation marks because those who present themselves as experts in the field, but either lack the curiosity required to examine the effects of population growth, the biggest factor driving the global economy today or purposely avoid it because the findings would destroy their credibility, aren’t worthy of being dignified with the label.  One such “economist,” representing a “think tank” whose purpose it is to advance the cause of globalization (that is, the fleecing of Americans to prop up the economies of grossly overpopulated nations), described Trump’s tariff plan as a “return to 18th century trade policy.”  Apparently he doesn’t understand that the use of tariffs dominated U.S. trade policy through the first half of the 20th century, transforming the U.S. into the world’s preeminent industrial power and the world’s only “super-power.”

The reaction on Wall Street was swift, with market indexes falling several percent.  But not the stocks of U.S. steel producers.  Those actually rose several percent.  So what does that tell you?  Unlike “economists,” investors are people who put their money where their mouth is.  Investors fear what this move could mean for inflation and the broader economy, but they know very well it’ll be a big boost to steel and aluminum producers.  If tariffs are good for that industry, doesn’t it stand to reason that they’d be good for others if applied to those products as well?  How about autos?  Electronics?  Appliances?  The fact is that every U.S. producer of every category of product where the U.S. has a trade deficit would benefit from tariffs.

Virtually every media outlet since Trump “tweeted” about the tariffs soon after announcing them has quoted him as saying “… trade wars are good and easy to win …” in an effort to make him sound like a buffoon.  At least the above-linked Reuters article does provide the full quote further down in the article:

“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump said on Twitter on Friday.

Put in the context of our massive trade deficit which, in terms of manufactured goods, isn’t just billions but is now approaching a trillion dollars a year, he is exactly right – a trade war would be a good thing and not only would it be “easy to win,” it’d be impossible to do anything but win and win big.  “Economists” and other countries don’t want you to know that.  They want to scare you with warnings of retailiation by other countries:

Europe has drawn up a list of U.S. products on which to apply tariffs if Trump follows through on his plan.

“We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans – Levi’s,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told German television.

Wow, that shows you how far down the list of products they had to go to find some that they actually import from the U.S.  And “blue jeans?”  Seriously?  Don’t they know that even Levis aren’t made in the U.S. any more?  Regardless, do you really want to go there, Europe?  Go ahead.  Slap tariffs on Harleys and bourbon.  We’ll retaliate with tariffs on cars.  See how you like that!  How long would Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Porsche and all the others survive without access to the U.S. market?

Another popular warning among the globalist fear mongers is that higher prices will be passed along to U.S. consumers.  The cost of every product that uses steel and aluminum will soar.  That’s utter nonsense.  When foreign steel producers have to raise their prices by 25% to cover the tariffs, will their customers continue buying their steel or will they simply turn to American suppliers that weren’t that much more expensive in the first place?  That’s the whole purpose of a tariff – not to collect revenue and make American consumers pay more, but to force the buyers of those products to switch to American suppliers.

There is a legitimate fear among manufacturers that forcing them to pay more for steel and aluminum, even if it’s only slighly more when they switch to American suppliers, will make them less competitive with foreign imports.  Here’s one example quoted in the article:

But home appliance maker Electrolux (ELUXb.ST) said it was delaying a $250 million expansion of its plant in Tennessee as it was worried U.S. steel prices would rise and make manufacturing there less competitive.

OK, Electrolux, would you change your mind if Trump also levied a tariff on imported appliances?  Not only would you go forward with your planned expansion, you’d probably rush to develop plans for more and bigger expansions.  My point is that these tariffs on steel and aluminum are a good start, but to have a real impact on the economy, they need to be levied on virtually every imported product so that, in every case, American consumers will choose the less expensive U.S.-made products.  Will that stoke inflation?  Sure, but not as fast as the demand for labor would send wages up.

Other fear mongers have raised the spectre of another scary scenario, where heavy buyers of U.S. debt, like China, would retaliate by dumping their bond holdings, driving up interest rates and inflation along with it.  Could they do that?  Sure, if they wanted to shoot themselves in the foot.  They’d be driving down the value of their biggest investments.  And let’s not forget that, as the U.S. trade deficit shrinks in response to the tariffs, the U.S. will be issuing less debt.  So the U.S. will be pulling bond issues off the table as fast as China and others try to sell theirs.  The end result is a wash and their “retaliation” will end up only hurting themselves.

The tariffs on steel and aluminum, on top of a few other small, targeted tariffs (like the recent tariffs on washers) are good, small steps.  But they’re nothing compared to what really needs to be done – the application of tariffs across the entire spectrum of manufactured goods.  To do that, the U.S. needs to withdraw from the World Trade Organization.  Or perhaps it doesn’t matter.  The only power the WTO has is to authorize other nations to retaliate – nothing more than they would do anyway, even if the WTO never existed.

A trade war?  We’ve been in a trade war ever since our country was founded.  The problem is that, with the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947 – the forerunner of the World Trade Organization – the U.S. gave up the fight.  The U.S. laid down and let others begin feeding on it like a swarm of parasites.  It’s high time we put up a fight again.


Trade Deficit in Manufactured Goods At Record High

December 7, 2017

The trade deficit in manufactured products* rose to a record high of $64.6 billion in October, surpassing the previous record of $63.3 billion set in March of 2015.  Take a look at this chart of our monthly deficit in manufactured goods:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade. Exports of manufactured goods haven’t risen since September of 2011 (in spite of Obama’s laughable proclamation in 2010 that we would double exports in five years).  In the meantime, imports have soared by almost $30 billion.  It’s a dubious distinction for President Trump who, during his inaugural address in January, spoke of “…rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation…” and proclaimed that “This American carnage stops right here and right now.”

To be fair, Trump didn’t mean that it would happen on the spot.  His administration has been taking steps to address our trade problem, trying to renegotiate NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada), imposing tariffs on some products and, most recently, blocking China from rising to “market economy” status with the World Trade Organization.  Aside from the work on NAFTA, which may conclude soon with the U.S. walking away from that ill-conceived agreement, the rest amounts to little more than the token steps taken by previous administrations.  The net result is that the plight of the manufacturing sector of our economy grows steadily worse.

Enough is enough.  It’s time to walk away from both NAFTA and the World Trade Organization and begin implementing tariffs.  Any tariffs would be better than our current trade policy, but smart tariffs that address the real cause of our trade deficit – attempting to trade freely with badly overpopulated nations characterized by bloated labor forces and anemic markets – would be much more effective.  As an example, it was reported yesterday that Canada, angered by their treatment in the NAFTA negotiations, has canceled an order for Boeing-made fighter planes.  Why are we treating Canada this way?  Sure, we have a trade deficit with Canada, but it’s due entirely to oil.  In 2016, our biggest trade surplus in manufactured goods, by far, was with Canada – $44 billion, more than double any other country.  Canada is our best trading partner.  Why anger them?  Why not tell Canada that our beef is with Mexico, with whom we had a trade deficit in manufactured goods of almost $68 billion in 2016 – our third worst behind China and Japan – and that they’ll get just as good a deal from the U.S. without NAFTA?  Slap the tariffs on Mexico, not Canada.

We could completely wipe out our trade deficit in manufactured goods by applying tariffs to only ten countries – China, Japan, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, Vietnam, South Korea, Italy, India and Malaysia.  These ten countries, all more densely populated than the U.S. (all but Ireland are many times more densely populated), account for all of our trade deficit in manufactured goods.  While we have defiicts with others, they are much smaller and are offset by surpluses with the rest of the world.  The point is, we don’t have to anger the entire world with tariffs – just ten out of the more than 220 countries in the world.  So let’s be smart about how we do it, but the time has come, Mr. President.  Stop delaying the inevitable.  Do what you know needs to be done.

* The trade deficit in manufactured products is calculated by subtracting services, trade in petroleum products, and trade in foods, feeds and beverages from total trade, as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in its monthly reporting of international trade.


Ending NAFTA Would Hurt U.S.?

December 1, 2017

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nafta-economy/ending-nafta-would-hurt-growth-competitiveness-of-united-states-canada-report-idUSKBN1DR1D4

The above-linked story appeared a few days ago, warning of a 0.2% “hit” on U.S. GDP (gross domestic product) if the U.S. walked away from NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has resulted in a huge trade deficit with Mexico.  The argument is that the U.S. will be less competitive with the rest of the world without access to the cheap labor in Mexico.  Making autos and parts in the U.S. will raise costs, making American autos more expensive relative to imports from Japan, South Korea and Europe.

That’s probably true, but the answer to that is fairly simple.  Raise tariffs on products from those regions as well.  The trade deficit has never been about “competitiveness.”  Rather, it’s the result of attempting to trade freely with badly overpopulated nations who come to the trade table with a gross over-supply of labor and markets plagued by low per capita consumption.  I’ve always maintained that a piece-meal approach to addressing this problem can never work.  Tariffs need to be applied universally to every country whose emaciated markets are out of balance with their over-supply of labor.

One might question whether this will result in higher prices for American consumers.  Sure it will.  But the explosion in the demand for labor to make all these products in the U.S. once again, as we did decades ago, would drive wages higher even faster, making products more affordable in spite of higher prices.

President Trump has long promised to “put America first” in trade by withdrawing from NAFTA and even the World Trade Organization, and by then levying tariffs as necessary to restore a balance of trade.  During his recent trip to Asia, he made it clear once again that that will be our approach to trade from now on.  This is exactly what’s needed to halt the parasitic drain of the life blood from our economy.  The time has come, Mr. Trump.  Do it.