America’s Worst Trade Partners in 2020

April 2, 2021

In my previous post, we examined the list of America’s biggest trade deficits in 2020 and saw that most of them were with nations that are far more densely populated than the U.S. Clearly, population density was a factor, but the list included nations from around the world that were both big, like China and small, like Vitenam and Ireland just to name a couple.

Today, we’ll look at America’s balance of trade from a different perspective. Which nations, man-for-man, do the most damage to America’s economy by exporting to us more than they import from us – effectively feeding off of America’s economy at America’s expense? In other words, in per capita terms, which nations are our worst trade partners?

Here’s the list of America’s Worst Trade Partners in 2020. If you’re new to this blog, there are couple of big surprises on this list:

  1. You probably expected to see China at the head of this list. In fact, they don’t make the list at all. China ranked 22nd in 2020.
  2. At the top of the list you see Ireland and Switzerland, both of whom are more wealthy than the U.S. If low wages drive trade deficits, as we’re led to believe by economists, then how the heck did two of the world’s most wealthy nations make it to the top of this list?

To understand the reason for these surprises, take a look at the population density of these nations. Of these 20 nations, 17 are more densely populated than the U.S., which has a population density of 93 people per square mile. The average population density of these 20 nations is 526 people per square mile, more than five-and-a-half times that of the United States.

Low wages drive trade deficits? Hardly. Now look at the “purchasing power parity” (or PPP, analagous to wages) of the people of these nations. These are not poor nations. Only four of these twenty nations – Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia – have a PPP below $25,000, which is what the U.S. considers a poverty level for a family of four. Conversely, four of these twenty nations – Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark and Austria – are on a par with, or above, the PPP of the United States, which had a PPP of about $57,000 in 2020. The average for these 20 nations is $41,518.

Also, note that our trade deficit with 18 of these twenty nations is actually accelerating, even our deficits with the two nations at the top of the list who are wealthier than us.

In conclusion, there is a very powerful relationship between population density and the balance of trade evident in this list. Conversely, there appears to be no relationship whatsoever to wealth. This is important. Economists claim that trade deficits are driven by low wages, which is no cause for concern, as those wages will rise with time and restore a balance of trade. Thus, free trade works. But what we’ve seen in this post and the previous one is that this claim is simply not true. Free trade with densely populated nations doesn’t work because trade deficits are driven by population density and will never self-correct, no matter how high wages rise.

If trade imbalances are driven by disparities in population density between two trading partners, then we should see the opposite effect at the other end of the spectrum. We should see trade surpluses with more sparsely populated nations. We’ll take a look at that in my next post.

For an understanding of exactly how population density has such an effect on the balance of trade, read my book, Five Short Blasts, or read my series of posts begining with “Five Short Blasts” Theory Explained, Part 1.


America’s Worst Trade Deficits in 2020

March 29, 2021

Many people – perhaps most – have little understanding of the economic impact of the balance of foreign trade. The best way I can explain it is to use your own checking account as an example. If more money is drawn out of your account than the income that goes into it, then you’re steadily getting poorer and, if kept up long enough, you’ll eventually be broke. Until you reach that point, you create an illusion of prosperity by buying more than you can afford, but it’s just that – an illusion. Your day of reckoning – of financial ruin – is fast approaching.

The United States, just like every other nation, has a national account that’s very much like your checking account. Influxes of money, like income taxes, other federal taxes, tariffs on imports and the money collected from foreign entities for exported goods make us richer. Conversely, outflows are bad – like money spent by the federal government (for defense, domestic programs, etc.) and money spent on importing goods. Those make us poorer.

Therefore, our balance of trade with the rest of the world makes us either richer or poorer, depending on whether it’s a surplus or a deficit. And we’re not just talking about red numbers on some obscure balance sheet deep within the Department of Treasury. A trade deficit hits you directly in the wallet. For every $50,000 increase in the trade deficit, another American’s job is lost. If it wasn’t your job, you’re still hit in the wallet when an ever-growing number of unemployed compete for your job and put downward pressure on your wages. Do the math. Since our last balance of trade in 1975, the deficit in manufactured goods has grown by $1 trillion. Divided by $50,000, that’s a loss of 20 million high-paying manufacturing jobs. The downward pressure on wages has been enormous.

With all that said, let’s take a look at how we did in 2020. Each year I think to myself that America’s trade picture couldn’t get worse, but each year it does. The year 2020 was no different. If anything, our downward spiral accelerated. Our deficit in manufactured goods came in at $911 billion, blowing past the “old” record of $831 billion set only one year earler. Which countries were our worst trading partners? Here’s the list: America’s 20 worst trade deficits in 2020.

First of all, look at the total deficit for these twenty countries. It was $1.001 trillion. That’s more than America’s trade deficit with the entire world. In fact, our entire trade deficit is due to our deficit with only the top twelve nations on this list. Think about that. Take away those twelve nations, and the U.S. enjoys a balance of trade with the other 216 nations of the world.

Now look more closely at the list. It’s no surprise to see China at the top. They’ve been there for at least the last fifteen years. What is a surprise is that the deficit with China fell precipitously in 2020, from a record high of $416 billion in 2018. Why? Because of the 25% tariffs that the Trump administration imposed on half of all Chinese imports. It’s proof that tariffs work.

Unfortunately, those tariffs on Chinese imports also explain, at least in part, the explosive growth in the deficit with other nations, most notably Vietnam. Companies scrambled to move their manufacturing operations out of China to avoid the tariffs. Trump should have applied the tariffs to these other countries as well, leaving companies no alternative but to bring their manufacturing back to America.

Note that most of the nations on this list are actually quite wealthy, high-wage nations, on a par with the U.S. (Ireland and Switzerland are even wealthier.) This casts doubt on economists’ claim that low wages are the driving force behind trade deficits. So if low wages don’t drive trade imbalances, what does? The list includes nations both very large and very small, and nations from Europe, Asia and Central America. Is there something that these nations have in common – something that should be factored into our trade policy to return us to a balance of trade?

Indeed there is. Look at the population density of the nations on this list and note that all but one (Sweden) are more densely populated than the United States, which has a population density of 94 people per square mile. Most are far more densely populated. The average population density of the nations on this list is six times greater than the U.S. There clearly seems to be a relationship between population density and balance of trade. But why? What is it that makes people who live in more crowded conditions poor trade partners for the United States?

We need to look at this more deeply. We need to factor out other variables, like the sheer size of nations, which puts China at the top of this list with a deficit three times bigger than the next nation on the list – Mexico – which is only one tenth the size of China in terms of population. In my next post, we’ll sort the nations of the world by population density and see how their balance of trade with the U.S. stacks up.


In a test of Biden’s backbone, China reneges on trade deal.

March 10, 2021

Under a threat by the U.S. to expand its 25% tariffs to all Chinese imports, In January of 2020, China signed the “Phase 1” trade deal with the U.S. They agreed to boost their imports of American goods significantly in 2020, followed by an equally large increase in 2021. Very specific goals were set for boosting its imports of manufactured goods, energy products, agriculture products and overall goods. And the consequences for failing to meet those goals were also very specific – extending the 25% tariffs that already were applied to half of all Chinese imports to include the other half.

When it comes to trade, tariffs are the only thing China understands. Those tariffs were devastating for China. Their surplus of trade with the U.S. shrank by roughly 25% as companies abruptly abandoned China and took their manufacturing elsewhere. China was desperate to avoid any more tariffs.

However, based upon America’s long track record of failure to follow through on virtually every trade deal it’s ever negotiated when the terms of the deal weren’t met, China figured the same would happen again. So far, they’re right. Their imports fell far short of the 2020 milestones. Actually, they didn’t just fall short of the 2020 goals. They barely exceeded the 2017 baseline in all four categories of goods. The U.S. didn’t utter a peep of protest.

Now the results for January are in. Their imports of total goods from the U.S. fell 37% short of the goal. Their imports of manufactured goods were 42% short, and their imports of energy products were 71% below the goal. Only their imports of agriculture products were close to the goal, falling only 5% short.

Biden has vowed to continue Trump’s tough stance against China. He has to act. The whole world is watching. This wasn’t some Trump executive order that he can choose to ignore. It’s a signed agreement between the United States and China. If he allows them to thumb their nose at this trade deal, we’ll have zero credibility with the rest of the world regarding trade and beyond. We’ll be seen as a patsy. The U.S. is being economically crushed by our trade deficit, not just with China but with many other nations that prey on the U.S. market to support their bloated labor forces at the expense of American workers. If Biden won’t show some backbone on this critical issue, then no one can take him seriously on anything.


January Trade Deficit: 2021 Off to a Bad Start

March 8, 2021

2020 was, by far, the worst year on record in terms of America’s trade deficit. To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic was a big factor as imports of medical equipment and supplies exploded and COVID stimulus checks, intended to stimulate the U.S. economy, instead were used to purchase a flood of imported goods. Meanwhile, American exports felt the sting of a global economic slowdown. As a result, the goods trade deficit in 2020 was $915.6 billion, all of which – and a little more – was due to the deficit in manufactured goods, which tallied $919 billion. It’s not a stretch to suggest that America’s trade policy was actually a bigger drag on the American economy in 2020 than was the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the pandemic got all of the attention while the media, as usual, barely took notice of the trade deficit.

If January is any indication, don’t look to 2021 for any signs of hope. The report released by the Commerce Department on Friday revealed an overall trade deficit of $68.2 billion in January, the 2nd worst month on record and just $0.8 billion shy of the record set only two months earlier. The deficit in manufactured goods was worse – $86.5 billion, the 3rd worst month on record and just $0.7 billion shy of the record set the previous month. Annualized, the deficit in manufactured goods tops $1 trillion per year.

The only bright spot in the report is China, thanks to the 25% tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on half of all of its goods. The trade deficit with China came in at $310.8 billion in 2020 – bad, but a big improvement over the record of $419 billion set in 2018. In January of this year, the deficit with China was $26.25 billion – an annualized rate of $315 billion.

But even the news on China isn’t all good. I’ll cover how China did relative to the “Phase 1” trade agreement it signed with the U.S. in January, 2020 in my next post.

And there’s more bad news to be found in the January report that I’ll also cover in a subsequent post.


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.