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November 14, 2006

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John Konop

How Bad Trade Deals are Destroying the Middle Class

This is from “Skeptical Economist”.

So far, our global economic failures show up mainly as discontented workers in areas hard hit by import competition. However, the real problems (and the worker problems are quite real) are considerably worse

The United States as a nation is far from self-sufficient or anything close. Back in Kennedy era, imports and exports were in the range of 4 to 5% of GDP. The US economy was closes to autarkic. These days comparable numbers are imports are 16.22% of GDP and exports are 10.46% of GDP. Per se, there is nothing wrong with trade growing as a percent of GDP. However, the brutal reality is that our nation can no longer pay its bills. Imports of goods are almost double exports of goods. We enjoy a small (and shrinking) surplus on services and are now in deficit for payments (profits received from overseas US investments versus profit earned by foreign investment in the US).

If you could only pay half of your bills, would you think you were doing well? Would that be OK? Might some question of economic failure arise? Wouldn’t virtually every American see it that way? Yet, when it comes to our country, it is somehow OK. Of course, it is not.

If you could only pay half of your bills, your debts would be soaring. Guess what? So are the debts of the United States. Of course, the national debt is growing and more than 50% owned by foreigners. However, the debts of ordinary Americans are rising as well and a growing percentage are owned by foreigners as well.

The trade debate is usually depicted in terms of “cramped, narrow minded, locally oriented protectionists” versus “visionary, open minded, free trading globalists”. This caricature is largely correct. However, that doesn’t mean the protectionists are wrong. With America going broke, they are at least on the right side of the issue..

Thomas Friedman demonstrated again the cluelessness of our elites on trade today. His piece “China: Scapegoat or Sputnik” repeated the usual mantra about education solving our problems. His actual words were “health care, portability of pensions, entitlements, and lifelong learning”. Nice ideas, but will they really help middle aged workers without jobs? No, of course not, but the deeper problem is they won’t fix our trade problems either. We will simply go broke faster. What words were missing? How about “overvalued currency”, “RMB versus the dollar”, “China’s lack of currency flexibility”, etc. All notably missing.

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