No U.S. Population Growth for Six Months?!?!

March 21, 2017

As part of my monthly calculation of the size of the actual labor force (for the purpose of analyzing the monthly employment report), I use the U.S. population as determined by the “Population Clock” on the home page of the U.S. Census Bureau.  As I write this, it stands at 324.73 million.  This figure typically grows at the rate of about 180,000 per month.  That’s a scary rate of population growth.  The U.N. estimates that half of all world population growth by 2050 will be caused by the growth of the population in only eight nations – seven third world nations and – you guessed it – the United States, the only developed nation that continues to experience third-world-like population growth.

But I’ve noticed something strange in the last six months, and especially since the beginning of the year.  In December, the population clock actually fell back by almost 600,000.  Since then, the population has been growing at a rate of only about 80,000 per month.  Today, it stands at almost exactly the same level as it did at the end of September.

This is great news, but I suspect that some of the reason for the slowdown is not good news.  You may recall that sometime back around December, the CDC announced that death rates in the U.S. were rising while life expectancy had actually declined slightly.  But there’s some really great news too.  Illegal immigrants are being deported and the entry of new illegal immigrants has slowed dramatically.  Even legal immigration has slowed since Trump took office.

Although it’s still early in this new trend, a couple of observations are in order:

  • Most economists predict economic gloom and doom to accompany a lack of population growth.  Contrary to that, the U.S. economy has experienced its best growth in many years in the past six months.  A brightening economic outlook is one of the outcomes I predicted in Five Short Blasts that would accompany a stabilizing or even declining U.S. population.
  • A rising death rate is another outcome that I predicted in my book for nations whose population densities continue to grow beyond a critical level, driven by rising unemployment and poverty.

This is all something I’ll be watching closely as immigration continues to slow dramatically during the Trump administration.


Corporate Whining Over Immigration

January 30, 2017

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-immigration-companies-idUSKBN15C0SC

As reported in the above-linked article, the corporate whining about the scale-back in immigration that President Trump began with his travel ban aimed at seven high-risk nations has begun.

While one can criticize the clumsy, sledge hammer approach to the ban, which should have allowed travel by people with valid green cards and should have allowed already-issued visas to simply expire while implementing a moratorium on new visas, the self-serving objections by the global corporations should be dismissed out-of-hand.  It’s not this travel ban that concerns them.  It’s the coming fight over the whole H-1B visa program that they use to suppress wages in the U.S. with cheap foreign labor.

That program, along with the heavily abused student visa program which fills the pipeline that supplies it, has  for decades been a major millstone around the neck of young American workers trying to get a start in life.  The student visa program is used to fill the seats of American universities with foreign students, keeping those seats in short supply for American students and propping up the sky-rocketing rate of tuition increases.  It’s the major reason that young Americans are saddled with so much student debt.  Global corporations then use those graduates to staff their American operations and suppress their labor costs.

Those people protesting the travel ban are likely the same people who rightfully are part of the whole movement that protests the truly immoral situation with income inequality.  It would be interesting to poll those people protesting Trump’s ban about their own financial status.  How many are saddled with crushing student debt?  How many can only dream of having a job like those held by these immigrants?  Does it not occur to them that they are merely pawns in the whole globalization scheme that is actually the root cause of income inequality, especially in the U.S.?

The protest of these CEOs that they have to rely on immigration for high-skilled workers is an insult to American workers.  I hope that President Trump soon turns his focus on slashing both the H-1B visa program and the student visa program.


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.


Manufactured Exports Fall to 5-1/2 Year Low

December 7, 2016

Almost seven years ago, in the wake of his disastrous visit to Mexico to address our trade deficit – which resulted in a sharp rebuke from the Mexican president and even higher tariffs on American goods – President Obama decided to turn his focus on exports.  “Why can’t we have an export-driven economy like Germany,” he challenged his economic team.  Evidently, none of them responded that there is no other United States out there to serve as our trade patsy as we’ve done for Germany.  So, in January of 2010, the president proclaimed that, within five years, the United States would double its exports.  This would be the centerpiece of his economic agenda.

Yesterday the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its monthly report of International Trade in Goods and Services.  The overall trade deficit came in at $42.4 billion in October, right in the range where it has been throughout the Obama administration.  There isn’t another economic report that chronicles America’s economic demise as clearly as this one does, yet the reaction was the same as it’s always been:  ho-hum.  Unbelievable.

To get to the real heart of the problem – the siphoning of jobs out of our economy – you have to strip away the “noise” – the trade in services, oil and food.  What’s left is trade in manufactured products, and the picture there grows worse with each passing month.  The deficit in manufactured products was $57.9 billion in October, not far from the record of $62.5 billion set in March of last year.  Check out this chart:  manfd-goods-balance-of-trade.

Especially pathetic is the contribution of declining exports to the increase in the deficit.  In October, manufactured exports fell to $104.3 billion, the lowest level in over 5-1/2 years.  (Exports of manufactured goods were $104.9 billion in March, 2011.)  Manufactured exports have fallen by $10.3 billion since peaking at $114.6 billion exactly two years ago.  To reach Obama’s goal, exports would have had to rise to $171.7 billion.  They never even came close.  Here’s a chart showing both manufactured exports and imports since Obama made his vow to double exports:  manfd-exports-vs-goal.  A complete failure, and no surprise.  The U.S. has no control over exports.  But at least deflecting attention away from the steady growth in imports – and the corresponding steady decline in manufacturing jobs – made things more pleasant for Obama around the punch bowl at G20 meetings.

Frankly, I’m sick of tracking this statistic under the Obama administration, watching it get predictably worse.  Only two full months of data remain – November and December.  Then things get interesting again.  This deep hole that’s been dug under the (lack of) leadership by Obama becomes Trump’s baseline.  How far and how fast can he whittle down this deficit?  Could he even turn it into a surplus, like we used to enjoy forty years ago?  Time will tell.  A deficit of $60 billion in manufactured goods represents a loss of ten million manufacturing jobs, and probably an equal number of jobs in ancillary industries.  Such a demand for labor would mop up every last unemployed person in the country and send wages soaring.  If Trump accomplishes even half of this, people will be stunned at the effect on the economy.

 


Some Observations about Trump’s Transition

November 25, 2016

The following are some random thoughts and observations about the unfolding transition of Donald Trump’s presidency.  (I still can’t believe I’m writing those words.)

  • Wow, for a guy pushing 70, this guy has a motor!  I stayed up the night of the election until it was clear he had won, which happened about 3 AM on the morning of the 9th.  I was exhausted for the next several days.  Not Trump.  Two days after the election he was at the White House to meet with President Obama and then on to Capitol Hill for a series of meetings.  The next day he launched into an endless stream of meetings with potential staff members – up to twenty meetings a day – and still had the energy to be “tweeting” at 3 o’clock in the morning.  Yesterday – Thanksgiving Day – he was even on the phone with the CEO of the Carrier Corporation trying to convince them that moving their manufacturing operations to Mexico was a bad idea.  The guy is clearly a workaholic.
  • In order to push forward his agenda, he needs a cabinet staffed with like-minded individuals, not a “team of rivals” as some have suggested.  I’ve been pretty pleased with his picks thus far, but I really hope he doesn’t pick Romney for Secretary of State.  Romney might soothe ruffled feathers among traditional Republicans and calm nerves among foreign leaders with his polished style and globalist outlook, but that’s not what Trump needs.  He needs someone who can look China in the eye and tell them “tough s___” when they complain about Trump’s trade policy.  That’s definitely not Romney.  Giuliani would be a much better choice.
  • Trump has softened his stand on illegal immigrants somewhat, vowing to deport or incarcerate 2-3 million of the worst among them, but expressing a willingness to “consider” the rest.  I’m OK with that as long as he “builds a wall” or takes whatever other actions are necessary to put a halt to illegal border crossings and to immediately deport those who still do make it across.  A pleasant surprise has been his vow to also crack down on some legal immigration, like the H1B visa program which is designed purely to hold down wages.  The program, and others like it, should be completely eliminated.
  • Early on, Obama began assembling a team of economic advisors, mostly academics, largely from Harvard.  No wonder his vow to tackle the trade deficit was quickly abandoned.  So far I’ve heard none of this about Trump’s transition team.  Unless I’ve missed something, there hasn’t been a single mention of an “economic advisor.”  Good.  He doesn’t need any.  His economic plans are right on target and he would be hard pressed to find any economists who wouldn’t steer him in the wrong direction.
  • So far, his plans to impose tariffs on Mexico and China, though a huge step in the right direction, are too timid.  Tariffs on auto parts from Mexico will only make U.S. auto manufacturers less competitive with imports from Japan, South Korea and Germany.  Tariffs on Chinese imports will only move manufacturers to India, Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries with huge labor forces.  To be successful, he needs to extend his tariff plans to include all products from all such countries.
  • I’ve heard some pundits proclaim that some manufacturing jobs won’t come back to the U.S. no matter what he does with trade policy.  That’s absolute nonsense.  If tariffs raise prices to the point where products can be made profitably in the U.S., then someone will seize the opportunity and do exactly that.  For example, if Apple doesn’t move its i-phone manufacturing back to the U.S., then someone else will soon undercut them with cheaper and better phones made right here in the states.
  • Manufacturers who have moved to China might be wise to not even wait for tariffs to be implemented.  They’d be smart to move their equipment back to the U.S. before China prevents such moves.
  • Despite all the fear-mongering by free trade and globalization cheerleaders about the dangers of “protectionism,” investors seem to be betting on the opposite.  In fact, we see the same thing happening in Britain in the wake of “Brexit.”  I’m reminded of an old saying:  “Money talks and BS walks.”
  • The media has been wringing their hands over potential conflicts of interest with Trump’s vast and far-flung business empire.  It’s a potential concern, but everyone knew it when they voted for him and it’s not something he can divest overnight.  Let’s give it time to play out.
  • Trump’s not an inspirational orator like Obama has been.  That’s OK.  I’ll happily trade that trait for someone who can get things done to fix our immigration mess and our idiotic trade policy.

There should be no misconceptions that this will be anything but a wild ride.  It’s going to be absolutely fascinating to watch it play out and, if he follows through on his campaign promises on immigration and trade, we’re going to witness a transformation in the U.S. economy that no one even thought possible.


A Trump Victory. Here’s how it happened.

November 9, 2016

 

In the next few posts I’ll be sharing many thoughts about this election.  I’ll begin with the question that is foremost in everyone’s mind.  What the hell happened?  How could every single poll have been so wrong?  All predicted a virtual Clinton landslide.

But there was some tightening of the polls in the final two weeks.  Almost everyone seems to believe that the announcement by the FBI of the discovery of new E-mails on a computer used by Clinton’s top aide swung the election, regardless of whether the FBI announced a week later that it had found nothing new.  That seems to be the conventional wisdom.  But it’s wrong.

Psychologists will tell you that it takes a significant event to change people’s attitudes.  In the run-up to World War II, most Americans wanted to stay out of the mess in Europe.  Then came Pearl Harbor and, overnight, Americans lined up to join in the fight.  They were angry as hell.

Were the E-mails discovered on Abedin’s computer such an event?  Hardly.  It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, and there was a lot of skepticism (ultimately proven to be justified) that there was really nothing of much significance there.  But there were three events that took place in the immediate wake of the FBI’s announcement that angered Americans in a big, big way – much more than the media realized:

  1. The government announced that social security checks would rise by only 0.3% next year, after no rise at all in 2016, citing a lack of inflation in the cost of living.  Everyone 62 years and older was absolutely outraged.  How in the world the Obama administration was dumb enough to let this happen only days before the election is mystifying.
  2. Immediately on the heels of that came an announcement that those who were buying health insurance through Obamacare would face enormous premium increases.  Bam!  Another few million Americans were seething.  Hey, they assured the rest of us, if you’re not on Obamacare, don’t worry.  You’re not affected.
  3. Oh, yeah?  Then, only one week ahead of the election, open enrollment in company-sponsored benefit plans began, and the rest of us discovered that the folks on Obamacare may have been the lucky ones compared to what we were now facing.  To cite my own case as an example, since I retired in 2004, the cost of my wife’s health insurance has risen at an annual rate of 43% but I just learned before the election that it would jump by 123% next year!  Every American was seeing the same thing.  So now every American, just one week before the election, was pissed off in a way that, if they didn’t already believe that America was on the wrong track, they sure believed it now.    And it was enough to make a lot of them change their minds and cast a protest vote.

As these events unfolded, I told my wife that Trump didn’t need to say anything.  He barely needed to continue campaigning.  All he had to do was let the daily news cycle play itself out.  The daily drumbeat of bad news about the prospects for our future was just piling on proof that a change was needed in a big way.

More analysis will follow.

 


Ford Moving to Mexico; Trump Says He’ll Stop It

September 15, 2016

http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/15/news/companies/donald-trump-ford-ceo-mark-fields/index.html

The above link will take you to an interview conducted by CNN’s Poppy Harlow with Mark Fields, Ford CEO.  If you have the patience to watch it all the way through, it will be immediately followed by further discussion of Trump’s plans to raise tariffs and bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.

Trump has long predicted that Ford would be announcing its move to Mexico.  Fields responds that they are only moving its small car production – the Focus and the C-Max (both made at Ford’s Dearborn, MI plant) -to Mexico.  Other models will continue to be made in the U.S.

Ford actually sells six car models:  Fiesta, Focus, C-max, Fusion, Mustang and Taurus.  The Fiesta and the Fusion are already built in Mexico.  Ford’s announcement about the Focus and C-max leaves only two of its six car models that are still made in the U.S. – Mustang and Taurus.  The former is built at its Flat Rock, MI plant and the Taurus is built in Chicago.  Most of its SUVs and trucks are built in the U.S.  There’s a good reason for this.  The U.S. continues to maintain a 25% tariff on all imported light trucks.

The Transit Connect is an interesting exception.  Until 2013, Ford imported the Transit Connect, a vehicle it markets as a commercial van/truck, from Turkey, trimmed out as a passenger van.  It then strips out the passenger interior, removes the windows, and replaces them with metal panels, converting it into a commercial vehicle.  It did all of this to escape paying the 25% import tariff.  In 2013, the U.S. ordered Ford to stop this practice.  Ford still does it, but now it pays the tariff.  It “eats” the cost of the tariff.  It doesn’t pass it on to the consumer.

If elected, Trump has vowed to essentially tear up most trade deals – particularly NAFTA, and will raise tariffs to force companies to re-establish their manufacturing operations in the U.S.  In the case of Mexico, he has suggested a 35% tariff.  During the linked interview, Ms. Harlow asked Mark Shields directly whether he would still move manufacturing to Mexico if that were to happen.  Shields side-stepped the question.  But the answer is obvious.  Of course Ford would not move more production to Mexico if that were to happen.  Quite the opposite.  Production of the Fiesta and Fusion would also return.

Late in the interview, Shields cited the huge savings in labor costs for the move to Mexico, saying that it needed to be done to remain competitive in that segment of the market.  Ms. Harlow failed to follow up with the obvious question:  “So you’ll be reducing the price of the Focus once production has moved to Mexico?”  I would have loved to see him squirm and see the smirk run away from his face when he replied that the price wouldn’t change a bit.

Has any company ever cut the price of any product once its production was moved overseas?  Of course not.  They pocket the extra profit.  Which brings us to one of the arguments employed by economists (and cited in the 2nd CNN segment which starts immediately after the Mark Shields interview) that prices will rise and consumers will be forced to pay the tariffs, hurting the economy and cutting deeply into consumer spending.

That’s absolute nonsense.  Consumers don’t pay the tariffs.  The importing companies pay the tariffs.  Whether or not they elect to pass that extra cost along to the consumer is entirely up to them.  As we saw above with the Transit Connect, Ford doesn’t pass it along.  Sure, that would cut deeply into profits.  By far, the smarter alternative is to move manufacturing back to the U.S.

During the course of the interview, Ms. Harlow repeats a myth about tariffs and their role in the Great Depression.  “… the last time a big tariff was instituted in the United States back during the Great Depression, all the economists agree that it made the Great Depression worse.”  I’ve said it many times but it bears repeating here:  that’s factually false and is absolute nonsense.  First of all, no new, big tariff was implemented during the Great Depression.  The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 was a very slight tweaking of the  Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act of 1922, raising tariffs overall from 38.5% to 41.4%.  Following enactment of Fordney-McCumber, the economy boomed during the “roaring ’20s.”

By the time Smoot-Hawley was enacted, the Great Depression had already been underway for a year.  During the Great Depression, America’s balance of trade declined by less than $1 billion while GDP fell by $33 billion.  To blame tariffs for the Great Depression is ludicrous.  But that didn’t stop economists from doing it, eager to make a case for their new, untested theory about “free” trade.

In the CNN piece following the Mark Shields interview, CNN reports on dire warnings by economists that Mr. Trump’s tariffs would have disastrous consequences for the economy, cutting GDP by up to $1 trillion and would result in the loss of 4 million jobs.  Such claims are really puzzling, given the fact that economists know very well that a trade deficit is actually a subtraction in the calculation of GDP.  It’s impossible that bringing back manufacturing would do anything other than boost GDP dramatically.  Merely balancing trade in manufactured goods would be an $800 billion boost to the economy.  That would be a 4% jump in GDP which, not coincidentally, is what Trump has targeted for economic growth.  Any further surplus in trade in manufactured goods would boost the economy even more.  And instead of cutting 4 million jobs, it would actually create approximately 10 million jobs.

Free trade advocates claim that manufacturing jobs don’t matter any more, that most manufacturing is automated and there are few jobs there to be had.  If that’s true, then why do so many badly overpopulated nations with huge, bloated work forces cling so desperately to the manufacturing that they do for the American consumer?  Certainly, automation has improved productivity in manufacturing, but not nearly to the extent that free traders would have you believe.  Consider the production of the supposedly high-tech cell phones like the i-phone.  Their manufacture is about as low tech as you can get – thousands of people assemble the circuit boards by hand in China.

During one of the CNN segments, the reporter comments that “cars aren’t really built from scratch any more.  They’re assembled.  Those plants in Mexico will be assembling them from American-made parts.”  As if the process of assembly requires no effort, and as if cars haven’t been built that way since Henry Ford invented the assembly line.  I can tell you from personal experience, having toured the Dearborn plant where Ford builds the Focus, that it takes a lot of workers to make an assembly plant “tick.”  Watching a stack of sheet metal being turned into a finished automobile in less than 24 hours is truly awe-inspiring.  Having toured both auto assembly plants and electronics manufacturing, I can tell you that an auto assembly plant is far more “high-tech” than electronics production.

Trump’s plans to use tariffs to return manufacturing back to the U.S. is exactly what the American economy needs – and is exactly the thing that globalists fear the most.