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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Scoring the Trump Trade Plan: Magical Thinking

Marcus Noland at PIIE:

Scoring the Trump Trade Plan: Magical Thinking: Back in the 1970s, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabelle Allende, and other Latin American writers developed a literary style featuring wild juxtapositions and metaphysical leaps that came to be known as magical realism. “Scoring the Trump Economic Plan: Trade, Regulatory, and Energy Policy Impacts (link is external),” by Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross owes much to the genre.

It is a political document. The challenge for the authors is that ... Donald Trump will cost the US government $2.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years. Mr. Trump wants his tax proposal to be “revenue neutral” so his advisors need to fill that hole.

By their own reckoning they come close, finding $2.374 trillion in additional revenue. They do this by imputing positive growth effects to various trade, regulatory, and energy reforms and then calculating the tax raised on these increments to GDP. The imputed trade policy component of additional revenue is $1.74 trillion or almost three-quarters of the projected total. So trade policy is central to the Trump story.

Unfortunately, the thinking that gets them the $1.74 trillion figure is truly magical. The authors observe that between 1947 and 2001 (the good old days, when America was great), the economy grew at 3.5 percent annually. Since then it has grown at an average of 1.9 percent. They allude to the idea that demographics ... might have something to do with it, only to dismiss this explanation. They entirely ignore the ongoing debate about the sources of productivity growth and the possibility that the rate of technological change is slowing. Instead, they focus on trade. Or more specifically, “disastrous” trade agreements.

And how do they get that $1.74 trillion in revenue? They observe that the United States has a $500 billion deficit in merchandise goods and services…and then they make it disappear! (Luis Borges would be proud.) But don’t believe me, here it is in their own words (link is external)

...[long excerpt]...

Maybe it reads better in Spanish.

Economists generally believe that the magnitude of a nation’s trade deficit fundamentally reflects the difference between saving and investment—if you are consuming more than you produce, you run a deficit, if you produce more than you consume you run a surplus. Trade policy can affect the sectoral and geographic composition of the deficit, but in the long run, the trade balance is determined by the saving-investment balance. If you want to lower the nation’s trade deficit, increasing the saving rate, not launching a trade war would be the right place to start. But there is not a word of this in “Scoring the Trump Economic Plan: Trade, Regulatory, and Energy Policy Impacts.” It’s all perfidious foreigners and incompetent trade negotiators instead. Maybe that makes for a better plot. But it does not constitute a persuasive defense of a questionable tax plan or a solution to the trade deficit. Quite the opposite—it’s another instance of the type of magical thinking best reserved for fictional realities.

    Posted by on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 10:03 AM in Economics, International Trade, Politics | Permalink  Comments (8)


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