As reported in this Reuters article, Biden has signed an executive order that tackles many corporate abuses in an effort to help American consumers. Good for him. Many of these actions have been long overdue. But he has completely ignored the one “corporate abuse” that dwarfs all others in terms of its impact on American workers. I’m talking about the trade deficit and the practice of off-shoring millions of manufacturing jobs.
To his credit, while ignoring the abuses that Biden addressed with this executive order, Trump is the only president since World War II who took the trade deficit seriously and took concrete steps to address it.
You may wonder why I focus so much attention on the trade deficit since the purpose of my book, Five Short Blasts, and the purpose of this blog, is to raise awareness of the economic consequences of overpopulation – namely, that falling per capita consumption as over-crowding worsens must inevitably drive up unemployment and poverty. And poverty kills. Ultimately, if nothing else gets us first, it will prove to be mankind’s undoing.
It’s really not that hard to understand once you understand that increasing over-crowding as the population continues to grow inevitably drives down per capita consumption and, along with it, the need for labor. People living in crowded conditions live in ever-smaller dwellings. They own little furniture and appliances because there’s no room for them. They own less clothing because of a lack of closet space. They don’t have yards and gardens, so they don’t need tools to maintain them. They don’t own cars because roads are choked with traffic and there’s no place to park. So they don’t have garages. They don’t participate in sports because there’s nowhere left to play them. They don’t engage in recreational boating because launch and dock space is all taken.
You get the idea. But what does this have to do with trade? Consider a country with a reasonable population density. Let’s say there’s 100 million people in this country. Their lifestyle resembles that of the U.S. Now suppose that they engage in free trade with another nation that is far smaller – say one tenth the size – but also has 100 million people. It’s ten times as crowded and people live in conditions like those described in the previous paragraph. For that reason, their consumption is only half that of the first country.
Through free trade, these two countries, though each is still a sovereign state with borders, behave economically as one country. The work of manufacturing the products that their combined population needs is spread evenly across the work force, but the consumption of those products isn’t. Consumption in the 2nd country remains low because of their over-crowding. The end result is that the first country has lost 25% of their manufacturing jobs and has lost even more in terms of market share. In essence, the first country has been forced to pay the price for the 2nd country’s overpopulation.
By trading freely with the 2nd country, the first country has immediately taken on the economic traits of a country twice as populated – something it would have taken decades to happen through the course of normal population growth. Worsening unemployment and poverty are the inescapable consequences of free trade with overpopulated nations. This is why my concern for the economic consequences of overpopulation has driven me to put such heavy emphasis on trade.
With all of that as a backdrop, what has Biden done to address our massive trade deficit – now an annual one trillion dollars in trade in manufactured goods? Absolutely nothing. Oh, he’s paid some lip service to wanting to help American workers and has encouraged us to “buy American.” But he’s done nothing about our trade policy and hasn’t spoken a word about our trade deficit.
As reported this past week by the Commerce Department, our trade deficit in May continued to hover at a near-record level of $71.2 billion, the 2nd worst reading ever since setting a record of $75 billion in March. In fact, in his first four full months in office for which trade data is available – February through May of this year – Biden owns the four worst monthly trade deficits ever recorded.
Our largest trade deficit is with China. Thanks to Trump’s enactment of 25% tariffs on half of all Chinese imports, however, that deficit isn’t nearly what it once was. Our annual deficit with China peaked at $418 billion in 2018. Thanks to Trump’s tariffs, that fell to $344 billion in 2019, and fell again in 2020 to $310 billion. So far this year, it’s on track to remain at that level.
Trump left Biden the perfect tool to build on that progress. In January, 2020, he got China to sign the “Phase 1” trade deal which held at bay his threat to extend his tariffs to all Chinese imports in exchange for China’s agreement to dramatically increase their imports of American goods. What’s happened? China is failing miserably in its commitments and, not only has Biden done nothing to enforce the agreement, he hasn’t even acknowledged that the Phase 1 trade deal even exists. So far, through May, China is 39% behind its commitment on manufactured products, 43% short of its goal for agricultural products, and is a whopping 78% short of it goal for energy products. They’re barely exceeding their imports in 2017 which formed the baseline for the agreement.
So far, the Biden administration makes a good show of supporting American workers but, on this most critical issue – the one that would help us the most – all we hear from the White Houe is …….. the sound of crickets.