Trade and Globalization

Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement: Job Claims Are Pure Baloney

The Senate Finance Committee held hearings this week on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The committee chair, Sen. Max Baucus, claimed that the TTIP could boost U.S. exports to the EU by a third, adding “more than one hundred billion dollars annually to U.S. GDP,” and that it “could support hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the United States.” The statement is remarkable for its sheer audacity in the face of massive evidence of the failure of similar deals to deliver promised benefits. U.S. trade with Mexico after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has cost the United States nearly 700,000 jobs through 2010. U.S. trade with China has certainly failed to deliver on the promised benefits of growing exports. Since that country entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the U.S. has lost 2.7 million jobs through 2011 due to growing trade deficits with China. And the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) has also resulted in growing trade deficits with that country and the loss of more than 40,000 U.S. jobs. Most of the trade-related job losses are concentrated in manufacturing, and growing trade deficits are responsible for a large share of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment over the past fifteen years.

Using estimates of changes in two-way trade between the U.S. and the EU under the agreement reveals that TTIP is projected to result in a growing U.S. trade deficit with the EU and the loss of at least 71,000 additional U.S. jobs. Senator Baucus, citing advice from Benjamin Franklin, advises the U.S. to “jump quickly at opportunities.” When it comes to evaluating trade deals, Congress and the public would be better served by the common law principle of ‘Caveat Emptor,’ or, let the buyer beware. Congress has a duty to perform their due diligence in evaluating proposed trade and investment agreements before jumping at the next “great deal.” In particular, members should note that Sen. Baucus’s claims that the TTIP “could support hundreds of thousands of new jobs” are pure baloney.

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We Can Do Something to Spur a More Rapid Recovery—Combat Foreign Currency Manipulation

People wrongly think the economy is like the weather, a natural force outside of our control. So thinking about problems like high unemployment and declining wages leave people feeling hopeless because they seem to result from large historic forces that we can’t affect like globalization.

The truth, however, is that the economy isn’t like the weather: It’s entirely man-made and the rules are set by politics, not God or nature. Globalization is real, but the terms of globalization—the rules for how the internationalization of trade and production operates and affects workers and companies—are set by politicians and the organizations they’ve created through international treaties. We can change those rules and shape globalization so it does less harm to working people in the United States and around the world.

One of those rules changes would prevent companies from manipulating their currencies to make their exports cheaper while simultaneously making goods imported from other countries more expensive. China, Japan, and other countries have done this for years, buying hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars to weaken their own currencies and making it cheaper and easier to export goods to the United States. This strategy has been very successful, and together, China, Singapore, Taiwan and several other countries, including Japan, export hundreds of billions of dollars more to the United States in manufactured goods than we send to them, leaving us with a huge trade deficit that costs jobs and undermines wages here. The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that foreign currency manipulation has cost the United States between one million and five million jobs.

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New York Times Op-ed Blames the Victims of Detroit’s Decline

So much is wrong in Stephen Richter’s NYT op-ed today, called “What Really Ails Detroit,” starting with his grossly inaccurate timeline. Richter says Detroit’s (and the United States’) “day of reckoning” came in the 1970s when American car manufacturers began facing competition on their home soil for the first time. That’s 20 years after the Big 3 started to abandon Detroit for the suburbs and Detroit began to hemorrhage its white population. As I said in an earlier blog post, “Between 1947 and 1958, the Big Three built twenty-five new plants in the Detroit metropolitan area, all of them in suburban communities, most more than fifteen miles from the center city. As the jobs moved away, so did the city’s residents. From 1.85 million in 1950, the city’s population declined to 1.62 million in 1960 and 1.51 million in 1970.” That’s a loss of more than 300,000 residents in two decades. The exodus of white residents (the entire decline was accounted for by whites, since the number of black residents increased), of jobs, and of wealth has never stopped. Detroit now has a population under 700,000, but the white population has declined by more than 1.4 million since 1950.

What ails Detroit is not the skills gap that Richter posits, but abandonment by its white population and by the owners of capital, starting with the auto industry, but including retail corporations, insurance companies and almost everyone else who had previously invested in the city. Detroit’s unemployment rate is the highest of any of the 50 largest cities because almost no one is investing there. When corporations do invest, as Chrysler did with its new Jefferson North assembly plant, they will find plenty of employees with the skills to make manufacturing a success again.

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Once Again, American Manufacturing Suffers from Lots of Things, but Excess Blue-Collar Pay Isn’t One of Them

In a NYT column today titled “What Really Ails Detroit,” Stephen Richter repeats a common story much beloved by serious-sounding pundits who don’t know much economics: that the thirty year run of broadly-shared growth after World War II was only possible because of “the absence…of any real competition from other nations,” and that American workers’ troubles since then are their own fault for not getting smart enough to compete on the global stage. He asserts that even as this international competition increased, “companies like General Motors continued to shower blue-collar workers with handsome pay and benefits,” hobbling their ability to compete, even as they refused to upskill sufficiently to compete in the global economy.

This narrative is really common—common enough to see if it holds up to any serious data scrutiny.

Start with claims that excessive blue-collar pay destroyed manufacturing.  For a paper examining those claims, check this out (pdf). Spoiler alert: it’s not. Inflation-adjusted hourly wages for production workers in U.S. manufacturing peaked in 1978 and were about 8 percent lower in 2007, while manufacturing productivity rose by well over 100 percent in that period.

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Complacent Consensus on China

This piece originally ran in the Huffington Post.

Within the next few years, China will surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy.

Anticipating the impact of this milestone on our national psyche, the US policy class has been assuring Americans that there is nothing to worry about. Hardly a week goes by without a major media story suggesting China is an economic paper tiger: its economy is imbalanced, its leaders are corrupt, its banks are over extended, etc. Anyway, the stories routinely note, it will be decades before China catches up to us in per capita income.

Yet in the balance of global power, size matters. Many countries have higher per capita incomes than the United States (e.g., Norway, Qatar, Singapore). It is the large scale of the American economy that has made us the dominant political power in the world. Our big economy supports a big military, foreign aid, and allows policymakers to use access to our huge consumer and financial markets to buy allies and votes in the UN.

Unfortunately, it has also allowed us to borrow from the rest of the world to finance a chronic trade deficit. China, with whom we have the largest deficit, is as a consequence our largest creditor, holding over $1.2 trillion in US IOUs.

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Hope and Cash, Investment and Policy: Jeep and the Future of Detroit

I just finished complaining in an earlier blog that the media wasn’t telling enough manufacturing and supply chain stories when Bill Vlasic proved me wrong with his piece on Chryslers’ Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit: Last Car Plant Brings Detroit Hope and Cash.

Only two days later, the City of Detroit filed for the nation’s largest ever municipal bankruptcy. “Hope and cash” suddenly sounded like too little too late. It’s not. In fact, the story suggests what it takes to make recovery work.

We can all picture a Jeep. But Vlasic’s piece gives the new Jeep Grand Cherokee a powerful backstory:

“There is a section of Detroit’s east side that sums up the city’s decline, a grim landscape of boarded-up stores, abandoned homes and empty lots that stretch all the way to the river.

And in the middle of it stands one of the most modern and successful auto plants in the world.” 

The article paints a picture of today’s high-quality, high-tech manufacturing that can’t be underscored enough: making 300,000 vehicles a year with $2B a year in profit, the unionized Detroit facility is “on par with the most efficient luxury car plants in Germany and the best factories operated by Japanese automakers in the southern United States.” It’s a positive story for the auto industry and for Detroit: jobs at the plant have more than tripled, from 1,300 to 4,600, a third of employees live in the city, and its property taxes send $12 million a year to the city coffers.

Calling it the “last car plant” in Detroit is a bit misleading, however. Not only is GM’s Hamtramck facility arguably within the city limits, as are two engine plants, but from an industrial perspective, Chrysler’s plant is hardly alone. It is part of a huge cluster of automotive parts and assembly facilities in the greater Detroit area that still make up a significant share of US manufacturing output. If we’re going to bridge the gap between the auto industry’s recovery and Detroit’s, it would be more helpful to think of Jefferson North as a leader in a new generation.

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Does Value-Added Trade Have Any Implications for Trade Policy?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have reported that significant portions of China’s exports to the United States contain non-Chinese value added, including some small fraction of parts and materials originating in the United States. The OECD and WTO have proposed new estimates of trade in value-added (VA), a measure of trade that is net of foreign value-added. They claim that “China’s bilateral trade surplus with the United States shrinks by 25% on a value-added basis, reflecting the high level of foreign-sourced content in Chinese exports.” But, my new EPI report shows that the OECD-WTO analysis is “fundamentally flawed and should not be used in anti-dumping or other types of fair trade cases.”

The OECD-WTO analysis suffers from at least three critical flaws:

  • The OECD-WTO analysis fails to account for rapid technological change and the fact that China is rapidly moving up the value chain and increasing the domestic content of its exports.
  • The OECD relies, in part, on flawed Chinese data on its own trade flows. Estimates developed in the EPI report show that China’s global trade surplus was 117 percent to 250 percent (i.e., 2 to 3.5 times) larger than reported by China in the 2005-2009 period.
  • The OECD-WTO estimates do not accurately reflect the flow of Chinese exports coming into the United States through third countries. China became the world’s largest exporter in 2006, and roughly half of its exports are intermediate products and transshipped goods. As a result, the United States absorbed $54.2 billion to $77.9 billion per year in additional, indirect imports originating in China and imported from the rest of the world between 2005 and 2009 that were not reflected in the OECD estimates. When indirect imports are included, U.S. VA trade with China exceeds conventional measures of the gross bilateral trade deficit in this period.

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Kerry drinks the trade Kool-Aid, but trade agreements do NOT create jobs

Secretary of State John Kerry bought into the hype around trade in a speech this week in Paris when he claimed that the proposed U.S.–EU trade and investment agreement could help Europe emerge from the economic crisis. Kerry claimed that the proposed U.S.–EU trade agreement “may be one of the best ways of helping Europe to break out of this cycle [and] have growth.” As I’ve explained before, trade agreements do not create jobs. This is not some proprietary EPI view on trade – it is a standard view straight out of economics text books.

The issue is simple: it is trade balances—the net of exports and imports—that can affect jobs. Unless trade agreements promise to reduce our too-high trade deficit, they will have no positive effect on jobs. Even worse, past trade agreements have actually been associated with larger trade deficits in their aftermath.

This is mainstream (neo-classical) trade theory, as explained by Paul Krugman in “Trade Does Not Equal Jobs.” Responding (in 2010) specifically to claims that the Korea–U.S. trade agreement could be a driver of recovery, he pointed out that in macroeconomic terms, the United Sates had too little spending on domestically-produced goods and services, with spending defined by:

Y = C + I + G + X –M

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Manufacturing employment: Nothing to see here, move along…

Dylan Matthews at Wonkblog posts a graph from Robert Lawrence and Lawrence Edwards that purports to show manufacturing employment declines are simply a capitalist inevitability. It’s essentially this graph:

image001

So, if manufacturing employment is always shrinking as a share of overall employment, the implicit argument is that nothing– say very large trade deficits that characterized the past decade and a half in the American economy – can really affect this trend one way or the other.Read more

Is Japan really ready for free trade?

The U.S. trade deficit with Japan has increased steadily over the past four years, reaching $79.9 billion in 2012, an increase of $13.4 billion (20.2 percent) over the 2011 bilateral deficit of $66.5 billion. Two of the most important causes of persistent U.S.-Japan trade deficits are currency manipulation and Japan’s vast and impenetrable network of non-tariff trade barriers. Last month, the United States and Japan agreed on language that could allow Japan to join negotiations to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free trade agreement with 10 other Asia-Pacific countries (a new round of negotiations on the TPP began in Singapore last week ). Unless Japan is willing to end its currency manipulation and informal trade barriers once and for all, it should not even be allowed to participate in the TPP negotiations.

The effect of trade flows on U.S. jobs is relatively straightforward: exports support U.S. jobs but the larger volume of imports displaces even more jobs. Trade deficits such as the one we have with Japan have cost the United States millions of jobs, most of them high-paying jobs in manufacturing. Signing trade deals is an ineffective way to create jobs, in large part because they usually result in higher trade deficits. Further, trade deals have traditionally not included effective means to deal with one of the biggest causes of our trade deficits: currency manipulation by our trading partners, which acts as an artificial subsidy to other countries’ exports, and a tax on U.S. exports. Japan has a history of currency manipulation, and recently-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe campaigned on his intention to stimulate the Japanese economy, in part by weakening the yen. Financial markets have responded to Mr. Abe’s wishes, and the yen has declined 18.8% since October, falling to 96 yen per dollar on March 12, 2013.1Read more

Obama and Abe should address currency manipulation and Japanese trade barriers

When President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Abe meet on Friday, currency manipulation and Japan’s unfair trade policies must be addressed. The Yen has declined 13% in the past three months, in part because Mr. Abe has pledged to weaken monetary policy to spur growth. A weaker Yen lowers the cost of Japanese imports in the U.S. and raises the cost of U.S. exports in Japan and other countries where our products compete. While a more expansionary domestic monetary policy is an appropriate tool for a country stuck far below economic potential because of demand shortfalls, Japan has also displayed a historic pattern of intentionally lowering the value of their own currency vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar by buying U.S. denominated assets. Because the first-order effect of this direct currency manipulation is to create demand for Japan at the expense of the U.S., which is also currently starved of demand, this is not responsible policy for a country as large and important in global trade markets as Japan.

Currency manipulation is the single most important cause of growing U.S. trade deficits and Japan has a well established reputation as a currency manipulator. Japan has expressed a desire to join the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional free-trade agreement with 10 other countries.  The TPP should include language to end currency manipulation by Japan and other trading partners.  Elimination of currency manipulation by China, Japan and other countries could create 2.2 to 4.7 million jobs, expand U.S. GDP and reduce the federal deficit, according to a recent EPI report.

The U.S. trade deficit with Japan increased from $66.4 billion in 2011 to $79.9 billion in 2012, an increase of $13.4 billion (20.2 percent).1 Growing trade deficits lead to job losses and growing unemployment or weaker growth in the United States.Read more

Signing trade deals is a terrible jobs strategy

As part of his proposals to spur job growth, President Obama promised in last night’s State of the Union address to complete negotiations on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with at least eight other countries in Asia and Latin America), and announced new talks on a comprehensive FTA with the European Union. This is a shame, because chronically high unemployment is a real crisis, while trade agreements are a fake solution.

The issue is simple: it is trade balances – the net of exports and imports – that can affect jobs. Unless trade agreements promise to reduce our too-high trade deficit, they will have no positive effect on jobs. Even worse, past trade agreements have actually been associated with larger trade deficits in their aftermath.

This is not some proprietary EPI stance on trade – the economics textbook teaches that, as Paul Krugman has summarized, “Trade Does Not Equal Jobs.”Read more

What we read today

The president can end currency manipulation with the stroke of a pen, halving the U.S. trade deficit and creating millions of jobs

Five years after the start of the great recession nearly nine million jobs are still needed to return to full employment.  And as the Administration lays the groundwork for its second term, job creation should be goal number one.  Under existing authority, the President can execute one simple policy that would create 2.2 to 4.7 million jobs over the next three years:  End currency manipulation by a handful of countries, especially China.  This policy would boost GDP, reduce unemployment and, in budgetary terms cost nothing. It would, in fact, substantially reduce the federal deficit.  No other policy could achieve this jobs trifecta.

Over the past fifteen years rising trade deficits have devastated U.S. manufacturing employment. Since April 1998, the United States has lost 5.7 million manufacturing jobs, nearly a third of manufacturing employment and most of those job losses were due to the growing U.S. trade deficit.  Although half a million manufacturing jobs have been added since 2009, a full manufacturing recovery requires greatly increasing exports relative to imports.  While exports support domestic job creation, imports (and growing trade deficits) eliminate domestic jobs.  Although the overall U.S. trade deficit declined slightly last year, the trade deficit in manufactured products increased by $44.7 billion in 2012.  This growing manufacturing trade deficit is a threat to manufacturing employment and the overall recovery.

Currency manipulation, which distorts trade flows by artificially lowering the cost of imports to the U.S. and raising the cost of U.S. exports, is the single most important cause of these growing trade deficits. Halting global currency manipulation by making it illegal for China and other currency manipulators to purchase U.S. Treasury bills and other government assets is the best way to reduce the U.S. trade deficit, create jobs, and rebuild the economy.Read more

Apple’s own data reveal 120,000 supply-chain employees worked excessive hours in November

To its credit, Apple is now posting monthly information tracking the extent to which employees in its supply chain are working less than its standard of 60 hours per week. The introductory language to this information states: “Ending the industry practice of excessive overtime is a top priority for Apple in 2012.” The accompanying graph itself, however, contains data from Jan. 2012 through Nov. 2012 and suggests otherwise. Not only has Apple failed to end this practice, but progress has significantly reversed in recent months.

Apple’s code of supplier conduct sets a maximum work week of 60 hours, with an exception clause, discussed below. Eyeballing Apple’s graph indicates (Apple only provides a specific number for November, so visual approximation is necessary):

  • In Jan. 2012, about 16 percent of the workers in Apple’s supply chain worked more hours than Apple’s maximum standard. This proportion diminished through August, when approximately 3 percent of these workers had work weeks that exceeded this standard.
  • But the proportion of workers meeting the standard dropped precipitously since then, presumably reflecting the increased intensity of work to produce and meet iPhone 5 demand.
  • In November, 12 percent of the workers in Apple’s supply chain that are being tracked worked more than the 60-hour standard. This was the worst monthly compliance rate of the year, with the exception of January. More than one million workers are being tracked by Apple, so the 12 percent translates to more than 120,000 workers in their supply chain working excessive hours. Read more

Don’t be fooled by Apple’s PR: Workers strike against sweatshop conditions

Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) reports that on Jan. 10, workers at one of Foxconn’s China plants (in Fengcheng, Jiangxi Province) went on strike. The factory produces Apple’s iPhone connector and products for other companies. SACOM suggests the strike resulted from the sweatshop working conditions at the plant, poor pay, lack of union representation, health and safety violations, and general lack of respect for the workers. The resulting protest by more than 1,000 workers was met with a harsh crackdown, with water cannons and physical violence apparently used against the strikers. SACOM notes the contrast between the ongoing harsh conditions reported by workers and the often-rosy public relations campaign by Foxconn and Apple.

This report deserves careful attention. SACOM is a Hong Kong-based NGO that has enlisted workers in Apple’s Foxconn factories to report on life and work inside the giant complexes. It is the most credible source of information about conditions in Apple’s manufacturing plants in China. SACOM was the organization that first revealed the wave of suicides at Foxconn, the construction of suicide nets, Apple’s use of underage students on its production lines, the continuing use of students compelled to work at Foxconn under threat of being kicked out of school, grossly excessive overtime, and many other abuses.

NYT story emphasizes Apple’s positive statements, obscures ongoing labor abuses

The New York Times and the reporters of its Dec. 26 story—“Signs of Changes Taking Hold in Electronics Factories in China”—deserve much credit for raising the profile of the abusive conditions faced by the workers making Apple products, helping to spur promises of reform. But the latest story, while portraying internal changes at Apple that could lead to reforms and describing the possibility that Apple and its competitors may advance a new manner of operating globally, provides surprisingly little evidence or analysis of the degree to which improvements have been made. It thus never gets to the heart of the matter: So far, Apple’s pledges of sweeping change have not been matched by major reforms in working conditions.

The vision

The vision painted by the story is one labor advocates, and presumably many Apple customers, share. When it comes to working hours, compensation, and other working conditions, Apple’s main supplier Foxconn will make the reforms necessary to raise standards dramatically, leading to a “ripple effect that benefits tens of millions of workers across the electronics industry.”

As ostensible evidence of Apple’s leadership and commitment to that vision, the article notes, for example, that Apple has hired 30 new staff members for its social responsibility unit and put two respected and influential former Apple executives in charge. The article also notes earlier and recent statements from Apple and Foxconn pledging to accomplish a great deal for factory workers.

The reality

The article is surprisingly thin, however, when it comes to assessing whether this vision is being fulfilled. The report includes a long vignette about the new, comfortable work chair provided to one Foxconn employee (in which the reporters argue that this helped lead her to view her job and her life prospects in a positive new manner). At other points, the article refers to some reductions in work hours, some safety improvements, a partial Foxconn response to ending the abuses of student interns, and some wage improvements. If all this sounds kind of fuzzy, that’s because it is. Read more

The 15 worst economic ideas of 2012

In the interest of cobbling together random listicles to drive traffic to our website continuing our efforts to educate everyone about the good and bad of economic policy and analysis, here’s our list of some of the silliest economic ideas of 2012. There is a strong fiscal theme to these, which is predictable, as the “fiscal cliff” is one of the most written-about, yet least well-understood, economic policy issues in recent memory.

First, all the bad ideas about the so-called “fiscal cliff”:

  1. The problem posed by the “fiscal cliff” is one of too much debt
  2. The “cliff” is a big monolith that we either go over or we don’t
  3. The “cliff” is mostly about the upper-income Bush tax cuts
  4. The economy goes over the “cliff” on Jan. 1
  5. The debt ceiling is one of the issues that must be resolved in debates about the “cliff”
  6. Resolving the “cliff” requires a deal on long-term debt reduction
  7. Financial markets will punish us for not striking a grand bargain to defuse the “cliff”

Ideas not directly about the “cliff,” but still bad and still related to fiscal policy:

  1. You can’t tax the rich enough to make a dent in the deficit
  2. Raising the Medicare eligibility age is a good idea for deficit reduction
  3. Switching to a “chained” consumer price index to calculate the Social Security cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) is a technical improvement
  4. Contractionary fiscal policy might actually not be contractionary
  5. Only defense spending and tax cuts provide a boost to the economy
  6. We’ll “turn into Greece” if we don’t reduce deficits

And just because even non-fiscal issues can lead to bad economic ideas, we introduce two hardy perennials of non-fiscal related economic myths:

  1. The economy’s real problem is a skills gap
  2. The Federal Reserve is risking inflation in its efforts to help the U.S. economy Read more

What we read today

Here’s a sampling of links that EPI’s research team found insightful today:

Did NAFTA raise U.S. incomes? Not for most

The normally-useful Wonkblog potentially leads some readers this past weekend to the wrong by pointing to a recent study on the effects of NAFTA and concluding:

“This is the pattern generally with trade liberalization. All else being equal, all parties tend to benefit, but developing countries benefit most.” [Emphasis added]

If by “parties” they mean “countries,” then this is roughly right. If by “parties” they mean “people,” then this is really wrong.

See here (and here if you really have some time to kill), but the rough story is simply that for the U.S., expansions of trade with poorer trading partners should be expected to raise national income while still lowering wages for most American workers. Even worse, the higher the national gains from trade, the larger the losses are for most American workers.

Lastly, it’s important to note that the vast majority of economic gains from an agreement like NAFTA for poor countries like Mexico could actually be obtained by Mexico unilaterally. That is, most gains come from countries reducing their own tariffs, not in gaining market access abroad. So, Mexico didn’t need NAFTA to achieve these gains—they could have had them on their own.

One million veterans would benefit from raising the minimum wage to $9.80

After serving our country, many of our nation’s veterans come home to low-wage jobs. In fact, of the more than 9 million veterans in the workforce today, over a million would see their wages go up if Congress were to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012. The bill, introduced by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin in the Senate and Calif. Rep. George Miller in the House, would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.80 per hour in three increases of 85 cents, and then index it to inflation.

A few months ago, we released an analysis of the Harkin/Miller bill that showed that more than 28 million workers nationwide would see a wage increase as a result of the legislation (including the parents of more than 21 million children). Of these 28 million affected workers, roughly 1.1 million are veterans (655,000 directly-affected; 417,000 indirectly-affected)1. Here’s a full demographic profile of affected veterans.

The veteran population that would be affected by raising the minimum wage to $9.80 is similar to the overall population of workers who would be affected by the increase, yet there are a few noticeable differencesRead more

What we read today

Here’s some of the interesting content that EPI’s research team browsed through today:

Heritage Foundation’s view on China trade and jobs is like old wine that’s aged badly

A recent blog post by the Heritage Foundation’s Derek Scissors claims that my estimates of the number of jobs lost due to growing trade deficits with China “are demonstrably wrong.” Scissors then fails to demonstrate how they’re wrong.

That’s because he can’t. The economic models used in our report (Scott 2012, 9, Appendix and note 15) are the gold standard for research on the employment effects of trade, and “all but identical models” have been used in similar studies by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, by Martin Bailey and Robert Lawrence of the Brookings Institution, and in a U.S. Commerce Department study that represents the work of more than 20 government economists including the chief economists from that agency and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

At its core, our model is based on a straightforward application of Keynesian economics and national income accounting, which show that exports stimulate the domestic economy while imports reduce demand for domestic products. Scissors (and many others before him, such as Dan Griswold at Cato and the U.S. China Business Council) claims that imports are good for the economy, in part because they are correlated with growth. But this assertion ignores two fundamental questionsRead more

More reasons why China’s currency should remain a live issue

Paul Krugman and others have recently claimed that Chinese currency manipulation is “an issue whose time has passed.” There are two fundamental problems with these arguments. First, China’s global trade surplus appears to be perhaps three to four times larger than has previously been reported. Second, productivity in China is growing much faster than in the United States and other developed countries and therefore, China’s exchange rate likely needs to appreciate at least 3 to 5 percent per year just to keep its trade surplus from growing. On the first issue—what the size of the Chinese current account surplus and its recent movement tell us about the need for currency realignment—it’s worth noting that most of the decline in China’s global trade surplus since 2008 is explained by the great recession and the sluggish recovery, especially in Europe. However, the U.S. bilateral deficit with China has increased by a third since it bottomed-out in 2009, which has slowed the U.S. recovery.

Further, China’s trade data likely understates its global trade surplus by a significant amount, a problem that has been ignored by officials in the United States, the International Monetary Fund and other international agencies. The IMF relies on self-reported data from each member country. Analysis of trade data from the United Nations shows that China is massively under-reporting its exports. Read more

Not dead yet: Currency management and the need for a more competitive dollar

A number of commenters declare that currency management by our trading partners is an issue “whose time has passed.” At the risk of violating Brad DeLong’s wise rules (Paraphrased: “Mistakes are avoided if you follow two rules: (1) Remember that Paul Krugman is right, and (2) If your analysis leads you to conclude that Paul Krugman is wrong, refer to rule No. 1”), I’m not convinced by claims—even Krugman’s—that this is a dead issue.

Look at one key piece of evidence Krugman presents: the real (inflation-adjusted) appreciation of the yuan in the last year. But, as Krugman himself has said in previous writings on this:

Notice that I didn’t mention the value of the renminbi at all in this account [ed: of China’s currency management]. … You want to keep your eye on the ball: it’s the artificial capital exports that are the driving force here.

We know that the renminbi is grossly undervalued … on a PPE (proof of the pudding is in the eating) basis: the current value of the renminbi is consistent with massive artificial capital export, and that’s that.” [Edited for clarity; I’m pretty sure I haven’t done any (much?) damage to his argument].

So, have the artificial capital exports from China continued? Read more

No, we don’t need China to finance budget deficits

As a follow-up to my earlier post, another issue likely to be raised in tonight’s debate is the issue of federal budget deficits that force us to “borrow from China.” Is this a real problem, and will it hurt if China suddenly decides to stop lending us money?

No and no.

First, rising budget deficits since the Great Recession began have actually been more than financed by rising domestic savings of U.S. households and businesses. In fact, the huge spike in private savings that began in 2007 (see the chart below) is the reason for the Great Recession: households and businesses stopped spending in 2008 and the economy cratered thereafter, cushioned a bit by the rise in government deficits. So, we have not relied on rising borrowing from China to finance the increased budget deficits in recent years, instead the rise in domestic savings has been more than sufficient to cover these.

But what happens if China turns off the spigot and stops trying to buy U.S. Treasuries and other dollar-denominated assets?

This would have two effects. First, the decline in available savings that can be borrowed by American households, businesses, and governments would decline. In normal times, this could bid-up interest rates. Think of interest rates as the price of loanable funds—as the supply of loanable funds falls, the price should be expected (all else equal) to rise. But we’re not in normal times. Instead, the American economy remains characterized by a huge excess of savings over demand for new loans, meaning that there’s no upward pressure on interest rates. Absent this upward pressure on interest rates, no damage would be done if China stopped plowing money into buying dollar-denominated assets.

Second, if China did stop buying U.S. assets, the value of its currency would increase vis-à-vis the dollar, and this would spur U.S. exports, both to China as well as to third-country markets.

So, in regards to China buying the U.S. government’s debt, it’s not only nothing to worry about, it would be better for the U.S. economy if they stopped.

Barry Commoner, visionary environmentalist, teacher and activist dies at 95

Barry Commoner, path-breaking scientist and social activist, passed away yesterday at the age of 95. I was fortunate enough to work for Barry in the late 1970s as a research assistant on two of his books, The Poverty of Power (1976) and The Politics of Energy (1979). Commoner, a botanist and biologist, was a founder of the environmental movement, along with peers such as Rachel Carson (The Silent Spring, 1962) and Margaret Meade. He believed that scientists have an obligation to share scientific information with the general public to enable them to participate in public debate on scientific issues. His work on the effects of nuclear fallout, documented through the collection of baby teeth and reinforced by a petition signed by 11,201 scientists worldwide, provided the scientific foundation for the adoption of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

Commoner also helped establish the roots of today’s BlueGreen Alliance of labor and environmentalists. He first began working with Tony Mazzocchi, a longtime leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers in the 1950s, who collected baby teeth from the children of members of his Long Island local union. Commoner’s work showed the connections between the environmental crisis and social and economic issues such as “poverty, injustice, public health, national security and war,”  and that the roots of the environmental crisis lay in excessive corporate power and flawed systems of production. He argued that only by changing those systems—for example, by replacing nuclear power, coal and oil with renewable energy—could the root causes of our environmental problems be eliminated. Not coincidentally, these same policies would create millions of new domestic jobs, reducing pollution, inequality and our trade deficit simultaneously. As Commoner established in The Closing Circle (1971), the first of his “four laws of ecology” was, “Everything is connected to everything else.” Indeed.

Share of households owning stocks declined over the last decade

The recently released State of Working America, 12th Edition, documents in a variety of ways how the last decade in the United States has been a lost decade for all but the very well-off. One manifestation of this lost decade is the decline in the share of households owning stocks.

First, it’s useful to point out that even with the “401(k) revolution,” a surprisingly small share of households ever held any significant amount of stocks. As the figure shows, at its peak in 2001, just more than half (51.9 percent) of U.S. households held any stock, including stocks held in retirement plans like 401(k)s. Furthermore, many of that 51.9 percent held very small amounts—just over a third (37.8 percent) had total stock holdings of $10,000 or more. (Read this snapshot for more on the “democratization of the stock market” that never actually happened.) And even those modest shares have since lost ground. By 2010, less than half (46.9 percent) of all households had any stock holdings, and less than a third (31.1 percent) had stock holdings of $10,000 or more.

The strong rebound in stocks since 2009 amidst persistently high unemployment highlights the disconnect between Wall Street’s financial markets and most people. The stock market simply has little or no direct financial importance to the majority of U.S. households. Since 1989, the top fifth of households consistently held about 90 percent of stock wealth, leaving approximately 10 percent for the bottom four-fifths of households. If you want to assess how the economy is performing for most households in this country, don’t look to the stock market, look to the labor market, and measures of job opportunities like employment and wage growth.

Social Security, Medicare and life expectancy

Two new studies find that unemployment at older ages may shorten life and that the gap in life expectancy between less and more educated workers is widening. Though neither result may seem surprising, the first is at odds with some previous research, while the second reinforces earlier findings but provides shocking new statistics—notably the fact that the least educated white women have seen their life expectancy at birth fall by five years since 1990, as highlighted in a recent New York Times article.

A seminal paper by Christopher J. Ruhm (2000) found that recessions were associated with lower mortality rates, a counterintuitive result confirmed by later studies. Ann Huff Stevens et al. (2011) identified a possible reason: Reduced employment opportunities in the broader labor market appeared to leave nursing homes better staffed, explaining why the pro-cyclical mortality effect was concentrated among seniors.

In other words, while higher unemployment may be associated with lower mortality, this doesn’t necessarily mean working is bad for your health. Later research focusing on workers who lost their jobs (as opposed to economy-wide unemployment rates) found Read more

What we read today

Here’s some of the thought-provoking content that EPI’s research team came across today: