Closing the Book on Obama’s Trade Policy

March 8, 2017

The U.S. trade deficit for the month of January was posted yesterday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  It was horrible.  President Trump took office on January 20th, but he can hardly be held responsible for any of the January results.  This is all on former President Obama.

How bad was it?  The overall trade deficit rose to its worst level in nearly five years – $48.5 billion.  At $62.1 billion, the deficit in manufactured goods just missed its all-time worst reading of $62.5 billion set in March of 2015.  As you can see from this chart, if the trend in manufactured goods continues, we’ll have a new record very soon and, without the change in trade policy promised by President Trump, it will likely get worse from there:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.

Then there’s the export numbers.  In January of 2010, lacking the courage to take on the problem with imports, President Obama vowed to double exports in five years in an effort to turn the U.S. into more of an export-driven, Germany-like economy.  It never happened and never even came close.  In January of 2017 – seven years after Obama made that promise – total exports, at $192 billion – remained below the October, 2013 level.  Worse yet, exports of manufactured goods were below the level reached in September, 2011 – up only 26% from when Obama made that promise.  And that increase was due entirely to global economic recovery from the 2009 recession and had nothing to do with any real improvement in America’s export position.

So that closes the book on Obama’s trade policy, which was a total failure.  Actually, if President Trump follows through on his promise of tariffs (or border tax, or whatever you want to call it), this closes the book on a seven-decade-long experiment with free trade and globalization, begun in 1947 with the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that, by any measure of its effect on the American economy, has been a complete disaster.

  • America’s trade surplus dwindled until we ran our last trade surplus in 1976.
  • 41 consecutive years of trade deficits has yielded a cumulative deficit of $14.4 trillion.  During that time, the national debt, which is closely linked to the trade deficit, grew by $19.4 trillion.  In 1976, the national debt was only $0.5 trillion.  Virtually all of our national debt is due to the cumulative trade deficit since 1976.
  • During this period, family incomes and net worth have declined, our infrastructure has crumbled, and our nation has been bankrupted.  The manufacturing sector of the economy has been gutted.  More than ten million manufacturing jobs have been lost.  The United States, once the world’s preeminent industrial power, has been reduced to a skid-row bum, begging the rest of the world to loan us money to keep us afloat.

This is all on you now, President Trump.  You own it.  You’ve promised to straighten out this mess.  America is watching and waiting.


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:

https://www.studyusa.com/en/a/33/how-to-get-your-u-s-student-visa

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:

https://www.brookings.edu/interactives/the-geography-of-foreign-students-in-u-s-higher-education-origins-and-destinations/#/M10420

“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:

http://www.h1base.com/content/f1visa

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.


Week 1 Done

January 28, 2017

The world is slowly awakening to a new reality.  It has profoundly changed.  And that may be an understatement.

Throughout the campaign, Trump’s “populist” rhetoric was dismissed by many – especially by those who stood to lose the most if globalization were dismantled – as exactly that, a play for votes or posturing designed to win concessions in the highly unlikely event that he would actually be elected president.  After all, this is the author of The Art of the Deal, a book about his tactics for winning in the business world.  He’s just  staking out his opening position.  Right?

During the transition, however, he doubled down on his rhetoric and stacked the cabinet mostly with people aligned with his positions.  The world grew a little more nervous.

Then came inauguration day and, I have to admit, that even I was taken aback by his speech.  It was as though he picked up a rhetorical two-by-four and began swinging at everyone who’d had a role in America’s trade mess and economic decline, and any who doubted his intentions or who stood in his way.

Now his first week in office is history, and what a week it was.  TPP (the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal) is dead.  NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Deal) is as good as dead.  The wall on the southern border will be built.  Tariffs on Mexican imports will pay for it.  Immigration from many Middle Eastern countries has been brought to a halt.  And, in stark contrast to Obama’s visit to Mexico in the early days of presidency to discuss renegotiating NAFTA, a humiliating experience that yielded only more Mexican tariffs on American goods, Trump has put Mexico on notice.  If you can’t accept the new reality of American tariffs on Mexican imports and an all-out effort to halt illegal immigration from your country, then too bad – we have nothing to talk about.

Some seem to get it.  Some American companies have begun hedging their bets with announcements of plans to invest in American manufacturing.  Still, the world is largely in a state of denial.  Markets around the world continue to rally on optimism over the aspects of the Trump agenda that it likes – corporate tax breaks and infrastructure spending – while shrugging off the possibility that Trump means business about imposing tariffs on imports.

The world is made up of only two economies, really.  One is the economy of the more sparsely populated countries, able to gainfully employ their workers, which is dominated by the United States.  The other is the rest of the world, badly overpopulated and heavily dependent on manufacturing for export to the aforementioned countries – again, most notably, the United States.  Tariffs on imports into the U.S. will  totally alter the host-parasite relationship that exists between the two.  Those who continue to blindly invest in the economies of the latter may be making a serious mistake.

Americans have finally gotten fed up with playing the role of enabler to ever-worsening overpopulation, using immigration as a relief valve and trade to prop it up.  Trump has hastened the day when the rest of the world must face the consequences on their own.


American Millenials Far Worse Off Than Their Parents at the Same Stage in Life

January 16, 2017

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/01/13/millennials-falling-behind-boomer-parents/96530338/

An analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group “Young Invincibles,” released on Friday, finds that the millenial generation – especially white millenials – are far worse off economically than their baby-boomer parents were at the same stage in life – in 1989.  (See the above linked article.)

  • The median net worth of millenials is 56% lower.
  • Median income has fallen 21% in spite of the fact that a larger percentage of millenials (approximately 50% more) have a college education compared to baby boomers.
  • Home ownership is down by 3%.
  • Millenials are saddled with “drastically higher” student debt.

The article observes that “the analysis fits into a broader pattern of diminished opportunity.”

Looking beyond the Federal Reserve data, millenials are clearly much worse off than their parents in many other ways:

  • While most employers offered pensions in 1989, few do today.
  • The cost of health care is orders-of-magnitude higher than it was in 1989.
  • Good jobs were still fairly plentiful in 1989.  Not today.  The example cited in the article of a college-educated lady earning minimum wage making pizza isn’t a one-off.  It’s pretty typical.
  • The millenial generation is famous for depending on their parents for housing and additional support beyond that.  It’s not a matter of immaturity among millenials.  They do it out of necessity.  In 1989, no self-respecting baby boomer would be caught dead living with his/her parents.  There was no need.

None of this should come as any surprise to those who understand the consequences of the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption.  It’s precisely what I predicted in Five Short Blasts, which I began writing in 1993.  Since 1989, the U.S. population has grown by approximately 25%.  But, worse than that, our effective population density has exploded by 200% since 1989 by economically erasing our borders and attempting to trade freely with badly overpopulated nations who prey on our market and bring nothing in return to the trading table but bloated labor forces, hungry to take jobs from Americans.  Diminished opportunity and worsening poverty is inescapable in those circumstances.

Sadly, most millenials are oblivious to what’s been done to them through globalization, which has been slickly packaged and sold to them as some sort of utopian state where we all live in perfect harmony together, masking the underlying truth – that their economic civil rights have been trampled by the greed of global corporations who feed on population growth to stoke their bottom lines.

 

 

 


Employment & Trade Data Sum Up Obama’s Presidency

January 11, 2017

https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the employment/unemployment report for December, while the Bureau of Economic Analysis released the trade data for the month of November.  I usually comment on these two reports separately but, frankly, in these waning days of the Obama administration, these looks backward seem rather irrelevant.  In each case, we knew what we were going to get with the economy locked into a “new normal” status quo by Obama’s trade policy.  Nevertheless, it’s worth taking a look at them since, together, they kind of “sum up” the economic results of Obama’s presidency.

It was yet another so-so month for the employment report.  The job growth number was respectable, but wasn’t corroborated by the “employment level” portion of the household survey, which rose only 26,000.  In fact, the employment level rose by only 43,000 in the last three months.  Not only that, but the civilian labor force actually contracted by 72,000.  As a result, unemployment rose slightly.

Meanwhile, the trade report was bleak.  The deficit in manufactured products rose to $60.5 billion, just $0.5 billion off the record high deficit set five months earlier.  Manufactured exports remained stuck at the same level as in March of 2011.  That’s five and a half years of zero growth.  Remember Obama’s pledge to double exports in five years?

These two reports aren’t the kinds of numbers you’d expect from a healthy economy.  President Obama likes to highlight the number of jobs created and the drop in unemployment as evidence of a healthy labor market.  But it’s more a case of him drinking his own Kool Aid.  Those numbers are gimmicked by workers who mysteriously dropped out of the labor force and by a proliferation of low-paying, part-time jobs.  He may fool himself and try to fool you with these numbers, but other statistics tell a different tale.  Death rates don’t rise and life expectancies don’t fall in a good economy.  Nor are wages stagnant.  And “the country is headed in the wrong direction” isn’t the number one issue on the minds of voters in an election in a healthy economy.

Taken together, these two reports do a good job of summing up the economic results of the Obama presidency – economic stagnation at best or, more realistically, a decline fueled by an ever-worsening trade picture – the very thing he promised to fix during the 2008 campaign.


Are Americans really ready for what’s to come?

November 16, 2016

Some have described the election of Donald Trump as a “political earthquake.”  That doesn’t begin to describe it.  A more fitting analogy would be the asteroid that struck the earth millions of years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and most other living species.  The world was forever changed.

Sure, the sun came up the morning after Trump’s election and normal life resumed.  People living off the grid would never know that anything had happened. But fasten your seat belts, folks.  You haven’t felt it yet, but the blast wave from that asteroid strike is on its way.  If Trump implements the trade policy he promised during the campaign, we’re in for a very rough ride.  I’m afraid that few people really comprehend what’s coming.

Don’t get me wrong.  It needs to be done.  If Trump doesn’t do it, America will continue to be sucked into the vortex of the poverty-sharing scheme of globalization until we have nothing left.  Incomes will continue to decline.  Health care and college educations will become even less affordable.  Forget any dreams of a secure retirement.  Infrastructure will crumble further while the national debt soars.

So it has to be done, but entire economies – big ones – have been built on manufacturing for export to the U.S.  Globalization won’t go down without a fight.  It’ll begin with sniping from every corner of a vast network of globalization cheer-leaders that support their special interests, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, national leaders, CEOs of global corporations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its local chapters, and economists who can’t come to grips with the notion that everything they’ve learned, taught and fought for was wrong.  Based on past experience with presidents over the past several decades, it’s hard to imagine one that could withstand such withering criticism.

But that’s nothing compared to what will follow.  It seems that Mexico is the first one that Trump has in his cross-hairs.  They may try retaliatory trade sanctions, like big tariffs on food exports.  But they don’t have the wherewithal to present real problems.  China, however – who the Trump administration will turn its sights on next – is another story.  They’ll try retaliatory trade sanctions first but, when you’re the nation with the huge trade surplus, it’s impossible for China to win a trade war.  The thing that Chinese leaders fear the most is not the U.S., but civil unrest among its own people.  Big tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S. would shift the now-booming Chinese economy into reverse.  Conceivably, it could collapse their economy.

The Chinese people have become conditioned to feel entitled to a booming economy and to preying on the U.S. market.  They’ll be angry as hell and will demand action from their government.  Rioting may break out.  In its death throes and desperate to placate their demands, the Chinese regime may turn to military action.  It’s impossible to predict how something like that might unfold.

There are those already saying that tariffs against Mexico can’t work – that forcing the manufacturing of American cars and parts back into the U.S. will only make them uncompetitive with other auto imports.  And they are right.  In order to succeed, Trump will need to expand the use of tariffs to include other countries like Japan, South Korea, Germany and others.  Now we’ll have more unhappy campers who may be willing to form a new alliance against the U.S.  Are Americans prepared for this?

And are they prepared for some gut-wrenching changes in our own economy?  It’s true that tariffs will drive up prices for U.S. consumers and, in many cases, there are no American manufacturers ready to fill the void.  It’s going to take some time to design, build and start up new plants.  Will Americans have the patience to endure a burst of inflation and very likely a recession until wages catch up and offset the higher cost of goods, or have we become too spoiled for that?

I wonder if even the most strident Trump supporters have anticipated these ramifications and whether they’re willing to endure the pain.  It’s easy to say “make American great again” but making it happen is going to be a long and very difficult process.    It’s going to take a virtual war-footing mentality among Americans.

And what about Trump?  Will he be a strong enough leader to maintain the support of the people through all of this?  Based on what we’ve seen from Trump, we can expect that, when foreign leaders lash out at him, he’ll hit back just as hard.  No one should doubt his ability to win.  It’s the American people I’m more worried about.  Will they be ready to jump ship at the first sign of adversity, or are they tough enough to stand by Trump and see this through?

 


More Thoughts on Trump Victory

November 10, 2016

I’ll preface this by reminding readers that, in various posts in the past, I have described Donald Trump as a buffoon and as a “foul SOB.”  In spite of that, I encouraged you to vote for him as I did for one reason:  his stands on illegal immigration and trade align well with the conclusions of my book, Five Short Blasts.  To very briefly summarize, there is an unrecognized (by economists) inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption which has two major implications – that population growth beyond a certain level becomes a cancerous growth that eats away the economy, and that free trade with badly overpopulated nations accelerates this effect dramatically.  The effect of these on our economy is so over-riding that these issues dwarf all others.  I would vote for any candidate – Republican, Democrat or Independent – whose positions address these issues.

With that said, the following are some random thoughts on what happened in this election:

  1. Any party that focuses only on minorities and ignores the majority is doomed to fail.  The Democratic Party did exactly that, taking its historical support from working-class Americans for granted and ignoring them and polling data that consistently showed their deep concern about the direction of the country.
  2. The Republican Party has also blundered in its strategy of making itself indistinguishable from Democrats, particularly when it comes to the key issues of trade and immigration, contenting itself with splitting the vote while hoping to sway a small 0.5% toward their side.  Were it not for the fact that Trump – not a true Republican – chose to identify himself as one and to fight tooth and nail to prevail against their slate of traditional Republicans – the Republican party would have lost this election.
  3. This election was all about a rejection of the globalism and open borders that both parties embraced.  I don’t think either party, even now, fully understands this.  Whichever party embraces a new strategy and platform based on our nation’s right of self-determination will succeed going forward.
  4. Though it pains me to quote him, Bill Clinton said it best in the ’91 election:  “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Indeed it is, and not necessarily the macro-economy but each individual’s own share of the economy.  Only when the vast majority of Americans are enjoying the fruits of a healthy economy can other issues like the environment take center stage.  Both parties ignored the polling data that showed the country was headed in the wrong direction and that voters were fed up with their politicians.  The Obama administration chose to fool itself with gimmicked economic data.  Few voters were fooled.
  5. Clinton erred when she tried to portray Trump’s position on illegal immigration as racist and xenophobic.  Illegal immigration is a concern for all Americans and it’s a mistake to believe that Hispanic Americans would uniformly embrace it just because most illegal immigrants are Hispanic.  Many have been here a long time now and identify themselves as Americans first, just as I identify myself as American and not Irish.  As I said in Five Short Blasts, I wouldn’t care if it was Ireland that we shared a border with instead of Mexico.  Illegal immigration has to be stopped.  The Democrats were shocked to learn that nearly 30% of Hispanics voted for Trump.  Many were insulted by the assumption that they favor illegal immigration over the interests of their own country just because of their ancestry.  The Clinton campaign was no less guilty of stereotyping Hispanics than Trump was perceived to be.
  6. The Democrats are almost as guilty of taking the black vote for granted as they were of taking white working-class voters for granted.  Trump made a play for the black vote.  It was criticized as a clumsy attempt, but he made a very valid point, that the inner cities seem to be little better off and have little to show for their support for the Democratic party.  Trump correctly pointed out that his trade policies aimed at rebuilding the manufacturing sector of the economy would, if anything, benefit the black community even more than the white community.  Well, it didn’t seem to resonate that much, though Clinton got a little less of the black vote than Obama did.  But Trump has laid down a marker for the black community.  They may have been skeptical of what he said, but they’ll likely remember if, in fact, a manufacturing turn-around produces a renaissance in the inner cities.  Democrats, beware.
  7. The Clinton campaign’s mantra was that “when they go low, we go high!”  Yet, in the final days of the campaign, they did just the opposite.  They took the worst, most crude elements of the campaign and bundled them into commercials.  The commercials criticized Trump for things not fit for our children to hear, yet the Clinton campaign had no problem with bombarding our children with those things incessantly on prime time television – even during the World Series.  It came across as very two-faced and, if anything, made Clinton  seem more of a sleeze-bag than Trump.
  8. Meanwhile, the commercials aired by the Trump campaign in the last couple of weeks were very positive.  There was one commercial  that took on globalism and the globalist elites who profited at the expense of everyone else.  It was a dynamite, highly-effective commercial that should have begun airing sooner and should have aired far more often. But I saw it only once (and I watch a fair amount of television in the evenings).  What happened to it?
  9. Along those same lines, the Clinton campaign held a concert that head-lined Beyonce and Jay Z.  While some fawn over this couple, many people are offended by the lewd “twerking” of Beyonce and the filthy and racist (the “n” word) lyrics of Jay Z.  This isn’t a racist observation.  I personally find Miley Cyrus to be just as offensive.  Clinton’s condoning of these lyrics destroyed her credibility when criticizing Trump.  The concert was a dumb move.  What purpose did it serve?  Did she really think that Beyonce and Jay Z would swing undecided voters to their camp?
  10. The spending by the Clinton campaign dwarfed that of the Trump campaign, to no avail.  It’s not the first time we’ve seen such an outcome.  It demonstrates once again that it only takes a lot of money to sell lousy products, and good products sell themselves.  For all the concern about big money in politics, maybe it doesn’t really have that much of an effect.  So, hey big donors, if you want to waste your money, you’re perfectly welcome to plow it back into our economy through the ad agencies.  Either way, the money is now out of your accounts and into the hands of people who need it more.  Thanks!

Up next:  some thoughts about the challenges facing Trump and what it means for the world going forward.