A Perfect Example of What Killed American Democracy

January 13, 2021

No sooner did I publish yesterday’s post, in which I blamed the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision in 2010 for the death of American democracy, when a perfect example of that emerged.

Before I get into that, I have a question for you. What do you know about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and your own local chapter? Is it a branch of the U.S. Commerce Department? Is its purpose to promote commerce in America? The name of the organization would lead you to believe that the answer to both of the latter questions is “yes.”

You’d be dead wrong. The Chamber of Commerce is a French-based organization whose sole mission is the promotion of “free” trade. (Check out this post from 2009 for an explanation of this fatally flawed economic theory and how it has devastated America’s economy.) The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is that French organization’s American-based operation. Your local Chamber of Commerce reports to and funnels funds to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Here, it’s worth noting that in 2019, France – a nation whose workers enjoy benefits American workers can only dream of – enjoyed a trade surplus with the U.S. of $19.9 billion, despite being arguably the least productive nation on earth.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its local chapters makes a show of lobbying in favor of American businesses when issues important to them arise like taxes, regulations, minimum wage, etc. However, the effect of all of those issues combined is trivial compared to the one trillion dollars per year of business that is robbed from them through the world’s trade surplus with the U.S. On that issue, I challenge anyone to show me one single instance in which the Chamber has spoken out against the trade deficit and in favor of changes to trade policy aimed at restoring a balance of trade. No Chamber of Commerce organization, not the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or any one of its thousands of local chapters, has ever uttered a peep of protest about the U.S. trade deficit. The Chamber of Commerce masquerades as a pro-business lobby, all the while concealing the fact that it is working against American business on the one issue that dwarfs all others.

Thanks to the “Citizens United” decision by the Supreme Court, this French-based lobbying organization is considered to be an American “person” under the constitution. Its money – all the money collected in the form of membership fees from hundreds of thousands of American businesses that it strong-arms into joining its local chapters – is considered “free speech” which cannot be constrained under the 2nd amendment.

With all of that said, check out this article which appeared on Reuters yesterday. The CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce accuses Trump of undermining U.S. democracy. Scroll to the bottom of the article, and read this:

“… in a nod to Biden’s progressive agenda, he said lawmakers should fund “rapid training programs” to connect the unemployed with jobs in new sectors of the economy.

Donohue also said the Chamber will push for a new bill to boost legal immigration to help businesses deal with a shortage of workers.”

Pushing “training programs” is a classic pro-free trade gimmick used for decades to placate workers who have lost their jobs to off-shoring. And, incredibly, even in the midst of a pandemic when sixteen million Americans are unemployed, the Chamber has the audacity to suggest that we need to continue flooding the U.S. with immigrants “to help businesses deal with a shortage of workers.”

Earlier in the article, the Chamber CEO vows to cut off funding from Republicans who supported Trump. Is it Trump’s rhetoric that concerns him, or is it really the fact that Republicans began supporting Trump’s efforts at levying tariffs in an effort to fix our trade deficit?

This is a perfect example of the demise of our democracy. Our politicians are bought-and-paid-for by global corporations and foreign lobbying organizations. Your only choice is between two candidates who, on the most critical issues, take the exact same position – the position they’re paid to take. This isn’t democracy.


Is the United States the stupidest nation on earth?

January 9, 2021

In light of the trade data released by the Commerce Department on Thursday, it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion. In November the trade deficit worsened to a new record of $64.5 billion. Actually, the situation is much worse than that. Strip away the surplus in services, which are little more than paperwork transactions, and you’re left with trade in manufactured goods, where real jobs are won and lost. Look at this chart. I would say that it couldn’t get any worse if it weren’t for the fact that with each passing month, it does. The deficit in manufactured goods hovered at the record level of $82.5 billion set only two months ago. That’s an annualized deficit of one trillion dollars.

Think about this. We’re paying the rest of the world a trillion dollars per year, putting their citizens to work making all the things we could just as easily make ourselves while, at the same time, we have tens of millions of people out of work. In fact, we’re paying trillions of dollars per year to pay our own people not to work. And we keep doing everything we can – as fast as we can – to make the situation worse. Ten years ago, in the wake of our most recent economic disaster, part of the auto industry bail-out was to allow Fiat to scoop up the Chrysler corporation, giving yet another foreign brand (the worst on earth, in terms of quality) an entry into the U.S. market, making the challenge for American cars that much worse. Building on that mistake, last month, FCA (Fiat-Chrysler of America) joined forces with PSA (the French automaker Peugot) forming a new company called “Stellantis,” giving Peugot access to the American market and, in all likelihood, finally killing the Chrysler brand.

Now we’ve elected as president a man who has spent his entire adult life championing policies that have exacerbated this decades-long downward spiral of our trade picture and, consequently, our entire economy. What little progress has been made under Trump he has vowed to rapidly undo.

If this situation doesn’t make the United States the stupidest nation on earth, I don’t know what would. And we wonder why this nation has become so divided and how there could be those among us so angry and frustrated that they’d be willing to riot and attack the capitol building. Trump was accused of lying to the American people about the election being stolen. I’ve consistently voted for candidates over these many years who have promised to do something about our trade deficit, and every one of them lied to us. Trump is accused of having blood on his hands for his role in fomenting the capitol building riot. For his part, Biden should accept blame for his role in formulating policies over the decades that have stoked the anger we saw unleashed on Thursday.

I remain angry and deeply disappointed with Trump for allowing his style and ego to get in the way of the bigger mission of Making America Great Again. The American people can forgive gaffes and rookie mistakes (being a rookie to the political scene), but they just couldn’t take any more of the daily barrage of personal insults that had nothing to do with the mission he was elected to do. It’s just sad to see it end this way.

It’s hard to see any hope of things improving for the United States. It angers me and makes me sick to say that. Since writing Five Short Blasts years ago, I’ve tried to keep this forum apolitical and focus instead on trying to explain the unseen economic consequences of population growth, including the danger of trying to engage in free trade with badly overpopulated nations. Maybe that’s been a mistake. So I’ll now say this: for decades Americans have been getting economically slaughtered like a flock of chickens. It’s hard to see any hope of things improving when you elect the fox to run the henhouse.


The Driving Force Behind America’s Drift Toward Socialism

December 10, 2020

One clear message that emerged from the election as the Democratic Party suffered significant losses in the House – and even Democrats agree with the conclusion – is that Americans overwhelmingly loathe the notion of socialism taking root here. Though the number of true socialists amongst the Democrats is small, Republicans’ constant labeling of the whole party as such was effective. Americans want nothing to do with socialism.

However, there has been a slow drift toward socialism over the decades as one social safety net program after another has been added. The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated the trend with stimulus checks provided to all, unemployment bonus checks that make it signifcantly more lucrative to remain unemployed, eviction moratoriums and others. Socialists are now emboldened to demand more, things like universal minimum incomes provided by government, universal healthcare, college debt forgiveness and free college tuition among many other things.

Ask anyone about the cause of the drift toward socialism and most will blame the Democratic Party, home to a few hard-core socialists like “The Squad” in the House and many more progressives and liberals who don’t quite merit the socialist label. However, most people would be shocked to learn that Republicans and conservatives in general are just as culpable for the drift toward socialism, for both parties alike have fostered a policy that increasingly makes Americans dependent on the government nanny-state. I’m talking about the “free trade” policy that both parties have happily and eagerly embraced to the delight of their corporate benefactors.

America’s embrace of free trade, which began in the wake of World War II, has transformed us from the world’s richest economy and preeminent industrial power into the world’s skid row bum. How? Here’s how it works. Every dollar spent on an imported product is a dollar taken out of the economy. If not offset by a dollar spent on an American-made product by someone in a foreign country, then it’s a dollar lost from our economy forever, leaving us a dollar poorer and with one dollar’s worth of a manufacturing job gone.

The only way to make the economy whole again is for the government to put a dollar back into the economy. The only way it can do that is by selling a bond. To whom? To that foreign country where you spent that dollar on one of their goods. How does the dollar get put back into the economy? Through a government program: funding unemployment, welfare, health care for those who can’t afford it, etc. In essence, every dollar’s worth of our trade deficit is an investment by an American consumer in socialism.

Every dollar of our trade deficit further divides our society into the “have” and “have-not” classes as the erosion of the manufacturing sector of our economy worsens, driving people who once earned high wages and benefits into the unemployment line, where they have no hope of returning to the quality of life they once enjoyed. It’s only natural that this “have not” class of society would turn to socialism to make them whole again.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal until you understand the enormity of the problem. Last week, the Commerce Department released the trade data for the month of October. Our trade deficit for just that month was $63 billion. But that’s not the worst of it. That figure includes a surplus in “services,” much of which is nothing more than paperwork transactions. The real concern is goods – manufactured goods, to be precise – since that’s where the jobs are and that’s where a deficit does real damage to the economy. The deficit in manufactured goods in October was $81.3 billion, just shy of the record set only two months earlier. Annualized, that’s a deficit of $976 billion. And it’s rapidly getting worse. Here’s a chart of the data: https://petemurphy.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/manfd-goods-balance-of-trade.pdf.

Think about that. Almost a trillion dollars per year must be injected back into the economy by the government in the form of socialist programs. The United States has been running an ever-growing trade deficit for forty-four consecutive years, since our last trade surplus in 1976.

If America wants to avoid becoming a socialist country, it’s imperative that Americans wake up to the fact that it’s our enormous trade deficit that’s pushing us fast and hard in that direction. As long as the U.S. pursues “free trade,” the worse matters will get. History has shown that only the use of tariffs can assure that a balance of trade is maintained.


China Falls Short of “Phase 1” Goals Again in October

December 8, 2020

China signed the “Phase 1” trade deal with the U.S. in January, in return for the U.S. postponing a second round of tariffs on the remaining half of all Chinese exports to the U.S. China committed to meeting specific targets for imports of four classes of American goods for 2020 and 2021: manufactured goods, energy goods, agricultural goods and total goods.

The data for October was released on Friday and, once again, China has fallen far short of meeting its commitments. With only two months left in 2020, China is behind its commitment for manufactured goods by 30%. It’s behind in energy products by 64%. It’s behind in agriculture goods by 41%, and is behind in total goods by 35%. Here’s the year-to-date data: https://petemurphy.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/phase-1-china-trade-deal-2020-ytd.pdf.

Though China once again fell far short of its goal, it’s worth noting that they did increase their imports slightly. Most notably, for the 2nd month in a row, they exceeded the monthly goal for agriculture imports, making up a little lost ground toward meeting its 2020 commitment for that category of goods. Ten months into 2020, they are now 2 for 40 in terms of meeting its commitments (10 months times 4 categories of goods).

It’s also worth noting that China’s imports of American goods in October set a record of $14.7 billion, beating the old record of $13.6 billion set in December of 2017. However, that’s little cause for celebration because the goods trade deficit with China actually worsened to $30.1 billion, thanks to the 7th consecutive monthly increase in imports from China, which rose to $44.8 billion. The net result of the “Phase 1” deal is that our trade deficit with China has actually worsened in 2020.

Trump made the same mistake with the “Phase 1” deal that Obama made when he vowed to double U.S. exports to reduce our trade deficit. He focused on exports while ignoring imports. It’s impossible for the U.S. to export its way out of a trade deficit with a badly overpopulated nation with a bloated labor force that is dependent on manufacturing for export. When Trump’s focus was on the use of tariffs to reduce imports from China, we made significant progress in cutting our deficit. When he took additional tariffs off the table with the signing of the “Phase 1” deal, that progress was reversed.

It’s time to kill this dumb deal and levy more tariffs on China. If Trump won’t do it in his waning days, then Biden has an opportunity to show that he stands with American manufacturing and American workers. But he won’t.


Time to Leave the World Trade Organization

September 16, 2020

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-wto/wto-finds-washington-broke-trade-rules-by-putting-tariffs-on-china-ruling-angers-u-s-idUSKBN2662FG

As reported in the above-linked article, the World Trade Organization has announced its finding that the U.S. broke its rules when it imposed tariffs on Chinese imports two years ago.

The timing of this announcement is curious.  Of course the U.S. broke the rules.  Everyone knew it at the time.  Trump didn’t care.  It was the only way to make any progress on halting the explosion in the trade deficit with China.  So why wait until now?  Is it because Trump faces re-election in less than two months, running against a candidate who played a big role in the advancement of the globalism that the WTO enforces?

The WTO is the enforcer of the ill-conceived trade scheme hatched in the wake of World War II to bring the world together by employing the unproven concept of “free” trade.  Decades later, the results are in and “free” trade is now a proven failure.  Instead of lifting all economies of the world and bringing the world together through an inter-dependency, the WTO has destabilized the world by establishing a host-parasite relationship between reasonably-populated nations, like the U.S., and the others – like China, so badly overpopulated that they are totally dependent on manufacturing for export and feeding off of America’s market.  The WTO is directly responsible for building up a totalitarian communist regime bent on dominating the rest of the world.

It’s time to put an end to this.  Trump can do it by simply withdrawing from the WTO, a move that would quickly lead to its collapse.  Let’s return to truly free trade, where every nation is free to set its own rules in its own best self-interest.


Trump’s Efforts on Trade a Spectacular Failure

September 9, 2020

I can’t tell you how disheartening it was to sift through the latest trade data, for the month of July, released by the Commerce Department late last week.  There’s just no getting around the fact that the administration’s efforts to cut the trade deficit and bring manufacturing back to the U.S. have failed.  “Failure” would be the word to describe results that haven’t shown any improvement.  But America’s trade picture has deteriorated so badly that the scope of the failure can only be described as “spectacular.”

In his inauguration address, Trump observed:

…  rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation …

Earlier in the address, regarding situations like that noted above, he proclaimed:

… That all changes – starting right here, and right now …

The July trade data comes 3-1/2 years into his administration – plenty of time to implement changes and to see the effects.  It’s hard to find any silver lining.  Consider:

  1. The trade deficit in manufactured goods in July soared to $80.4 billion, a new record that completely blows away the record set under the Obama administration ($63.3 billion in March, 2015).  Check out this chart:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.
  2. During the 2016 campaign, Trump vowed to quickly tear up the NAFTA deal and replace it with a much better deal.  Most of his term has been wasted negotiating the new “USMCA” trade deal that replaces it.  It finally went into effect on July 1st of this year, but the terms have been known for a long time, so you’d expect that manufacturers would have been busy implementing plans to get in compliance.  The results?  In July, the trade deficit with Mexico soared to $10. 6 billion.  When Trump took office in January, 2017 it was $3.8 billion.  Since then it has nearly tripled.
  3. When Trump took office, the deficit with China was $31.4 billion.  In July of this year it was $31.6 billion.  After Trump took office, the deficit with China continued to grow until, finally fed up with China’s promises to buy more American products, Trump imposed 25% tariffs on half of all Chinese products.  Almost immediately, the deficit with China began to shrink dramatically.  However, all momentum was lost with the signing of the “Phase 1” deal with China, when the U.S. agreed to halt plans to impose tariffs on the remainder of China’s products in exchange for Chinese promises to dramatically increase their purchases of American goods.  The results were predictable; China reneged on the deal.  They haven’t even measured up to the 2017 baseline that was used as a starting point.  Here’s the data, updated through July:  Phase 1 China Trade Deal 2020 YTD.  What has Trump done in response?  Nothing.  He continues to insist it’s a good deal, in much the same way that Obama stuck by his trade deal with South Korea while our deficit with them exploded.
  4. What progress was made in at least stagnating the deficit with China didn’t translate into any benefit to American workers.  Instead, it contributed to the tripling of the debt with Mexico and also ballooned the debt with Vietnam.  When Trump took office, the trade deficit with Vietnam, an economic back-water, was $3.3 billion per month.  In July of this year it was more than doubled to $6.8 billion per month.  Why?  Because no tariffs were applied to anyone other than China.  The tariffs motivated manufacturers to begin moving out of China, but there was no disincentive to simply move to secondary suppliers in Mexico, Vietnam and other places.

Some might say that such conclusions are unfair in the midst of the pandemic.  Not so.  The effect of the pandemic has been to cut economic activity to a depression-like level, and the effect of an economic slow-down has always been to shrink the trade deficit, not grow it.  That makes the enormous deficit in manufactured goods in July even more troubling.

Speaking of the pandemic, at least people are beginning to realize that being dependent on foreign suppliers for critical goods like ventilators and face masks is a threat to national security.  It’d be nice if that realization extended to other products that would just as easily be cut off during war time.  Better yet, wouldn’t it be nice if people realized that an economy that needs to stand on agriculture, construction, manufacturing and services is hollowed out and unstable if one of those legs is gone?

I don’t doubt Trump’s desire to truly “make America great again” by bringing back our manufacturing sector.  But he sees himself as a “deal-maker” and believes he can deal his way out of the trade deficit.  That’s where the problem lies.  For America, at least, there’s no such thing as a good trade deal.  I defy anyone to identify a single trade deal that has ever left America with anything but a growing trade deficit.

And forget about “free trade.”  That centuries-old concept is about as relevant to today’s trade environment as theories about a flat earth and how the sun rotates around it.  Today, trade is war – a war for increasingly scarce jobs in an ever more over-populated world.  Unlike America, the rest of the world understand this.  They know that what they really need is access to America’s market so that they can keep their bloated populations employed manufacturing goods for export.  Americans don’t have a clue.  They think it’s about lower price and more choice.

Had Trump simply applied tariffs everywhere where America was suffering a big trade deficit in manufactured goods, manufacturers would have come running back like refugees fleeing a war.  Instead of improving incrementally, our economy would have exploded.  Manufacturers would have eagerly snapped up any workers who lost their jobs to closures of restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, etc. during the pandemic.  Trump’s re-election would be a foregone conclusion.  Instead, he’s going to be lucky to win.  Forget about the pandemic.  It’s his failure to make progress on truly making America great again that has left him vulnerable.

Don’t interpret this post as an endorsement of Biden.  It’s reported in the news today that Trump has criticized Biden as a “globalist.”  He’s not wrong.  But it’s not just Biden.  Until Trump came along, every politician, Democrat and Republican alike, were and still are globalists.  I’d vote for Biden in a heartbeat if he vowed to use tariffs to restore a balance of trade, but he won’t.  Though the results under Trump have been disappointing, things could and would be much worse under virtually anyone else, at least until more American politicians are willing to engage in the trade war that they don’t even acknowledge today.

 

 

 

 


U.S. Fails to Enforce “Phase 1” China Trade Deal

August 27, 2020

https://www.fidelity.com/news/article/top-news/202008242045RTRSNEWSCOMBINED_KBN25L023-OUSBS_1

As reported in the above-linked article, with six months of results from the “Phase 1” trade deal with China now in, the U.S. has “rolled over” for China yet again, ignoring the Chinese snub of the deal.  The picture that accompanies the article, showing the flag of Red China flying above that of the U.S., is appropriate.  Red China dominates the U.S. in trade because it dominates the U.S. in terms of its willingness to stand up for itself.

In spite of the fact that China has not made one inch of progress toward meeting the goals of the deal – in fact, it’s not even measuring up to the 2017 baseline for purchasing American goods – the U.S. Trade Representative’s office had this to say following a phone discussion with Chinese trade leaders:

“Both sides see progress and are committed to taking the steps necessary to ensure the success of the agreement,”

Red China has won again.  It’s tactic of making trade deals and then completely ignoring them, knowing that the U.S. never follows through on anything, has worked again, just as it has for decades.  The Chinese are once again rolling in the aisles with laughter.

Is Trump on board with this?  Is this a move calculated to avoid roiling the markets just ahead of the election?  Is he saving a tough response, like imposing the new tariffs that this deal delayed, until just ahead of the election, calculating that it will win him votes before anyone even takes notice of a market decline?

I don’t know, but I do know that the lack of progress in cutting the trade deficit and bringing back American manufacturing jobs is a major reason behind the decline in enthusiasm for his re-election.  Revitalizing the manufacturing sector of the economy is the key ingredient needed to “Make America Great Again” and it’s difficult to see any progress at all on that front.


Token Bump in Exports to China in May Falls Far Short of “Phase 1 Trade Deal” Goals

July 4, 2020

Trade data released by the Commerce Department on Thursday for the month of May reveals that China bumped up its imports from the U.S. slightly, but still fell far short of the goals of the “Phase 1 Trade Deal” signed with the U.S. in January.  Here’s the data (source:  USA Trade Online):  Phase 1 China Trade Deal 2020 YTD.

This deal sets goals for Chinese imports of American goods for four different categories of products:  manufactured products, energy products, agriculture products, and total products, using 2017 Chinese imports of these products as the baseline for increases.  Through May, we’re now five months into this deal.  That’s 20 opportunities to meet the monthly goal for each category of product.  So far, China has not met one single goal.  In fact, in May, for the first time, China exceeded the 2017 baseline for one category of product.  They imported $1.249 billion in energy products vs. the 2017 baseline of $0.758 billion, but still fell short of the goal for May of $1.943 billion.

Year-to-date, China is behind its commitments by the following amounts:

  • manufactured products – 25.7% below goal
  • energy products – 69.6% below goal
  • agriculture products – 60.6% below goal
  • total goods – 35.9% below goal

This is pathetic.  At this point, one can only conclude that, rather than trying to live up to the deal and boost its purchases of American goods, China is actually making a concerted effort to reduce its purchases.

In October of 2018, the monthly trade deficit with China hit a record of $43 billion.  In May of this year, that deficit was down to $27 billion.  But the “Phase 1 Trade Deal” gets no credit for that decrease.  In December of 2019 – the last month before the deal was signed, the deficit with China was $24.8 billion.  All of the drop in the trade deficit with China is thanks to the 25% tariffs that are in effect for half of all Chinese imports.  The “Phase 1 Trade Deal” has had absolutely no impact on further reducing that deficit.

A huge part of the “Make America Great Again” promise was to reduce the trade deficit and bring manufacturing jobs back home.  There has been virtually no progress.  In May, the deficit in manufactured goods fell just $1 billion shy of the record deficit of $75.8 billion set in December, 2018.  Trump has squandered his term with making fruitless deals.  The deficit with Mexico is worse than ever, hitting a record in March.  The progress made in reducing the deficit with China (through the implementation of tariffs) was offset by increases in other countries, most notably Vietnam and Mexico, and that progress ground to a halt with the signing of the “Phase 1 Trade Deal.”  There’s been absolutely zero progress in reducing the deficit with the EU.  To date, there hasn’t even been an attempt.

Trump needs to kill the “Phase 1” deal now and extend the tariffs across the board to all Chinese products to demonstrate that he’s still committed to the “MAGA” promise if he’s to have any hope of being re-elected.  Far too much time has been wasted, but it’s not too late.


How Population Density Drives Trade Imbalances

June 15, 2020

Now that an analysis of America’s 2019 trade results has revealed that population density is the biggest factor in driving our trade imbalance – just as we’ve seen in every year previous – it’s time for an explanation of how that happens.  How is it that something that seems so unrelated to the economy and trade can have such a dramatic effect, dwarfing the effect of other parameters that would seem to be more influential – things like wages, currency exchange rates, productivity and so on?

Population density is, by far and away, the single most dominant parameter in the field of economics, but one that goes unrecognized by economists because of their cowardly refusal to give any consideration to the subject.  The reason for that dates back to the mocking of economists by other academics in the wake of the seeming failure of the theories of economist Malthus regarding population growth.

The density of the population in which you live has an enormous impact on your ability to consume products.  That impact varies depending on the product in question.  In the case of food, there’s no impact at all.  Everyone needs to consume a certain amount of calories each day to survive.   At the other end of the spectrum, the impact on the consumption of housing, or dwelling space, is huge.  For example, the average citizen in Japan – a nation ten times more densely populated than the U.S. – lives in a dwelling space that’s less than one third the size of the average American.  When people are packed together so tightly, there’s simply no room for anything else.  So the average Japanese citizen’s consumption of everything used in building, furnishing and maintaining a home is less than one third of the average American’s.  Actually, it’s even worse than that when you realize that a much greater percentage of Japanese families occupy multi-family housing, like apartments.  In those cases, walls and foundations are shared, ceilings become floors for the apartment above, etc.

The effect on every single product you can imagine is to reduce its per capita consumption.  Cars?  There’s no room to drive or park them for most people in Japan.  You’ve all seen news stories of Japanese trains carrying commuters literally packed together so tightly that they can barely breathe.

Boats?  In spite of the fact that Japan is an island nation, their per capita consumption of boats is close to zero.  The same is true for Denmark, a nation consisting of one large peninsula and many islands, but which is also very densely populated.

Lawn care and gardening equipment?  On a per capita basis, lawns and gardens virtually don’t exist in Japan.  Sporting goods?  There’s little room for golf or tennis or anything else that requires much real estate.  Even things like electronics are affected, since such cramped quarters as you find in places like Japan force people to share them.

So you get the idea.  A dense population absolutely strangles per capita consumption.  On the other hand, when someone in Japan (or China, or Germany, or South Korea, or any densely populated nation) goes to work, they are every bit as productive as an American worker.  It takes no more or less labor to manufacture something, like a car, for example, in Japan than it does in America.

People make things and people buy things and that, in a nutshell, is what makes an economy tick.  But what happens if people aren’t able to buy as much as they’re able to make?  Now you have a situation where the supply and demand for labor are out-of-balance.  Less demand for labor translates into higher unemployment.  Higher unemployment means lower wages for everyone, and it necessitates greater government spending to provide a safety net for the unemployed.  It’s a recipe for disaster for any nation’s economy.

However, there’s an escape mechanism for nations that find themselves in this fix.  They can put their excess labor capacity to work making products for export.  Of course, that requires a trading partner who’s willing to share their market.  If that partner has a shortage of labor – perhaps because they are very sparsely populated and lack the labor force needed to manufacture everything they need – then it can be a beneficial situation, one that is likely financed by the sparsely populated nation selling natural resources like food, oil, lumber, minerals, etc. to the densely populated partner.

But what if that trading partner isn’t sparsely populated and has no shortage of labor?  To welcome imports from that densely populated nation will inevitably put its own people out of work and create a big trade deficit.  It’s absolutely inescapable.  The densely populated nation won’t buy products from the less densely populated nation in equal measure because they can’t even consume their own domestic manufacturing capacity, much less take in more from other countries.

Either a densely populated nation sustains its economy by manufacturing for export, or it lapses into abject poverty because of extreme unemployment.  Look around the world and you’ll see that this is true, although I should point out that there are a couple of exceptions.  Many small island nations, though they tend to be densely populated, maintain vibrant economies that are based on tourism.  And some small but densely populated nations have oceans of oil beneath their feet and trade that oil for all the other products its citizens require.  But these are the exceptions.  Any densely populated nation of any size is either dirt poor or is totally dependent on manufacturing for export.   Attempting to trade freely with such nations is economic suicide.  A big trade deficit and a loss of manufacturing jobs is inevitable.

What is the point of trade policy that only serves to erode our economy?  The purpose of trade is to make available products that can’t be obtained domestically.  For a nation like the U.S. – big and rich in resources – there isn’t much we need.  Tropical fruits, out-of-season produce, and a few rare minerals are examples.  But manufactured products?  There are none that we can’t make domestically and more efficiently, especially when you factor in the five billion barrels of oil burned annually by ships bringing in products from half-way around the world.  It makes absolutely no sense.

Tariffs are the only remedy available to maintain a balance of trade.  Trade deals don’t work, because there is no motivation for a nation dependent on manufacturing for export to abide by them.  The reduction in the trade deficit with China is proof that they work.  Those tariffs need to be expanded to include all Chinese imports, not just half of them like we have now.  Beyond that, their implementation needs to be spread to other densely populated nations that prey on the American market to sustain their bloated labor forces – Germany, South Korea, Ireland, Vietnam and other Asian and European nations.

Virtually every problem in America, beyond unemployment and low wages, in which a lack of funding is a factor, can ultimately be traced back to our trade deficit – inadequate funding of schools, neglected infrastructure maintenance and improvements, inner city blight, health care – the list can go on and on.  Ultimately, the federal budget deficit and national debt can be attributed to the federal spending needed to offset the financial drain of the trade deficit.

And still economists keep their heads in the sand and insist that population growth plays no role in economics.


China Fails to Meet “Phase 1 Trade Deal” Goals Again in April

June 5, 2020

As I predicted at the outset, the “Phase 1” trade deal with China, formalized by President Trump and Chinese dictator Xi in early January, is proving to be a total waste of time in the push toward achieving a balance of trade with China.  Once again in April, as it has done every month so far, China has not only failed to live up to its promises to increase imports of American goods, it hasn’t even met the baseline of matching its 2017 imports of U.S. goods.  Here’s the table I created to track their progress, updated through April (the most recent data available):  Phase 1 China Trade Deal 2020 YTD.  Their imports were up very slightly in April, but are still well short of even the 2017 baseline.

What are working well are the tariffs on Chinese imports which Trump was smart enough to leave in place until China demonstrated its sincerity in abiding by the “Phase 1” trade deal.  Imports from China remain approximately 40% below their 2018 level.  Through the first third of 2020, the trade deficit with China is on track to fall to its lowest level in ten years.  Had Trump not implemented the “Phase 1” deal and instead had enacted across-the-board tariffs on all Chinese imports, as he was on the verge of doing before signing the deal, we may very well have been on track to wipe out the deficit with China altogether.

Trade deals don’t work.  Tariffs do.  We have no control over exports because we have no control over what other countries are willing to buy from us.  But tariffs give us total control over imports – what we buy from them.  Trade policy should be the simplest policy that any president deals with, yet every one of them makes it as complicated as possible.  We make the same mistakes over and over and American workers pay the price.  It makes me sick.