Category Archive for: International Trade [Return to Main]

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On The US-Germany Imbalance

Paul Krugman:

On The US-Germany Imbalance: Trump’s tweet on German-US trade was, it goes without saying, deeply stupid and destructive. He obviously doesn’t get how the EU works – it’s a customs union, so there is no such thing as bilateral trade policy. He also thinks that bilateral trade balances are the test of fairness, which is all wrong. Somewhat annoyingly, there is a real issue lurking behind all of this: Germany’s excessive overall surplus, the consequence of inadequate spending and reflation in the aftermath of the euro crisis. But insulting a key ally on obviously fallacious grounds is no way to help with that issue.
But never mind all that. I found myself wondering about the causes of the underlying fact: Germany does indeed have a huge bilateral surplus with the US, exporting about 2.5 times as much to us as we sell in return. ... Why?
Somewhat surprisingly, there’s not a lot of economic literature on the causes of bilateral trade imbalances. Davis and Weinstein (DW) had a nice empirical examination, which concluded that the standard explanations didn’t explain much, that overall there was a lot more imbalance in the world than there “should” be. Still, I think it’s interesting (although maybe not important) to ask what we can say...
As DW say, one theory of imbalances is macroeconomic: countries that save more than they invest will run surpluses... And that’s certainly part of the story. ...
The other story DW tell is about “triangular trade.” .... [explains] ...
But wait, there’s more. I suspect that part of the US-Germany bilateral imbalance is an optical illusion, brought on by transshipment... [explains] ...
Again, the policy relevance is basically nil. But it might be a good idea to have more research on bilateral trade imbalances, if only to make dissing Trump tweets even easier.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Blinder: Why, After 200 Years, Can’t Economists Sell Free Trade? (Video)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump’s “China Deal” is Only a Good Deal for China

Larry Summers:

Trump’s “China deal” is only a good deal for China: The events of the last week have crowded out reflection on economic policy.  But things have been happening. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross described the trade deal reached with China earlier this month as “pretty much a herculean accomplishment….This is more than has been done in the history of U.S.-China relations on trade.”
Past a certain point, exaggeration and hype become dishonesty and deception. In economic policy, as in almost everything else, the Trump Administration is way past that point.
The trade deal is a “nothing burger” that a serious Administration committed to helping American workers would likely not have accepted, and surely would not have hyped. ... [gives details of the agreement] ...
Now it is true that a ludicrously hyped squib of a deal is much better than a trade war. So perhaps we should be pleased that the President and his commerce secretary are so easily manipulated. Perhaps our officials know how bad a deal they got and are just hyping for political reasons.
It is an irony of our times that those who most frequently denounce “fake news” seem to most frequently purvey it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trade, Jobs, and Inequality (Video)


Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist, New York Times columnist, and distinguished professor at the Graduate Center.

David Autor, leading labor economist; professor at MIT, where he directs the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative; and editor in chief of the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Brad DeLong, economics professor at U.C. Berkeley; weblogger for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth; and former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of the treasury, in the Clinton administration.

Anne Harrison, professor at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; former director of development policy at the World Bank; and author of Globalization and Poverty.

Monday, April 17, 2017

U.S. Exporters Could Face High Tariffs without NAFTA

Mary Amiti and Caroline Freund atthe NY Fed's Liberty Street Economics:

U.S. Exporters Could Face High Tariffs without NAFTA: An underappreciated benefit of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is the protection it offers U.S. exporters from extreme tariff uncertainty in Mexico. U.S. exporters have not only gained greater tariff preferences under NAFTA than Mexican exporters gained in the United States, they have also been exempt from potential tariff hikes facing other exporters. Mexico’s bound tariff rates—the maximum tariff rate a World Trade Organization (WTO) member can impose—are very high and far exceed U.S. bound rates. Without NAFTA, there is a risk that tariffs on U.S. exports to Mexico could reach their bound rates, which average 35 percent. In contrast, U.S. bound rates average only 4 percent. At the very least, U.S. exporters would be subject to a higher level of policy uncertainty without the trade agreement. ...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The End of China’s Export Juggernaut

Thomas Klitgaard and Harry Wheeler at the NY Fed's Liberty Street Economics blog:

The End of China’s Export Juggernaut: China has been an exporting juggernaut for decades. In the United States, this has meant a dramatic increase in China’s share of imports and a ballooning bilateral trade deficit. Gaining sales in the United States at the expense of other countries, Chinese goods rose from only 2 percent of U.S. non-oil imports in 1990 to 8 percent in 2000 and 17 percent in 2010. But these steady gains in U.S. import share have stopped in recent years, with China even losing ground to other countries in some categories of goods. One explanation for this shift is that Chinese firms now have to directly compete against manufacturers in high-skill developed countries while also fending off competition from lower-wage countries, such as Vietnam. This inability to make additional gains at the expense of other countries means that exports don’t contribute as much to China’s overall growth as they used to.
Taking the U.S. Market by Storm—And Then, Not so Much
The United States had a merchandise trade deficit of $350 billion with China in 2016, accounting for roughly half of the overall U.S. trade deficit. The import growth of goods from China has been impressive, with imports from China growing at an annual rate of 14 percent since 1990, while total U.S. imports were growing at an annual rate of only 6 percent. That is, China has had great success in selling to the United States by taking market share away from other countries.
A breakdown of U.S. imports into the four largest categories, accounting for roughly two-thirds of the total, demonstrates the source of this success. As seen in the chart below, China’s import shares for apparel, electronics, electric machinery, and non-electric machinery were all fairly high in 2002, the beginning of the data series used here, and continued to increase. In 2002, China accounted for 25 percent of all U.S. apparel imports and 15 percent of all electronics imports. By 2010, these shares were up to 50 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Market-share increases in general machinery and electrical machinery were less dramatic but still substantial over this period, rising by 8 percentage points (to 15 percent) and 11 percentage points (to 35 percent), respectively.

China's Share of U.S. Imports


So which countries were losing market share during this period? In apparel, Mexico’s share of U.S. imports dropped by 7 percentage points and Hong Kong’s slipped by 6 percentage points from 2002 to 2010. South Korea and Taiwan had smaller losses in market share over the same horizon. Japan was the main loser of U.S. import share for other major manufactured goods. For electronics, Japan’s U.S. share fell by 7 percentage points, while 2-percentage-point share declines were reported for South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Canada. For electrical equipment, Japan lost 7 percentage points of the U.S. market, with Germany, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan also losing market share. For non-electric machinery, China’s gains were largely at the expense of goods produced in Japan.
Around 2010, China’s ability to gain market share from other imports faltered. The import share for Chinese apparel has dropped over the past five years, while the share for electronics, by far the largest of the four categories, declined last year. China’s share of the U.S. electric machinery market is showing tentative signs of falling and its gains in the non-electric machinery category have ended.
Limits to China Increasing Its Market Share
It is not a complete surprise that Chinese goods would eventually peak as a share of U.S. imports. To keep increasing their share of the U.S. import market, Chinese firms would need to gain sales by competing more directly against manufacturers in Europe, Japan, and other advanced economies. China would also need to successfully compete against other developing countries with lower labor costs. Indeed, China has been ceding market share to Vietnam for electronics and electrical machinery, while India and Bangladesh have been making gains in apparel. It may be the case that assembly operations are moving from China to lower-wage countries, repeating the process that previously benefited China.
The challenge for China is that its exports to the United States are now only growing as fast as total U.S. imports since its goods are no longer displacing those from other countries. From 2000 to 2010, U.S. imports from China grew at a 20 percent annualized rate. From 2010 to 2016, the rate of growth dropped to 4 percent. This slowdown has also hit China’s exports (in U.S. dollars) to the rest of the world, which slowed from a 21 percent annual growth rate in the 2000-10 period to 5 percent since 2010.
Measuring the Impact of Slower Export Growth Is a Challenge
When evaluating the slowdown in China’s exports, it is important to recognize that trade data measure the value of goods that arrive from a particular country, not that country’s contribution to the item’s value. For example, if a U.S. import from China is largely made of components produced in Japan and assembled in China, then the import data would significantly overstate the revenue that ended up in China from that sale. Cross-border supply chains are motivated, in part, by differences in labor costs, with components manufactured using high-wage labor and the assembly of these parts done in low-wage countries. This processing of components into final goods has been an important attribute of Chinese exports. The chart below shows that exports of such goods peaked in 2000 at almost 60 percent of China’s total exports. So, to the extent that China’s export growth figures reflect trade in processed goods, they overstate the domestic gains China has realized from these export sales when taken at face value.


China: Processing Exports Share of Total Exports


More recently, however, the data show a significant decrease in China’s processing trade amid an overall slowdown in export growth. Processing exports fell to 50 percent of China’s total exports in 2010 and then declined rapidly, hitting 35 percent in early 2017. This transformation partly reflects rising wages in China (as the skill level of its workers increases) and the related migration of assembly operations from China to lower-wage countries. A positive take on these developments is that each dollar of exports now has a larger positive impact on domestic income. The negative take is that China’s much more modest export performance is, in part, due to the loss of processing exports that would have otherwise been a source of income.
Challenge for China
Exports have been a great boost to China’s economic development, with rapid increases in foreign sales helping to transform the economy into a major producer of the world’s manufactured goods. The slowdown in export growth in recent years has been substantial and highlights the difficulties of trying to compete in foreign markets against both high- and low-wage countries. One of the consequences of the end of China’s export boom is that it puts more pressure on domestic demand to sustain the country’s rate of growth.

The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the authors.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Paul Krugman: Trump Is Wimping Out on Trade

“Talk loudly and carry a small stick”:

Trump Is Wimping Out on Trade, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: During the campaign, Donald Trump talked loudly and often about how he was going to renegotiate America’s “horrible trade deals,” bringing back millions of good jobs. So far, however, nothing has happened...
So on Friday the White House scheduled a ceremony in which Mr. Trump would sign two new executive orders on trade. The goal, presumably, was to counteract the growing impression that his bombast on trade was sound and fury signifying nothing.
Unfortunately, the executive orders in question were, to use the technical term, nothingburgers. One called for a report on the causes of the trade deficit; wait, they’re just starting to study the issue? The other addressed some minor issues of tariff collection, and its content apparently duplicated an act President Obama already signed last year. ...
Oh, and last week a draft proposal for revising the North American Free Trade Agreement circulated around Congress; instead of sweeping changes in what candidate Trump called the “worst trade deal” ever signed, the administration appears to be seeking only modest tweaks.
This surely isn’t what working-class Trump supporters thought they were voting for. So why can Trumpist trade policy be summarized — to quote The Times’s Binyamin Appelbaum — as “talk loudly and carry a small stick”? Let me give two reasons.
First, back when Mr. Trump was railing against trade deals, he had no idea what he was talking about. (I know, you’re shocked to hear that.) ...
Which brings me to Trumptrade’s second big obstacle: Whatever you think of past trade agreements, trade is now deeply embedded in the economy. ...
Economists talk, with considerable justification, about the “China shock”: the disruptive effect on jobs and communities of the rapid growth of Chinese exports from the 1990s through 2007. But reversing globalization now would produce an equally painful “Trump shock,” disrupting jobs and communities all over again — and would also be painful for some of the big corporate interests that, strange to say, have a lot of influence in this supposedly populist regime. ...
Mr. Trump came into office talking big, sure that his predecessors had messed everything up and he — he alone — could do far better. And millions of voters believed him.
But governing America isn’t like reality TV. A few weeks ago Mr. Trump whined, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” Now, one suspects, he’s saying the same thing about trade policy.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Why Scrapping NAFTA Would be Trump’s Big Gift to China

Larry Summers:

Why scrapping NAFTA would be Trump’s big gift to China: I was in Mexico Thursday seeing the Mexican president, foreign minister and finance minister and addressing a convention of bankers. The only subjects anyone is interested is the future of NAFTA and U.S. Mexican relations.
I came to Mexico from Beijing, and so I was able to report that there was no greater strategic gift the United States could give China than to abrogate NAFTA and rupture the North American community. ... China apart, NAFTA strengthens the U.S. economy. ...
There is a silver lining in all the fuss over NAFTA — it needs updating. Digital trade didn’t exist in 1993. Thinking has shifted on the need to assure that trade agreements are in worker interests. This means more emphasis on labor standards and more need to ensure that dispute settlement systems do not overly empower corporate interests. Most important, with more competition from Asia and with the increased sophistication of the Mexican economy, there is a strong case for strengthened rules of origin that enhance North American manufacturing.
Changes along these lines may have an “America first” aspect but they are also in Mexico’s interest. They are the right way forward.
It is also essential that the United States and Mexico find a way forward on immigration. A wall is a 19th-century response to a 21st-century concern. I’m told that most illegal immigration does not take place through people crossing open borders in the desert — the only thing a wall could address. Rather it takes place through illegal entry at legal checkpoints as people are smuggled in in freight containers and the like. This will be unaffected by a wall. Technology, data science, enhanced collaboration, and cooperation with respect to Central America are much better ways to resist illegal immigration flows. They are also much more likely to strengthen our alliance with our most populous neighbor.

The Saga of Currency Unions and Trade

Douglas Campbell:

The Saga of Currency Unions and Trade: One of the first full papers I wrote was on currency unions and trade. I was taking Alan Taylor's field course at UC Davis, which was essentially and Open-Economy Macro History course, and the famous Glick/Rose findings that currency unions double trade was on the syllabus. Not to be outdone, Robert Barro and coauthors then found that currency unions increase trade on a 7-fold and 14-fold basis! This raised the prospect that Frenchman may suddenly go out and buy a dozen or more Volkswagens instead of settling for just one after the adoption of the Euro. Another paper, published in the QJE, found that currency unions even raise growth, via trade. In that case, one can only imagine what the Greek economy would look like if they hadn't joined the Euro. No result, it seems, can be too fanciful.
Always a doubting Thomas, I was instantly skeptical. ...
So, I fired up Stata, and after a solid 30 minutess, I discovered part of what was driving the seemingly magical effect. Roughly one-quarter of the CU changes were of countries that had former colonial relationships... It turns out that the impact of the "former colony" dummy in the gravity equation has been decaying slowly over time. This led to a more interesting insight -- that history matters for trade... For other country pairs aside from colonies, there were other problems. ...
In any case, in 2015, I deleted this paper and my regression and code from my webpage, and assigned the paper to my brilliant undergraduate students. They alerted me to the fact that Glick and Rose had recently written a mea culpa, where the authors declared that they could no longer have confidence in the results. ... However, Glick and Rose changed their minds, and decided instead to double-down on a positive, measurable impact of currency unions on trade. This time, they concluded that the Euro has increased trade by a smaller, but still magical, 50%. ... 
In any case, Jeff Frankel at Harvard apparently used to assign his Ph.D.'s students a "search-and-destroy" mission on the original CU effect. Thus, thanks to the fact that Andrew Rose still provides his data online -- for which I'm grateful -- I've just assigned my students a similar mission on the new EMU result. Thus, we get to see if they can overturn anything that the good referees at the European Economic Review may have overlooked. If I were a gambling man, and I am, I would put my money on my sharp undergraduates at the New Economic School over the academic publication process. If I were Croatia, or Greece, contemplating the relative merits of joining/staying in the Euro, I would write off the academic literature on this topic completely. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why All Exchange Rates Are Bad

Tim Taylor:

Why All Exchange Rates Are Bad: The economics of exchange rates can be tough sledding. Every now and then, I post on the bulletin board beside my office a quotation from Kenneth Kasa back in 1995: "If you asked a random sample of economists to name the three most difficult questions confronting mankind, the answers would probably be: (1) What is the meaning of life? (2) What is the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity? and (3) What's going on in the foreign exchange market. (Not necessarily in that order)."

But even after duly acknowledging that exchange rates can be a tough subject, the political discussion of how exchange rates are manipulated and unfair to the US economy is a dog's breakfast of confusions about facts, institutions, and economics. For one of many possible examples, see the op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal last week by Judy Shelton, an economist identified as an adviser to the Trump transition team, titled "Currency Manipulation is a Real Problem." The obvious conclusion to draw from that essay, and from a number of other writing on manipulated exchange rates, is that all exchange rates are bad.

Sometimes other countries have policies that the value of their currency is lower relative to that of the US dollar. This is bad, because it benefits exporters from those countries and helps them to sell against US companies in world markets.

But other times, countries are manipulating the value of the exchange rate so that the value of their currency is higher relative to the US dollar, like China. This is also bad, as Shelton write in the WSJ: "Whether China is propping up exchange rates or holding them down, manipulation is manipulation and should not be overlooked. ... A country that props up the value of its currency against the dollar may have strategic goals for investing in U.S. assets."

Exchanges rates that move are bad, too. Shelton writes that "free trade should be based on stable exchange rates so that goods and capital flow in accordance with free-market principles."
But stable exchange rates are also bad.  After all, China is apparently stabilizing its exchange rate at the "wrong" level, and the argument that exchange rate manipulation is a problem clearly implies that many major exchange rates around the world should be reshuffled to different levels.

The bottom line is clear as mud. Exchange rates are bad if they are higher, or lower, or moving, or stable. The goal is that exchange rates should be manipulated to arrive at some perfect level, and then should just stick at that level without any further manipulation, which would be forbidden. This perspective on exchange rates is so confused as to be incoherent. With the perils of explaining exchange rates in mind, let me lay out some alternative facts and perspectives.

Currencies are traded in international markets; indeed, about $5 trillion per day is traded on foreign exchange markets. This amount is vastly more than what is needed for international trade of goods and services (about $24 trillion per year) or for foreign direct investment (which is about $1.0-1.5 trillion per year). Thus, exchange rate markets are driven by investors trying to figure out where higher rates of return will be available in the future, while simultanously trying to reduce and diversify the risks they face if exchange rates shift in a way they didn't expect. Because of these dynamics, exchange rate markets are notoriously volatile. For example, they often react quickly and sharply when new information arises about the possibilities of changes in national-level interest rates, inflation rates, and growth rates.

In this context, deciding whether exchange rates have bubbled too high or too low is a tricky business. But William R. Cline regularly puts out a set of estimates. For example, he writes in "Estimates of Fundamental Equilibrium Exchange Rates, November 2016" (Peterson Institute for International Economics, Policy Brief 16-22):
"As of mid-November, the US dollar has become overvalued by about 11 percent. The prospect of fiscal stimulus and associated interest rate increases under the new US administration risks still further increases in the dollar.  The new estimates, all based on October exchange rates, again find a modest undervaluation of the yen (by 3 percent) but no misalignment of the euro and Chinese renminbi. The Korean won is undervalued by 6 percent. Cases of significant overvaluation besides that of the United States include Argentina (by about 7 percent), Turkey (by about 9 percent), Australia (by about 6 percent), and New Zealand (by about 4 percent). A familiar list of smaller economies with significantly undervalued currencies once again shows undervaluation in Singapore and Taiwan (by 26 to 27 percent), and Sweden and Switzerland (by 5 to 7 percent)."
Several points are worth emphasizing here. The exchange rates of the euro, China's renminbi, and Japan's yen don't appear much overvalued. The US dollar does seem overvalued, but the underlying economic reasons aren't mainly about manipulation by other countries. Instead, it's because investor in the turbulent foreign exchange markets are looking ahead at promises from the Trump administration that would lead to large fiscal stimulus and predictions from the Federal Reserve of higher exchange rates, and demanding more US dollars as a result.

Countries around the world have sought different ways to grapple with risks of exchange rate fluctuations. Small- and medium-sized economies around the world are vulnerable to a nasty cycle in which they first become a popular destination for investors around the world, who hasten to buy their currency (thus driving up its value), as well as investing in their national stock and real estate markets (driving up their prices), and also lending money. But when the news shifts and some other destination becomes the flavor-of-the-month as an investment destination, then as investors sell off the currency and their investments in the country, the exchange rate, stock market, and real estate can all crash. This situation can become even worse if the country has done a lot of borrowing in US dollars, because when the exchange rate falls, it becomes impossible to repay those US-dollar loans. The combination of falling stock market and real estate prices, together with a wave of bad loans, can lead to severe distress in the country's financial sector and steep recession. For details, check with Argentina, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Russia, and a number of others.

The International Monetary Fund puts out regular reports describing exchange rate arrangements, like the Annual Report on Exchange Arrangements and Exchange Restrictions 2014. That report points out that about one-third of the countries in the world have floating exchange rates--that is, rates that are mostly or entirely determined by those $5 trillion per day exchange rate markets. About one-eighth of the countries in the world have "hard peg" exchange rate, in which the country either doesn't have its own separate currency (like the countries sharing the euro) or else the countries technically have a separate currency but manage it so that the exchange rate is always identical (a "currency board" arrangement).

The rest of the economies in the world have some form of "soft peg" or "managed" exchange rate policy. These countries don't dare to leave themselves open to the full force and fluctuations of the international exchange rate markets. But on the other hand, they also don't dare lock in a stable exchange rate in a way that can't change, no matter the cross-national patterns of interest rates, inflation rates, and growth rates. Many of these countries are quite aware that the ultra-stable exchange rate known as the euro has not, to put it mildly, been an unmixed blessing for the countries of Europe.

The fundamental issue is that an exchange rate is a price, the price of one currency in terms of another currency. A weaker currency tends to favor exporters, because their production costs in the domestic currency are lower compared to the revenue they gain when selling in a foreign currency.
A stronger currency tends to favor importers, because they can afford to buy more goods in the supermarket that is the world economy.

Of course, the reality is that the US economy has all kinds of different players, some of whom would benefit from a stronger exchange rate and some of whom would benefit from a weaker exchange rate. Think about the difference between a firm that imports inputs, uses them in production, and re-exports much of the output, as opposed to a form that imports goods that are sold directly to US consumers. Think about the difference between a worker in a firm that does almost no exporting, but benefits as a consumer from stronger exchange rates, and a worker in a firm that does most of its production in the US and then exports heavily, where the employer would benefit from a weaker exchange rate. Think about a firm which has invested heavily in foreign assets: a weaker US dollar makes those foreign assets worth relatively more in US dollar terms, thus rewarding the firm for its foresight in investing abroad.

Here's one useful way to cut through the confusions about what a higher or lower exchange rate means, which is from work done by economists Gita Gopinath,  Emmanuel Farhi, Oleg Itskhoki, who point out that the economic effects of changes in exchange rates are fundamentally the same as a  policy that combines changes in value-added and payroll taxes. Specifically, a weaker currency has the same effect as a policy of a policy of raising value-added taxes and cutting payroll taxes by an equivalent amount. This should make some intuitive sense, because a weaker currency makes it harder for buyers (like a higher value-added tax) but reduces the relative costs of domestic production (like a lower payroll tax).

In short, every time the US exchange rate moves, for whatever reason, there will be a mixed bag of those who benefit and those who are harmed. A weaker currency is the economic equivalent of combining a higher tax that hinders consumption, like the higher value-added (or sales) tax, with an offsetting cut in a tax that lowers costs of domestic production, like the lower payroll tax. If the policy goal is to help US exporters, but not to impose costs on US importers and consumers, then seeking a lower US dollar exchange rate is the wrong policy tool. It is a mirage (and a fundamental confusion) to argue that some change in the dollar exchange rate will be all benefits and no costs for the US economy.

Just to be clear, I'm certainly not arguing that exchange rates are never "too high" or "too low"; it's clear that exchange rates are volatile and can have bubbles and valleys.

Nor am I arguing that countries never try to manipulate their exchange rates; indeed, I would argue that every country manipulates its exchange rates in one way or another.   If countries allow their exchange rates to float, then when the central bank adjusts interest rates or allows a chance in inflation or stimulates an economy, the exchange rate is going to shift, which is clearly a way in which exchange rates are manipulated by policy.  If countries don't let their exchange rates move, that's clearly a form of manipulation. And if countries allow their exchange rates to move, but act to limit big swings in those movements, that is also manipulation.

What I am arguing is that given even a basic notion how exchange rate markets work and the economic forces that affect exchange rates, it is opaque how "non-manipulation" would work. Are exchange rates going to be held stable across countries, even in the face of cross-national economic changes in interest rates, inflation, and  growth? A wide variety of experience, including the breakdown of the Bretton Woods agreement in the early 1970s and the current problems with euro, suggest that holding exchange rates stable is impractical over time and can have some very bad consequences. But if exchange rates are going to be allowed to move, then the question arises of who decides when and how much. Most national governments, especially after having watched the euro in action, will want to keep some power over exchange rates. There are serious people who discuss what kind of international agreements and cooperation it would take to have greater exchange rate stability, but it's a hard task, and squawking about how all exchange rates are bad--stronger, weaker, moving, stable--is not a serious answer.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Revoking Trade Deals Will Not Help American Middle Classes

Larry Summers:

Revoking trade deals will not help American middle classes: ...The idea that renegotiating trade agreements will “make America great again” by substantially increasing job creation and economic growth swept Donald Trump into office.
More broadly, the idea that past trade agreements have damaged the American middle class and that the prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership would do further damage is now widely accepted in both major US political parties. ...
The reality is that the impact of trade and globalisation on wages is debatable and could be substantial. But the idea that the US trade agreements of the past generation have impoverished to any significant extent is absurd. ... My judgment is that these effects are considerably smaller than the impacts of technological progress.
A strategy of returning to the protectionism of the past and seeking to thwart the growth of other nations is untenable and would likely lead to a downward spiral in the global economy. The right approach is to maintain openness while finding ways to help workers at home who are displaced by technical progress, trade or other challenges.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Imports Normally Would Have Subtracted More From 2016 U.S. Growth

Brad Setser:

Imports Normally Would Have Subtracted More From 2016 U.S. Growth: ...I ... think in some ways the U.S. was lucky not to have slowed more in 2016.
Why? Because import growth stalled, and imports did not subtract as much from U.S. growth as normally would be expected (and yes, that obviously wasn’t the dominant narrative of the 2016 election).
Plus the U.S. essentially got a small GDP boost as a result of a bad harvest in Brazil that raised U.S. soybeans exports in q3 (a rise that was only partially reversed in q4). The U.S. isn’t (yet) a commodity-driven economy, but it also isn’t (yet) a robot-based intellectual property rights (IPR) royalty-driven economy totally divorced from natural sources of economic volatility. ...
Based on normal historical relationships, the expected drag from imports at various points over the last year should have been 35 to 50 basis points of GDP (using the trailing 4q average of contributions as the measure). Even if you believe the elasticity of imports to growth has now fallen and it should track the share of imports in the economy, imports should have increased by about 15 percent of demand growth, so the drag from imports mechanically should have been 20 to 30 basis points of GDP.
And generally speaking, the dollar’s strength over this period should have led imports to over-perform domestic demand in a standard model. That obviously did not happen.
No wonder the Fed’s trade model was puzzled. ...
So the odds are that—absent a big shift in trade policy (and well the odds now favor a big shift in trade policy)—imports will subtract a bit more from growth going forward. And exports—which tend to respond to the exchange rate—are likely to remain weak (and odds are that they will get weaker thanks to the global response to the expected change in U.S. trade policy). ...

Monday, January 30, 2017

Paul Krugman: Building a Wall of Ignorance

"The story seems, like so much that’s happened lately, to have started with President Trump’s insecure ego":

Building a Wall of Ignorance, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: We’re just over a week into the Trump-Putin regime, and it’s already getting hard to keep track of the disasters. ...
But I want to hold on, just for a minute, to the story that dominated the news on Thursday, before it was, er, trumped by the uproar over the refugee ban. As you may recall ... the White House first seemed to say that it would impose a 20 percent tariff on Mexico, but may have been talking about a tax plan, proposed by Republicans in the House, that would do no such thing; then said that it was just an idea; then dropped the subject, at least for now. ...
The story seems, like so much that’s happened lately, to have started with President Trump’s insecure ego: People were making fun of him because Mexico will not, as he promised during the campaign, pay for that useless wall along the border. So his spokesman, Sean Spicer, went out and declared that a border tax on Mexican products would, in fact, pay for the wall. So there!
As economists quickly pointed out, however, tariffs aren’t paid by the exporter..., they’re paid for by ... consumers. America, not Mexico, would therefore end up paying for the wall.
Oops. But that wasn’t the only problem. America is part of a system of agreements — a system we built — that sets rules for trade policy, and one of the key rules is that you can’t just unilaterally hike tariffs that were reduced in previous negotiations.
If America were to casually break that rule, the consequences would be severe. ... If we treat the rules with contempt, so will everyone else. The whole trading system would start to unravel, with hugely disruptive effects everywhere, very much including U.S. manufacturing. ...
All of this should be placed in the larger context of America’s quickly collapsing credibility.
Our government hasn’t always done the right thing. But it has kept its promises, to nations and individuals alike.
Now all of that is in question. Everyone, from small nations who thought they were protected against Russian aggression, to Mexican entrepreneurs who thought they had guaranteed access to our markets, to Iraqi interpreters who thought their service with the U.S. meant an assurance of sanctuary, now has to wonder whether they’ll be treated like stiffed contractors at a Trump hotel.
That’s a very big loss. And it’s probably irreversible.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Paul Krugman: Making the Rust Belt Rustier

Will Trump Repeat Reagan's mistake?:

Making the Rust Belt Rustier: Donald Trump ... appears serious about his eagerness to reverse America’s 80-year-long commitment to expanding world trade. On Thursday the White House said it was considering a 20 percent tariff on all imports from Mexico; doing so wouldn’t just pull the U.S. out of NAFTA, it would violate all our trading agreements. ...
Taken together, the new regime’s policies will probably lead to a faster, not slower, decline in American manufacturing.
How do we know this? We can look at the underlying economic logic, and we can also look at what happened during the Reagan years, which in some ways represent a dress rehearsal for what’s coming. ...
What Reagan did ... was blow up the budget deficit with military spending and tax cuts. This drove up interest rates, which drew in foreign capital. The inflow of capital, in turn, led to a stronger dollar, which made U.S. manufacturing uncompetitive. The trade deficit soared — and the long-term decline in the share of manufacturing in overall employment accelerated sharply.
Notably, it was under Reagan that talk of “deindustrialization” and the use of the term “Rust Belt” first became widespread.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Reagan-era manufacturing decline took place despite a significant amount of protectionism, especially a quota on Japanese car exports ... that ended up costing consumers more than $30 billion in today’s prices.
Will we repeat this story? The Trump regime will clearly blow up the deficit, mainly through tax cuts for the rich. (Funny, isn’t it, how all the deficit scolds have gone quiet?)..., interest rates have already risen in anticipation of the borrowing surge, and so has the dollar. So we do seem to be following the Reagan playbook for shrinking manufacturing. ...
And there’s a further factor to consider: ... Manufacturing is a global enterprise, in which cars, planes and so on are assembled from components produced in multiple countries. ... There will, inevitably, be huge dislocation: Some U.S. factories and communities will benefit, but others will be hurt, bigly, by the loss of markets, crucial components or both.
Economists talk about the “China shock,” the disruption of some communities by surging Chinese exports in the 2000s. Well, the coming Trump shock will be at least as disruptive.
And the biggest losers, as with health care, will be white working-class voters who were foolish enough to believe that Donald Trump was on their side.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What Did NAFTA Really Do?

Dani Rodrik:

What did NAFTA really do?: Brad De Long has written a lengthy essay that defends NAFTA (and other trade deals) from the charge that they are responsible for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. I agree with much that he says – in particular with the points that the decline in manufacturing employment has been a long-term process that predates NAFTA and the China shock and that it is driven mainly by the secular trend of labor-saving technological progress. There is no way you can hold NAFTA responsible for employment de-industrialization in the U.S. or expect that a “better” deal with Mexico will bring those jobs back.

At the same time, the essay leaves me frustrated and uneasy. It seems to gloss over the distributional pain of NAFTA and overstate the overall gains.  

So what does the evidence say on these issues? ...

A recently published academic study by Lorenzo Caliendo and Fernando Parro uses all the bells-and-whistles of modern trade theory to produce the estimate that these overall gains amount to a “welfare” gain of 0.08% for the U.S. That is, eight-hundredth of 1 percent! ... Trade volume impacts were much larger: a doubling of U.S. imports from Mexico.

What is equally interesting is that fully half of the miniscule 0.08% gain for US is not an efficiency gain, but actually a benefit due to terms-of-trade improvement. That is, Caliendo and Parro estimate that the world prices of what the U.S. imports fell relative to what it exports. These are not efficiency gains, but income transfers from other countries (here principally Mexico and Canada). These gains came at the expense of other countries.

A gain, no matter how small, is still a gain. What about the distributional impacts?

The most detailed empirical analysis of the labor-market effects of NAFTA is contained in a paper by John McLaren and Shushanik Hakobyan. They find that the aggregate effects were rather small (in line with other work), but that impacts on directly affected communities were quite severe. It is worth quoting John McLaren at length, from an interview: ...

In other words, those high school dropouts who worked in industries protected by tariffs prior to NAFTA experienced reductions in wage growth by as much as 17 percentage points relative to wage growth in unaffected industries. I don’t think anyone can argue that a 17 percentage drop is small. As McLaren and Hakobyan emphasize, these losses were then propagated throughout the localities in which these workers lived.

So here is the overall picture that these academic studies paint for the U.S.: NAFTA produced large changes in trade volumes, tiny efficiency gains overall, and some very significant impacts on adversely affected communities.

The consequences of NAFTA for Mexico are another topic which would require a separate post. Let me just say that the great expectations the country’s policy makers had for NAFTA have not been fulfilled. ...

So is Trump deluded on NAFTA’s overall impact on manufacturing jobs? Absolutely, yes.

Was he able to capitalize on the very real losses that this and other trade agreements produced in certain parts of the country in a way that Democrats were unable to? Again, yes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ditching TPP Won’t Solve the Trade Deficit

Jared Bernstein:

Ditching TPP Won’t Solve the Trade Deficit: President Trump wasted no time tackling his campaign promise to reverse America’s trade deficit: On Monday he signed a memorandum withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a move he promised would be a “great thing for the American worker.” The withdrawal dovetails with promises to impose tariffs on imports and crack down on American companies that manufacture overseas.
These steps make for great optics. But in economic terms, they’re unlikely to move the needle. For the country to improve its trade balance, the president’s going to have to do a lot more.
Ripping up trade deals won’t achieve much. ...
And it’s hard to imagine much good emanating from Twitter-shaming China, or writing a check to the occasional factory to prevent it from outsourcing some of its jobs. Such measures are far too ad hoc to make a systemic difference.
So what would work?...

After explaining five possible ways to improve the trade balance (duties on imports from countries that manipulate their currency, countervailing currency intervention to neutralize attempts to manipulate a currency, capital controls, import certificates equal to the value of a countries exports, and enforceable rules on things like currency manipulation and rules of origin), he concludes with:

... In the 1970s and ’80s, as trade deficits became persistent, politicians did not hesitate to respond through these sorts of interventions. Our obsession with unfettered markets has since precluded such efforts, even though our trading partners have not been nearly so constrained. President Trump’s ascendancy may change that equation. The question is whether his administration will get it right.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

China’s WTO Entry, 15 Years On

Brad Setser

China’s WTO Entry, 15 Years On: Late last year Tim Duy asked for an assessment of the decision to allow China’s entry into the WTO 15 years on.

Greg Ip met the call well before I did, in a remarkable essay.

But I will give my own two cents. Be warned, this isn’t a short post. Frankly it is an article disguised as a post. I added the subheadings to make it a bit easier on the eye. ...

Thursday, January 12, 2017

US Tariffs are an Arbitrary and Regressive Tax

More from the CEA:

US tariffs are an arbitrary and regressive tax, by Jason Furman, Katheryn Russ, Jay Shambaugh, VoxEU: Tariffs – taxes on imported goods – likely impose a heavier burden on lower-income households, as these households generally spend more on traded goods as a share of expenditure/income and because of the higher level of tariffs placed on some key consumer goods. This column estimates the tariff burden by income group and by family structure using a new dataset constructed by matching of granular data on trade and consumer spending. The findings suggest that tariffs function as a regressive tax that weighs most heavily on women and single parents. ...

Monday, December 26, 2016

Paul Krugman: And the Trade War Came

Trade war. What is it good for?:

And the Trade War Came, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Donald Trump got ... overwhelming support from white working-class voters. These voters trusted his promise to bring back good manufacturing jobs while disbelieving his much more credible promise to take away their health care. They have a rude shock coming.
But white workers aren’t alone in their gullibility: Corporate America is still in denial about the prospects for a global trade war, even though protectionism was a central theme of the Trump campaign. ... The ... relevant legislation gives the occupant of the White House remarkable leeway should he choose to go protectionist. ...
Oh, and don’t expect attempts by experts to point out the holes in this view ... to make any impression. Members of the Trump team believe that all criticism of their economic ideas reflects a conspiracy among think tanks that are out to undermine them. ...
There will be retaliation, big time. When it comes to trade, America is not that much of a superpower...
And retaliation isn’t the whole story; there’s also emulation. Once America decides that the rules don’t apply, world trade will become a free-for-all.
Will this cause a global recession? Probably not — those risks are, I think, exaggerated. ...
What the coming trade war will do, however, is cause a lot of disruption. Today’s world economy is built around “value chains” that spread across borders: your car or your smartphone contain components manufactured in many countries, then assembled or modified in many more. A trade war would force a drastic shortening of those chains, and quite a few U.S. manufacturing operations would end up being big losers, just as happened when global trade surged in the past.
An old joke tells of a motorist who runs over a pedestrian, then tries to fix the damage by backing up — and runs over the victim a second time. Well, the effects of the Trumpist trade war on U.S. workers will be a lot like that.
Given these prospects, you might think that someone will persuade the incoming administration to rethink its commercial belligerence. That is, you might think that if you have paid no attention to the record and character of the protectionist in chief. Someone who won’t take briefings on national security because he’s “like, a smart person” and doesn’t need them isn’t likely to sit still for lessons on international economics.
No, the best bet is that the trade war is coming. Buckle your seatbelts.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Case for Protecting Infant Industries

Noah Smith:

The Case for Protecting Infant Industries: I must say, it’s been almost breathtaking to see how fast the acceptable terms of debate have shifted on the subject of trade. Thanks partly to President-elect Donald Trump’s populism and partly to academic research showing that the costs of free trade could be higher than anyone predicted, economics commentators are now happy to lambast the entire idea of  trade. I don’t want to do that -- I think a nuanced middle ground is best. But I do think it's worth reevaluating one idea that the era of economic dogmatism had seemingly consigned to the junk pile -- the notion of infant-industry protectionism. ...

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Why Trade Deficits Matter

Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker:

Why Trade Deficits Matter, The Atlantic: However one feels about Donald Trump, it’s fair to say he has usefully elevated a long-simmering issue in American political economy: the hardship faced by the families and communities who have lost out as jobs have shifted overseas. For decades, many politicians from both parties ignored the plight of these workers, offering them bromides about the benefits of free trade and yet another trade deal, this time with some “adjustment assistance.”
One of Trump’s economic goals is to lower the U.S.’s trade deficit—which is to say, shrink the discrepancy between the value of the country’s imports and the value of its exports. Right now, the U.S. currently imports $460 billion more than it exports, meaning it has a trade deficit that works out to about 2.5 percent of GDP. Given that the job market is still not back to full strength and the U.S. has been losing manufacturing jobs—there are 60,000 fewer now than at the beginning of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—economists would be wise to question their assumption that such a deficit is harmless. ...
Is the U.S. trade deficit a problem whose solution would help American workers? ...

Monday, December 05, 2016

Trade, Facts, and Politics

Paul Krugman responds to Tim Duy:

Trade, Facts, and Politics: I see that Tim Duy is angry at me again. The occasion is rather odd: I produced a little paper on trade and jobs, which I explicitly labeled “wonkish”; the point of the paper was, as I said, to reconcile what seemed to be conflicting assessments of the impacts of trade on overall manufacturing employment.
But Duy is mad, because “dry statistics on trade aren’t working to counter Trump.” Um, that wasn’t the point of the exercise. This wasn’t a political manifesto, and never claimed to be. Nor was it a defense of conventional views on trade. It was about what the data say about a particular question. Are we not allowed to do such things in the age of Trump? ...

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Desperately Searching For A New Strategy

Tim Duy:

Desperately Searching For A New Strategy, by Tim Duy: President-Donald Trump’s renewed call for a 35% import tax on firms that ship jobs out of the United States triggered the expected round of derision from an array of critics, both on the left and the right. The critics are correct. It is indeed a terrible idea. One sure way to discourage job creation in the US is to guarantee that firms will be punished if they need to layoff employees in the future. It is just bad policy, plain and simple.

But if that’s your takeaway, I think you are making a mistake.

Whether or not Trump can or should attempt to reverse the decline in manufacturing jobs is not the big story here. He can’t. The real story is that he continues to tap into the anger of his voters about being left behind. That will give him much more power than our criticisms will take away.

Politicians, aided by economists, have long ignored the negative impacts of trade-induced structural change. Indeed, they have even cheered it on. After all, the process “releases resources” for use in other, more productive parts of the economy. Those workers are just “low-skilled” workers. The US needs more “high-skilled” workers anyway.

Fact: Workers hate being referred to as “low-skilled.”

How we respond to Trump is important. If we simply fall back on our standard numbers, we lose. If we confidently predict that TPP is a big win because it will add 0.5% to GDP by 2030, we lose. If we just use this as an opportunity to reiterate the importance of a college degree, we lose. We have been doing this for decades, and it helped deliver Trump to office.

As an example, take Paul Krugman’s latest on trade. I don’t want to keep picking on Krugman, but he epitomizes traditional economic thinking on international trade. He concludes with this:

But what about the now-famous Autor-Dorn-Hanson paper on the “China shock”? It’s actually consistent with these numbers. Autor et al only estimate the effects of the, um, China shock, which they suggest led to the loss of 985,000 manufacturing jobs between 1999 and 2011. That’s less than a fifth of the absolute loss of manufacturing jobs over that period, and a quite small share of the long-term manufacturing decline.

I’m not saying that the effects were trivial: Autor and co-authors [sic] show that the adverse effects on regional economies were large and long-lasting. But there’s no contradiction between that result and the general assertion that America’s shift away from manufacturing doesn’t have much to do with trade, and even less to do with trade policy.

Nothing is wrong with the analysis here. But I think Krugman is downplaying the transition costs, especially regional impacts. Politically, that is the important part. Economists tend to just play lip-service to the negative effects as we seek what is perceived to be the bigger prize, the aggregate effects. Fundamentally. Krugman is looking for what we got right in trade theory, and he finds it in Autor et al.

For me, Autor et al is not about what we got right in trade theory, but what we got wrong. Spectacularly wrong:

The importance of location for evaluating trade gains depends on how long it takes for regional adjustment to occur. A presumption that US labor markets are smoothly integrated across space has long made regional equilibration the starting point for welfare analysis. The US experience of trade with China makes this starting point less compelling. Labor-market adjustment to trade shocks is stunningly slow, with local labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and local unemployment rates remaining elevated for a full decade or more after a shock commences. The persistence of local decline perhaps explains the breadth of public transfer programs whose uptake increases in regions subject to rising trade exposure. The mobility costs that rationalize slow adjustment imply that short-run trade gains may be much smaller than long-run gains and that spatial heterogeneity in the magnitudes of the net benefits may be much greater than previously thought. Using a quantitative theoretical model, Caliendo et al. (2015) find that in the immediate aftermath of a trade shock, constructed to mimic the effects of growth in US imports from China, US net welfare gains are close to zero. The ultimate and sizable net gains are realized only once workers are able to reallocate across regions to move from declining to expanding industries. Establishing the speed of regional labor-market adjustment to trade shocks should capture considerably more attention from trade and labor economists.

The speed of regional labor market adjustment to shocks is agonizingly slow in any area that lacks a critical mass of population. Rural and semi-rural areas remain impacted by negative shocks for at least a decade, but often longer. Relative to life spans, in many cases the shocks might as well be permanent.

And note that this is not just about negative trade shocks. Trade is an easy punching bag for Trump, but his message carries wider because we are really talking about structural shocks in general. For example, rural towns in Oregon where devastated by the collapsed of the timber industry in the mid-80s. Here is what the New York Times wrote about Oakridge, Oregon a decade ago:

For a few decades, this little town on the western slope of the Cascades hopped with blue-collar prosperity, its residents cutting fat Douglas fir trees and processing them at two local mills.

Into the 1980’s, people joked that poverty meant you didn’t have an RV or a boat. A high school degree was not necessary to earn a living through logging or mill work, with wages roughly equal to $20 or $30 an hour in today’s terms.

But by 1990 the last mill had closed, a result of shifting markets and a dwindling supply of logs because of depletion and tighter environmental rules. Oakridge was wrenched through the rural version of deindustrialization, sending its population of 4,000 reeling in ways that are still playing out.

Residents now live with lowered expectations, and a share of them have felt the sharp pinch of rural poverty. The town is an acute example of a national trend, the widening gap in pay between workers in urban areas and those in rural locales, where much of any job growth has been in low-end retailing and services.

Trump is speaking to all of these workers, not just the trade-impacted workers. And you can complain that they don’t matter, they aren’t high-skilled workers, that the economy is shifting away to urban areas, that they should just move. In the rural Oregon case, you can add in that the big (and labor-intensive) trees were almost gone anyway, that technology was taking over at the logging site and at the mill, that falling transportation costs meant you didn’t need to mill locally.

None of that works because all you are doing is telling people they have no value relative to the lives they knew.

We don’t have answers for these communities. Rural and semi-rural economic development is hard. Those regions have received only negative shocks for decades; the positive shocks have accrued to the urban regions. Of course, Trump doesn’t have any answers either. But he at least pretends to care.

Just pretending to care is important. At a minimum, the electoral map makes it important.

These issues apply to more than rural and semi-rural areas. Trump’s message – that firms need to consider something more than bottom line – resonates in middle and upper-middle class households as well. They know that their grip on their economic life is tenuous, that they are the future “low-skilled” workers. And they know they will be thrown under the bus for the greater good just like “low-skilled” workers before them.

The dry statistics on trade aren’t working to counter Trump. They make for good policy at one level and terrible policy (and politics) at another. The aggregate gains are irrelevant to someone suffering a personal loss. Critics need to find an effective response to Trump. I don’t think we have it yet. And here is the hardest part: My sense is that Democrats will respond by offering a bigger safety net. But people don’t want a welfare check. They want a job. And this is what Trump, wrongly or rightly, offers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

We Must Rethink Globalization, or Trumpism will Prevail

Thomas Piketty:

We must rethink globalization, or Trumpism will prevail: Let it be said at once: Trump’s victory is primarily due to the explosion in economic and geographic inequality in the United States over several decades and the inability of successive governments to deal with this. ...
The tragedy is that Trump’s program will only strengthen the trend towards inequality. ..
The main lesson for Europe and the world is clear: as a matter of urgency, globalization must be fundamentally re-oriented. The main challenges of our times are the rise in inequality and global warming. We must therefore implement international treaties enabling us to respond to these challenges and to promote a model for fair and sustainable development. ...
There should be no more signing of international agreements that reduce customs duties and other commercial barriers without including quantified and binding measures to combat fiscal and climate dumping in those same treaties. For example, there could be common minimum rates of corporation tax and targets for carbon emissions which can be verified and sanctioned. It is no longer possible to negotiate trade treaties for free trade with nothing in exchange. ... 
It is time to change the political discourse on globalization: trade is a good thing, but fair and sustainable development also demands public services, infrastructure, health and education systems. In turn, these themselves demand fair taxation systems. If we fail to deliver these, Trumpism will prevail.

I recently made a similar argument:

...Those of us in the economics profession have a choice to make. 

We can hold onto old ideas, inflated promises about the benefits of globalization and international trade for example, while charlatans such as Donald Trump take advantage of the fears people have to divide us through racism and xenophobia that miscasts the blame for our economic woes. Or we can recognize that change and new ways of thinking are needed and lead the way to policies that move us toward a more equitable economic system.

Monday, October 31, 2016

When The Trade Data Does Not Add Up

Anyone have the answer? This is from Brad Setser:

When The Trade Data Does Not Add Up: This is ... about a rather puzzling thing that I only noticed as a result of the Brexit debate. ...
A big part of the non-EU surplus in services comes from the United States. In 2015, the UK reported a 27 billion GBP (just over $40 billion) surplus in services trade with the U.S. and an overall surplus in goods and services with the United States.
The funny thing? The U.S. also thinks it runs a surplus in services trade with the UK. A $14 billion surplus in 2015...
It is pretty hard to square those two data points. UK data is from the Office of National Statistics’ Pink Book, U.S. data is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), table 1.3 of the “International Transactions” data set.
It turns out that the U.S. thinks it sells more services to the UK than the UK thinks it buys...
And the UK thinks it sells more services to the U.S. than the U.S. thinks it buys. ...
My guess is that such discrepancies are actually common in the services trade numbers. Goods trade is calculated by customs bureaus. Lots of the numbers on services trade come from surveys, estimates, and the like.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why Trade Deals Lost Legitimacy

Dani Rodrik:

The Walloon mouse: ...Instead of decrying people's stupidity and ignorance in rejecting trade deals, we should try to understand why such deals lost legitimacy in the first place. I'd put a large part of the blame on mainstream elites and trade technocrats who pooh-poohed ordinary people's concerns with earlier trade agreements. 
The elites minimized distributional concerns, though they turned out to be significant for the most directly affected communities. They oversold aggregate gains from trade deals, though they have been smallish since at least NAFTA. They said sovereignty would not be diminished though it clearly was in some instances. They claimed democratic principles would not be undermined, though they are in places. They said there'd be no social dumping though there clearly is at times. They advertised trade deals (and continue to do so) as "free trade" agreements, even though Adam Smith and David Ricardo would turn over in their graves if they read, say, any of the TPP chapters.
And because they failed to provide those distinctions and caveats now trade gets tarred with all kinds of ills even when it's not deserved. If the demagogues and nativists making nonsensical claims about trade are getting a hearing, it is trade's cheerleaders that deserve some of the blame.
One more thing. The opposition to trade deals is no longer solely about income losses. The standard remedy of compensation won't be enough -- even if carried out. It's about fairness, loss of control, and elites' loss of credibility. It hurts the cause of trade to pretend otherwise.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Notes on Brexit and the Pound

Paul Krugman:

Notes on Brexit and the Pound: The much-hyped severe Brexit recession does not, so far, seem to be materializing – which really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, because as I warned, the actual economic case for such a recession was surprisingly weak. (Ouch! I just pulled a muscle while patting myself on the back!) But we are seeing a large drop in the pound, which has steepened as it becomes likely that this will indeed be a very hard Brexit. How should we think about this?
Originally, stories about a pound plunge were tied to that recession prediction... But the demand collapse doesn’t seem to be happening. So what is the story?
For now, at least, I’m coming at it from the trade side – especially trade in financial services. It seems to me that one way to think about this is in terms of the “home market effect,” an old story in trade but one that only got formalized in 1980. ...
In Britain’s case,... financial services ... are subject to both internal and external economies of scale, which tends to concentrate them in a handful of huge financial centers around the world... But now we face the prospect of seriously increased transaction costs between Britain and the rest of Europe, which creates an incentive to move those services away from the smaller economy (Britain) and into the larger (Europe). Britain therefore needs a weaker currency to offset this adverse impact.
Does this make Britain poorer? Yes. It’s not just the efficiency effect of barriers to trade, there’s also a terms-of-trade effect as the real exchange rate depreciates.
But it’s important to be aware that not everyone in Britain is equally affected..., weakening helps British manufacturing – and, maybe, the incomes of people who live far from the City and still depend directly or indirectly on manufacturing for their incomes. It’s not completely incidental that these were the parts of England (not Scotland!) that voted for Brexit.
Is there a policy moral here? Basically it is that a weaker pound shouldn’t be viewed as an additional cost from Brexit, it’s just part of the adjustment. And it would be a big mistake to prop up the pound: old notions of an equilibrium exchange rate no longer apply.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Greg Mankiw:

Trumponomics: Regular readers of this blog know that I often disagree with Paul Krugman. But I come here today agree with a recent post of his on the analysis put out by two Trump economic advisers. The Trump advisers' analysis is truly disappointing (though perhaps not surprisingly so, given what the candidate has said over the course of the campaign).
Their analysis of trade deficits, starting on page 18, boils down to the following: We know that GDP=C+I+G+NX. NX is negative (the trade deficit). Therefore, if we somehow renegotiate trade deals and make NX rise to zero, GDP goes up! They calculate this will bring in $1.74 trillion in tax revenue over a decade.
But of course you can't model an economy just using the national income accounts identity. Even a freshman at the end of ec 10 knows that trade deficits go hand in hand with capital inflows. So an end to the trade deficit means an end to the capital inflow, which would affect interest rates, which in turn influence consumption and investment. ...

A General Theory Of Austerity?

Paul Krugman:

A General Theory Of Austerity?: Simon Wren-Lewis has an excellent new paper trying to explain the widespread resort to austerity in the face of a liquidity trap, which is exactly the moment when such policies do the most harm. His bottom line is that austerity was the result of right-wing opportunism, exploiting instinctive popular concern about rising government debt in order to reduce the size of the state.
I think this is right; but I would emphasize more than he does the extent to which both the general public and Very Serious People always assume that reducing deficits is the responsible thing to do. ...
Meanwhile, as someone who was in the trenches during the US austerity fights, I was struck by how readily mainstream figures who weren’t especially right-wing in general got sucked into the notion that debt reduction was THE central issue. Ezra Klein documented this phenomenon with respect to Bowles-Simpson:
For reasons I’ve never quite understood, the rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply when it comes to the deficit. On this one issue, reporters are permitted to openly cheer a particular set of highly controversial policy solutions. At Tuesday’s Playbook breakfast, for instance, Mike Allen, as a straightforward and fair a reporter as you’ll find, asked Simpson and Bowles whether they believed Obama would do “the right thing” on entitlements — with “the right thing” clearly meaning “cut entitlements.” ...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

VAT of Deplorables

Paul Krugman:

VAT of Deplorables: I’ve been writing about Donald Trump’s claim that Mexico’s value-added tax is an unfair trade policy, which is just really bad economics. ...
But it turns out that Trump wasn’t saying ignorant things off the top of his head: he was saying ignorant things fed to him by his incompetent economic advisers. Here’s the campaign white paper on economics. The VAT discussion is on pages 12-13 — and it’s utterly uninformed.
And it’s not the worst thing: there’s lots of terrible stuff in the white paper, at every level.
Should we be reassured that Trump wasn’t actually winging it here, just taking really bad advice? Not at all. This says that if he somehow becomes president, and decides to take the job seriously, it won’t help — because his judgment in advisers, his notion of who constitutes an expert, is as bad as his judgment on the fly.

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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Trump On Trade

Paul Krugman:

Trump On Trade: For the most part,... the media consensus seems to be that Clinton won. This is a big deal: you know, just know, that they were primed to declare Trump the winner... But he was so bad and she so good that they couldn’t. ...

Trump on trade was ignorance all the way.

There were specifics: China is “devaluing” (not so — it was holding down the yuan five years ago, but these days it’s intervening to keep the yuan up, not down.) There was this, on Mexico:

Let me give you the example of Mexico. They have a VAT tax. We’re on a different system. When we sell into Mexico, there’s a tax. When they sell in — automatic, 16 percent, approximately. When they sell into us, there’s no tax. It’s a defective agreement. It’s been defective for a long time, many years, but the politicians haven’t done anything about it.

Gah. A VAT is basically a sales tax. It is levied on both domestic and imported goods, so that it doesn’t protect against imports — which is why it’s allowed under international trade rules, and not considered a protectionist trade policy. I get that Trump is not an economist — hoo boy, is he not an economist — but this is one of his signature issues, so you might have expected him to learn a few facts.

More broadly, Trump’s whole view on trade is that other people are taking advantage of us — that it’s all about dominance, and that we’re weak. And even if you think we’ve pushed globalization too far, even if you are worried about the effects of trade on income distribution, that’s just a foolish way to think about the problem.

So don’t score Trump as somehow winning on trade. Yes, he blustered more confidently on that subject than on anything else. But he was talking absolute garbage even there.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Put Globalization to Work for Democracies

Dani Rodrik:

Put Globalization to Work for Democracies: ...We need to rescue globalization not just from populists, but also from its cheerleaders. ... Simply put, we have pushed economic globalization too far — toward an impractical version that we might call “hyperglobalization.” ...
Some simple principles would reorient us in the right direction. First, there is no single way to prosperity. Countries make their own choices about the institutions that suit them best. ...
Second, countries have the right to protect their institutional arrangements and safeguard the integrity of their regulations. Financial regulations or labor protections can be circumvented and undermined by moving operations to foreign countries... Countries should be able to prevent such “regulatory arbitrage” by placing restrictions on cross-border transactions... For example, imports from countries that are gross violators of labor rights ... may face restrictions when those imports demonstrably threaten to damage labor standards at home. ...
Third, the purpose of international economic negotiations should be to increase domestic policy autonomy, while being mindful of the possible harm to trade partners. ... Poor and rich countries alike need greater space for pursuing their objectives. The former need to restructure their economies and promote new industries, and the latter must address domestic concerns over inequality and distributive justice. Both objectives require placing some sand in the cogs of globalization. ...
Fourth, global governance should focus on enhancing democracy, not globalization. ...
And finally, nondemocratic countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia — where the rule of law is routinely flouted and civil liberties are not protected — should not be able to count on the same rights and privileges in the international system as democracies can. ...
When I present these ideas to globalization advocates, they say the consequence would be a dangerous slide toward protectionism. But today the risks on the other side are greater, namely that the social strains of hyperglobalization will drive a populist backlash that undermines both globalization and democracy. Basing globalization on defensible democratic principles is its best defense. ...

[Each of his five recommendations is explained in more detail in the article.]

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Drivers of inequality: Trade Shocks Versus Top Marginal Tax Rates

Douglas Campbell and Lester Lusher at VoxEU:

Drivers of inequality: Trade shocks versus top marginal tax rates: Growing wealth inequality has been one of the most pressing political issues since the Great Recession. However, there is a relative lack of consensus on the significant drivers of this trend. This column investigates the contribution of globalization, via international trade, to US wealth inequality. Although trade is found to have had important effects on certain parts of the US labor market in the early 2000s, the growth in US inequality since 1980 can be traced back to Reagan-era tax cuts. ...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Brexit: This Backlash Has Been a Long Time Coming

Kevin O’Rourke at VoxEU:

Brexit: This backlash has been a long time coming: Editors' note: This column first appeared as a chapter in the VoxEU ebook, Brexit Beckons: Thinking ahead by leading economists, available to download free of charge here.

It has recently become commonplace to argue that globalisation can leave people behind, and that this can have severe political consequences. Since 23 June, this has even become conventional wisdom. While I welcome this belated acceptance of the blindingly obvious, I can't but help feeling a little frustrated, since this has been self-evident for many years now. What we are seeing, in part, is what happens to conventional wisdom when, all of a sudden, it finds that it can no longer dismiss as irrelevant something that had been staring it in the face for a long time.

The main point of my 1999 book with Jeff Williamson was that globalisation produces both winners and losers, and that this can lead to an anti-globalisation backlash (O'Rourke and Williamson 1999). We argued this based on late-19th century evidence. Then, the main losers from trade were European landowners, who found themselves competing with an elastic supply of cheap New World land. The result was that in Germany and France, Italy and Sweden, the move towards ever-freer trade that had been ongoing for several years was halted, and replaced by a shift towards protection that benefited not only agricultural interests, but industrial ones as well. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, immigration restrictions were gradually tightened, as workers found themselves competing with European migrants coming from ever-poorer source countries. 

While Jeff and I were firmly focused on economic history, we were writing with half an eye on the ‘trade and wages’ debate that was raging during the 1990s. There was an obvious potential parallel between 19th-century European landowners, newly exposed to competition with elastic supplies of New World land, and late 20th-century OECD unskilled workers, newly exposed to competition with elastic supplies of Asian, and especially Chinese, labour. In our concluding chapter, we wrote that:

"A focus of this book has been the political implications of globalization, and the lessons are sobering. Politicians, journalists, and market analysts have a tendency to extrapolate the immediate past into the indefinite future, and such thinking suggests that the world is irreversibly headed toward ever greater levels of economic integration. The historical record suggests the contrary… unless politicians worry about who gains and who loses, they may be forced by the electorate to stop efforts to strengthen global economy links, and perhaps even to dismantle them…The globalization experience of the Atlantic economy prior to the Great War speaks directly and eloquently to globalization debates today. Economists who base their views of globalization, convergence, inequality, and policy solely on the years since 1970 are making a great mistake. We hope that this book will help them to avoid that mistake— or remedy it."

This time it is not different

You may argue that the economic history of a century ago is irrelevant – after all, this time is different. But ever since the beginning of the present century, at the very latest, it has been obvious that the politics of globalisation today bears a family resemblance to that of 100 years ago. 

  • It was as long ago as 2001 that Kenneth Scheve and Matthew Slaughter published an article finding that Heckscher-Ohlin logic did a pretty good job of explaining American attitudes towards trade – lower-skilled workers were more protectionist (Scheve and Slaughter 2001: 267). 

Later work extended this finding to the rest of the world. 

  • If the high skilled were more favourably inclined towards free trade in all countries, this would not be consistent with Heckscher-Ohlin theory, but that is not what the opinion survey evidence suggested – the Scheve-Slaughter finding held in rich countries, but not in poor ones (O'Rourke and Sinnott 2001: 157, Mayda and Rodrik 2005: 1393).

You may further argue that such political science evidence is irrelevant, or at least that conventional wisdom could be forgiven for ignoring it. But by the first decade of the 21st century, again at the very latest, it was clear that these forces could have tangible political effects. 

  • In 2005, a French referendum rejected the so-called 'Constitutional Treaty' by a convincing margin. 

While the treaty itself was a technical document largely having to do with decision-making procedures inside the EU, the referendum campaign ended up becoming, to a very large extent, a debate about globalisation in its local, European manifestation. 

Opponents of the treaty pointed to the outsourcing of jobs to cheap labour competitors in Eastern Europe, and to the famous Polish plumber. Predictably enough, professionals voted overwhelmingly in favour of the treaty, while blue-collar workers, clerical workers and farmers rejected it. The net result was a clear rejection of the treaty.

Lessons not learned

Shamefully, the response was to repackage the treaty, give it a new name, and push it through regardless – a shabby manoeuver that has done much to fuel Euroscepticism in France. There was of course no referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in that country, but there was in Ireland in 2008. Once again, a clear class divide opened up, with rich areas overwhelmingly supporting Lisbon, and poor areas overwhelmingly rejecting it. Survey evidence commissioned afterwards by the Irish government suggested that what canvassers on the doorsteps had found was indeed the case – hostility towards immigration in the poorer parts of Dublin was an important factor explaining the "No" vote there (O'Rourke 2008, Sinnott et al. 2010).

For a long time, conventional wisdom ignored these rather large straws in the wind – after all, the Irish could always be asked to vote again, while the French could always be told that they couldn't vote again. And so the show could go on. But now Brexit is happening, and the obvious cannot be ignored any longer. 

Recent work suggests that exposure to Chinese import competition was a common factor in many British regions that voted to leave the EU (Colantone and Stanig 2016). If this finding survives the scholarly scrutiny that it deserves, it will hardly come as a surprise. But it is nevertheless crucial, since these are precisely the kinds of regions that are voting for the National Front in France. And unlike Britain, France is absolutely central to the European project.

What can be done? Great openness requires greater governments

This is where Dani Rodrik's finding that more open states had bigger governments in the late 20th century comes in (Rodrik 1998). Dani – who was long ago asking whether globalisation had gone too far (Rodrik 1997) – argues that markets expose workers to risk, and that government expenditure of various sorts can help protect them from those risks. 

In a series of articles (e.g. Huberman and Meissner 2009) and a book (Huberman 2012), Michael Huberman showed that this correlation between states and markets was present before 1914 as well. Countries with more liberal trade policies tended to have more advanced social protections of various sorts, and this helped maintain political support for openness.

Anti-immigration sentiment was clearly crucial in delivering an anti-EU vote in England. And if you talk to ordinary people, it seems clear that competition for scarce public housing and other public services was one important factor behind this. But if the problem was a lack of services per capita, then there were two possible solutions: 

  • Reduce the number of 'capitas' by restricting immigration; or 
  • Increase the supply of services. 

It is astonishing in retrospect how few people argued strongly for more services rather than fewer people.

Concluding remarks and possible solutions

If the Tories had really wanted to maintain support for the EU, investment in public services and public housing would have been the way to do it. If these had been elastically supplied, that would have muted the impression that there was a zero-sum competition between natives and immigrants. It wouldnít have satisfied the xenophobes, but not all anti-immigrant voters are xenophobes. But of course the Tories were never going to do that, at least not with George Osborne at the helm.

If the English want continued Single Market access, they will have to swallow continued labour mobility. There are complementary domestic policies that could help in making that politically feasible. We will have to wait and see what the English decide. But there are also lessons for the 27 remaining EU states (28 if, as I hope, Scotland remains a member). Too much market and too little state invites a backlash. Take the politics into account, and it becomes clear (as Dani Rodrik has often argued) that markets and states are complements, not substitutes.


Colantone, I. and P. Stanig (2016), "Brexit: Data Shows that Globalization Malaise, and not Immigration, Determined the Vote", Bocconi Knowledge, 12 July. 

Huberman, M. (2012), Odd Couple: International Trade and Labor Standards in History, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Huberman, M. and C. M. Meissner (2009), "New evidence on the rise of trade and social protection",, 23 October. 

Mayda, A. M. and D. Rodrik (2005), "Why are some people (and countries) more protectionist than others?", European Economic Review 49(6).

Rodrik, D. (1997), Has Globalization Gone Too Far?, Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics. 

Rodrik, D. (1998), "Why do More Open Economies Have Bigger Governments?" Journal of Political Economy 106(5): 997-1032

O'Rourke, K. (2008), "The Irish "no" and the rich-poor/urban-rural divide",, 14 June. 

O'Rourke, K. and R. Sinnott (2001), "The Determinants of Individual Trade Policy Preferences: International Survey Evidence", Brookings Trade Forum. 

O'Rourke, K. and J. Williamson (1999), Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Economy, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

F. Scheve, K. F. and M. J. Slaughter (2001), "What determines individual trade-policy preferences?", Journal of International Economics 54(2).

Sinnott, R., J. A. Elkink, K. H. O'Rourke and J. McBride (2010), "Attitudes and Behaviour in the Referendum on the Treary of Lisbon", report prepared for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dani Rodrik and Mr. Trump

David Warsh:

Dani Rodrik and Mr. Trump: David Brooks, of The New York Times, wrote the single best piece I read last week on the Republican convention: “Death of the Party.” Like him, I was riveted by Donald Trump’s acceptance speech. The scene seemed straight out of one of those dystopian Batman movies of the 1980s, ’90s, and ’00s, an outlandish character, sailing under false colors, bullying and threatening, preying on fears, selling Gotham a bill of goods, preparing chaos.
By the time the nominee bellowed, “I am your voice” to the hall of delegates, he seemed simply the latest in a long line of improbable adversaries: the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Ra’s al Ghul, the Scarecrow, Bane, Mr. Trump.
But then Batman movies depend on the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, to answer the Bat signal, expose the fraud, counter the villains’ plans, and save the city.
Batman in this case is Dani Rodrik, 58, of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is likely to be the next economist to enter the pantheon of those who went to school in the ’70s whom much of the public knows today” Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Krugman, Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke. ...
Rodrik isn’t exactly fighting with Trump, the way Batman fights with those villains.  He is, by his own account, recasting the globalization narrative, replacing the familiar triumphalist version with a more nuanced account, including the ill-effects of integration that gave rise to the Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns, and those of H. Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan before them.  (Meanwhile, Rodrik is interpreting events in Turkey as well.)
The Trump campaign supports no intellectual edifice whatsoever. For all its flaws, it is up to the Clinton campaign to begin translating into political terms the deeper understanding globalization – its costs as well as its benefits – that Rodrik, Unger, and many others have been working out.
Holy Hoodwink, Batman!  Let’s get to work!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Toughest Question about Global Trade

I have a new post at MoneyWatch:

The toughest question about global trade: This year's battle for the White House has put international trade in the spotlight. Donald Trump has led the charge against trade agreements, but Hillary Clinton's reversal of her support for President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) also reflects the evolving view of the benefits of globalization.
The American public has long been suspicious of international trade, but economists have been much more supportive. However, new evidence in the economics literature has caused a rethinking of how to evaluate trade agreements.

This research documents that the negative effects of globalization on employment and wages are larger than many people realized. In addition, it recognizes that most of the benefits have accrued to those at the top of the income distribution while the costs -- lost jobs, lower wages and fewer attractive employment opportunities -- have fallen mainly on the working class.

One response from many advocates is to point out that international trade has lifted millions of people around the world out of poverty and that reducing the pace of globalization would slow the rate of global poverty reduction.

All of which brings up an important and rather difficult question: Just how should we value international trade? ...

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Outsized Impact of the Fall in Commodity Prices on Global Trade

Brad Setser:

The Outsized Impact of the Fall in Commodity Prices on Global Trade: Global trade has not grown since the start of 2015.
Emerging market imports appear to be running somewhat below their 2014 levels.
Creeping protectionism? Perhaps.
But for now the underlying national data points to much more prosaic explanation.
The “turning” point in trade came just after oil prices fell. ...

Friday, July 01, 2016

Markets and States are Complements

Kevin O'Rourke:

Markets and states are complements: The main point of my 1999 book with Jeff Williamson was that globalisation produces both winners and losers, and that this can lead to an anti-globalisation backlash. ...
What was missing from all this was an analysis of what, if anything, governments can do about this. Which is where Dani Rodrik’s finding that more open states had bigger governments in the late 20th century comes in. Dani’s interpretation is that markets expose workers to risk, and that government expenditure of various sorts can help protect them from those risks. In a series of articles, and an important book, Michael Huberman showed that this correlation between states and markets was present before 1914 as well: countries with more liberal trade policies tended to have more advanced social protections of various sorts, and this helped maintain political support for openness.
Anti-immigration sentiment was clearly crucial in delivering an anti-EU vote in England. And if you talk to ordinary people, it seems clear that competition for scarce public housing and other public services was one important factor behind this. If the Tories had really wanted to maintain support for the EU, investment in public services and public housing would have been the way to do it: if these had been elastically supplied, that would have muted the impression that there was a zero-sum competition between natives and immigrants. It wouldn’t have satisfied the xenophobes, but not all anti-immigrant voters are xenophobes. But of course the Tories were never going to do that, at least not with Osborne at the helm.
If the English want continued Single Market access, they will have to swallow continued labor mobility. There are complementary domestic policies that could help in making that politically feasible. ...
Too much market and too little state invites a backlash. Take the politics into account, and it becomes clear (as Dani has often argued) that markets and states are complements, not substitutes.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Dynamics of Labor Market Adjustment to Trade Liberalization

From Microeconomic Insights:

The dynamics of labor market adjustment to trade liberalization, by Rafael Dix-Carneiro: International trade theory has typically ignored the costs of adjusting to a change in trade policy, focusing instead on static models and long-run conclusions. However, adjustment costs are central to much of the controversy over trade liberalization. This work measures the importance of the dynamics of adjustment in shaping the distributional consequences of trade policy, and characterizes the time it takes for the economy to complete the transition to the new long-run equilibrium. When these adjustment costs are taken into account, the benefits of trade liberalization can be substantially smaller. ...

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Davos Lie

Kevin O'Rourke:

The Davos lie: ... If there's one thing that people agree about in Davos, it's that globalisation is a Good Thing. ...
As is well known, many Western societies have become more unequal over the past two decades... During the 1980s and 1990s, the consensus was that this growing inequality was due not to international trade, but to technological change that was systematically favouring skilled over unskilled workers. ...
More recently, however, the debate has swung back towards the view that trade is important in explaining rising inequality...
Unfortunately for Davos, globalisation's losers are becoming increasingly hostile to trade (and immigration)..., ordinary people's attitudes towards globalisation are exactly what Heckscher-Ohlin economics would predict. ...
Economists can tut-tut all they want about working-class people refusing to buy into the benefits of globalisation, but as social scientists we surely need to think about the predictable political consequences of economic policies. Too much globalisation, without domestic safety nets and other policies that can adequately protect globalisation's losers, will inevitably invite a political backlash. Indeed, it is already upon us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

101 Boosterism

Paul Krugman:

101 Boosterism: I see that @drvox is writing a big piece on carbon pricing – and agonizing over length and time. I don’t want to step on his forthcoming message, but what he’s said so far helped crystallize something I’ve meant to write about for a while, a phenomenon I’ll call “101 boosterism.”
The name is a takeoff on Noah Smith’s clever writing about “101ism”, in which economics writers present Econ 101 stuff about supply, demand, and how great markets are as gospel, ignoring the many ways in which economists have learned to qualify those conclusions in the face of market imperfections. His point is that while Econ 101 can be a very useful guide, it is sometimes (often) misleading when applied to the real world.
My point is somewhat different: even when Econ 101 is right, that doesn’t always mean that it’s important – certainly not that it’s the most important thing about a situation. In particular, economists may delight in talking about issues where 101 refutes naïve intuition, but that doesn’t at all mean that these are the crucial policy issues we face. ...

He goes on to talk about this in the context of international trade and carbon pricing (too hard to excerpt without leaving out important parts of his discussion).

Monday, April 11, 2016

'What’s Behind The Revolt Against Global Integration?'

Larry Summers:

What’s behind the revolt against global integration?: Since the end of World War II, a broad consensus in support of global economic integration as a force for peace and prosperity has been a pillar of the international order. ...
This broad program of global integration has been more successful than could reasonably have been hoped. ... Yet a revolt against global integration is underway in the West. ...
One substantial part of what is behind the resistance is a lack of knowledge. ...The core of the revolt against global integration, though, is not ignorance. It is a sense — unfortunately not wholly unwarranted — that it is a project being carried out by elites for elites, with little consideration for the interests of ordinary people. ...
Elites can continue on the current path of pursuing integration projects and defending existing integration, hoping to win enough popular support that their efforts are not thwarted. On the evidence of the U.S. presidential campaign and the Brexit debate, this strategy may have run its course. ...
Much more promising is this idea: The promotion of global integration can become a bottom-up rather than a top-down project. The emphasis can shift from promoting integration to managing its consequences. This would mean a shift from international trade agreements to international harmonization agreements, whereby issues such as labor rights and environmental protection would be central, while issues related to empowering foreign producers would be secondary. It would also mean devoting as much political capital to the trillions of dollars that escape taxation or evade regulation through cross-border capital flows as we now devote to trade agreements. And it would mean an emphasis on the challenges of middle-class parents everywhere who doubt, but still hope desperately, that their kids can have better lives than they did.

Friday, April 01, 2016

What’s so Great about Free Trade?

David Glasner (I cut quite a bit -- the original is more than twice as long):

What’s so Great about Free Trade?: Free trade is about as close to a sacred tenet as can be found in classical and neoclassical economic theory. ... Despite the love and devotion that the doctrine of free trade inspires in economists, the doctrine ... has never been popular among the masses. ...
The key to understanding that disconnect is, I suggest, the way in which economists have been trained to think about individual and social welfare, which, it seems to me, is totally different from how most people think about their well-being. In the standard utility-maximization framework, individual well-being is a monotonically increasing function of individual consumption, leisure being one of the “goods” being consumed, so that reductions in hours worked is, when consumption of everything else is held constant, welfare-increasing. Even at a superficial level, this seems totally wrong. ...
What people do is a far more important determinant of their overall estimation of how well-off they are than what they consume. When you meet someone, you are likely, if you are at all interested in finding out about the person, to ask him or her about what he or she does, not about what he or she consumes. Most of the waking hours of an adult person are spent in work-related activities. ... It seems to me that what matters to most people is the nature of their relationships with their family and friends and the people they work with, and whether they get satisfaction from their jobs or from a sense that they are accomplishing or are on their way to accomplish some important life goals. ...
Moreover, insofar as people depend on being employed in order to finance their routine consumption purchases..., the unplanned loss of their current job would be a personal disaster, which means that being employed is the dominant – the overwhelming – determinant of their well-being. Ordinary people seem to understand how closely their well-being is tied to the stability of their employment, which is why people are so viscerally opposed to policies that, they fear, could increase the likelihood of losing their jobs.
To think that an increased chance of losing one’s job in exchange for a slight gain in purchasing power owing to the availability of low-cost imports is an acceptable trade-off for most workers does not seem at all realistic. Questioning the acceptability of this trade-off doesn’t mean that ... in principle, the gains from free trade are[n't] large enough to provide monetary compensation to workers who lose their jobs, but I do question whether such compensation is possible in practice or that the compensation would be adequate for the loss of psychic well-being associated with losing one’s job, even if money income is maintained. ...
The psychic effects of losing a job (an increase in leisure!) are ignored by the standard calculations of welfare effects in which well-being is identified with, and measured by, consumption. And these losses are compounded and amplified when they are concentrated in specific communities and regions...
The goal of this post is not to make an argument for protectionist policies, let alone for any of the candidates arguing for protectionist policies. The aim is to show how inadequate the standard arguments for free trade are in responding to the concerns of the people who feel that they have been hurt by free-trade policies or feel that the jobs that they have now are vulnerable to continued free trade and ever-increasing globalization. I don’t say that responses can’t be made, just that they haven’t been made.
The larger philosophical or methodological point is that ... economic theory can tell us that an excise tax on sugar tends to cause an increase in the price, and a reduction in output, of sugar. But the idea that we can reliably make welfare comparisons between alternative states of the world when welfare is assumed to be a function of consumption, and that nothing else matters, is simply preposterous. And it’s about time that economists enlarged their notions of what constitutes well-being if they want to make useful recommendations about the welfare implications of public policy, especially trade policy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Trade Deficits: These Times are Different

Brad DeLong:

There are big reasons to be for "mercantilist" policies:

  1. In a world in which a country suffers from a shortage of risk-bearing capacity or a savings glut, exports are a very valuable source of aggregate demand.
  2. In a world in which there are substantial spillovers from the creation and maintenance of communities of engineering practice, exports in associated industries are a powerful nurturant and imports a powerful retardant of such communities.
  3. To the claim that subsidies to such communities are better, the proper rebuttal is "subsidies to whom?" Export champions reveal themselves to be competent productive organizations, and policies that encourage competent productive organizations are likely to do more to nurture communities of engineering practice than policies that encourage competent lobbying organizations.

The arguments against "mercantilist" policies are two:

  1. The little one: such policies are inefficient, in that the losers lose more than the winners win.
  2. The big one: such policies are not win-win, and economic policy energy is best devoted to things that are win-win--at least in the behind-the-veil-of-ignorance sense of win-win.

Paul Krugman: Trade Deficits: These Times are Different: "In normal times, the counterpart of a trade deficit is capital inflows...

Monday, March 28, 2016

Paul Krugman: Trade, Labor, and Politics

Why have Republican been more protectionist than Democrats?:

Trade, Labor, and Politics, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: There’s a lot of things about the 2016 election that nobody saw coming, and one of them is that international trade policy is likely to be a major issue... What’s more, the positions of the parties will be the reverse of what you might have expected: Republicans, who claim to stand for free markets, are likely to nominate a crude protectionist, leaving Democrats, with their skepticism about untrammeled markets, as the de facto defenders of relatively open trade.
But this isn’t as peculiar a development as it seems. ... It’s true that globalization puts downward pressure on the wages of many workers — but progressives can offer a variety of responses to that pressure, whereas on the right, protectionism is all they’ve got.
When I say that Republicans have been more protectionist than Democrats, I’m not talking about the distant past... Reagan, after all, imposed an import quota on automobiles that ended up costing consumers billions of dollars. And Mr. Bush imposed tariffs on steel that were in clear violation of international agreements, only to back down after the European Union threatened to impose retaliatory sanctions. ...
But protectionism isn’t the only way to fight that downward pressure. ... Consider, for example, the case of Denmark... As a member of the European Union, Denmark is subject to the same global trade agreements as we are... Yet Denmark has much lower inequality than we do. Why?
Part of the answer is that workers in Denmark, two-thirds of whom are unionized, still have a lot of bargaining power. If U.S. corporations were able to use the threat of imports to smash unions, it was only because our political environment supported union-busting. Even Canada, right next door, has seen nothing like the union collapse that took place here.
And the rest of the answer is that Denmark (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) has a much stronger social safety net than we do. In America, we’re constantly told ... we can’t even afford even the safety net we have; strange to say, other rich countries don’t seem to have that problem. ...
And there’s a lesson here that goes beyond this election. If you’re generally a supporter of open world markets — which you should be, mainly because market access is so important to poor countries — you need to know that whatever they may say, politicians who espouse rigid free-market ideology are not on your side.

Monday, March 14, 2016

'A Fundamental Shift in the Nature of Trade Agreements'

Tim Taylor:

A Fundamental Shift in the Nature of Trade Agreements: Controversy over agreements that seek to encourage free trade has been going on for decades. But the nature of the underlying trade agreements has fundamentally shifted. The old trade agenda under first the GATT and then its successor the World Trade Organization was focused on reducing tariffs and other trade barriers. The new generation of trade agreements are about assuring that interlocking webs of production that cross international borders will be enabled to function. Richard Baldwin explores the change in "The World Trade Organization and the Future of Multilateralism," published in the Winter 2016 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Here's a taste of his theme:

"[T]he rules and procedures of the WTO were designed for a global economy in which made-here–sold-there goods moved across national borders. But the rapid rising of offshoring from high-technology nations to low-wage nations has created a new type of international commerce. In essence, the flows of goods, services, investment, training, and know-how that used to move inside or between advanced-nation factories have now become part of international commerce. For this sort of offshoring-linked international commerce, the trade rules that matter are less about tariffs and more about protection of investments and intellectual property, along with legal and regulatory steps to assure that the two-way flows of goods, services, investment, and people will not be impeded. It’s possible to imagine a hypothetical WTO that would incorporate these rules. But in practice, the rules are being written in a series of regional and megaregional agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union. The most likely outcome for the future governance of international trade is a two-pillar structure in which the WTO continues to govern with its 1994-era rules while the new rules for international production networks, or “global value chains,” are set by a decentralized process of sometimes overlapping and inconsistent megaregional agreements."

Let's unpack these dynamics a bit. Baldwin argues that the rounds of international trade talks starting with the GATT in 1946 displayed what he calls "juggernaut" dynamics. Before the multilateral trade talks, there wasn't much reason for exporters in a country to care about whether the country imposed tariffs on imports. But the multilateral trade talks shifted the political balance, because exporters realized that in order to get lower tariffs in their foreign markets, their own country would need to reduce its tariffs, too. Moreover, each time tariffs were reduced, it tended to weaken firms and industries that faced tough import competition, while benefiting export-oriented firms. Thus, export-oriented firms were in a stronger position to advocate for future tariff cuts as well.

But by the 1990s, there was a rise in global supply chains that crossed international borders. Many emerging markets figured out pretty quickly that if they wanted to be part of global supply chains, they not only needed to reduce their tariffs, but they also needed to implement rules about protection of investment and intellectual property, as well as pursuing the "trade facilitation" agenda of making it easier for goods to move across borders. Literally hundreds of these regional trade agreements hae already been signed, and these were not "shallow" agreements focused on reducing tariffs a bit, but "deep" agreements that got way down into the nitty-gritty of facilitating cross-border trade.

Here are a couple of figures from Baldwin to illustrate the point. The bars in the left-hand figure show the number new regional trade agreements signed each year, and the blue line show the typicaly number of "deep" provisions in these treaties. The right-hand figure shows the number of bilateral investment treaties signed each year--there was clearly a boom in such treaties from the late 1990s into the early 2000s.

The controversial megaregional trade agreements now in the news are mostly about combining and standardizing provisions that are pretty much already incorporated in these hundreds of regional agreements. As Baldwin writes; "The thousands of bilateral investment treaties, for instance, are not all that different, and so network externalities could be realized by melding them together. The emergence of so-called megaregionals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership should be thought of as partial multilateralization of existing deep disciplines by sub-groups of WTO members who are deeply involved in offshoring and global value chains."

My sense is that this fundamental shift in trade agreements from "shallow" to "deep" is part of what drives the controversy surrounding them. The new generation of trade agreements aren't just about reducing tariffs or trade barriers as traditionally understood; instead, they are full of very specific rules that seek to harmonize and facilitate business flows across international borders. There is an uncomfortable sense that in the process of negotiating the details, there are too many times when juicy little plums are included for favored special interests. The fundamental economic arguments for the overall benefits of free trade, even though it is a disruptive force, have to be re-interpreted through a haze of fine print in such cases.

Baldwin sees some difficult issues emerging with a two-track system of wold trade agreements. He writes:

"The megaregionals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, however, are not a good substitute for multilateralization inside the WTO. They will create an international trading system marked by fragmentation (because they are not harmonized among themselves) and exclusion (because emerging trade giants like China and India are not members now and may never be). Whatever the conceptual merits of moving the megaregionals into the WTO, I have argued elsewhere that the actual WTO does not seem well-suited to the task. ...

"What all this suggests is that world trade governance is heading towards a two-pillar system. The first pillar, the WTO, continues to govern traditional trade as it has done since it was founded in 1995. The second pillar is a system where disciplines on trade in intermediate goods and services, investment and intellectual property protection, capital flows, and the movement of key personnel are multilateralised in megaregionals. China and certain other large emerging markets may have enough economic clout to counter their exclusion from the current megaregionals. Live and let live within this two-pillar system is a very likely outcome."

Saturday, March 12, 2016

'The Benefits of Free Trade: Time to Fly My Neoliberal Freak Flag High!'

Brad DeLong:

The Benefits of Free Trade: Time to Fly My Neoliberal Freak Flag High!: I think Paul Krugman is wrong today on international trade. For we find him in “plague on both your houses” mode. ... [see here and here]

So I guess it is time to ... fly my neoliberal freak flag high...

On the analytics, the standard HOV models do indeed produce gains from trade by sorting production in countries to the industries in which they have comparative advantages. That leads to very large shifts in incomes toward those who owned the factors of production used intensively in the industries of comparative advantage: Big winners and big losers within a nation, with relatively small net gains.

But the map is not the territory. The model is not the reality. An older increasing-returns tradition sees productivity depend on the division of labor, the division of labor depends on the extent of the market, and free-trade greatly widens the market. Such factors can plausibly quadruple the net gains from trade over those from HOV models alone, and so create many more winners.

Moreover, looking around the world we see a world in which income differentials across high civilizations were twofold three centuries ago and are tenfold today. The biggest factor in global economics behind the some twentyfold or more explosion of Global North productivity over the past three centuries has been the failure of the rest of the globe to keep pace with the Global North. And what are the best ways to diffuse Global North technology to the rest of the world? Free trade: both to maximize economic contact and opportunities for learning and imitation, and to make possible the export-led growth and industrialization strategy that is the royal and indeed the only reliable road to anything like convergence.

So I figure that, all in all, not 5% but more like 30% of net global prosperity--and considerable reduction in cross-national inequality--is due to globalization. That is a very big number indeed. But, remember, even the 5% number cited by Krugman is a big deal: $4 trillion a year, and perhaps $130 trillion in present value.

As for the TPP, the real trade liberalization parts are small net goods. The economic question is whether the dispute-resolution and intellectual-property protection pieces are net goods. And on that issue I am agnostic leaning negative. The political question is: Since this is a Republican priority, why is Obama supporting it without requiring Republican support for a sensible Democratic priority as a quid pro quo?

That said, let me wholeheartedly endorse what Paul (and Mark) say here:

as Mark Kleiman sagely observes, the conventional case for trade liberalization relies on the assertion that the government could redistribute income to ensure that everyone wins—but we now have an ideology utterly opposed to such redistribution in full control of one party…. So the elite case for ever-freer trade is largely a scam, which voters probably sense even if they don’t know exactly what form it’s taking….

Friday, March 11, 2016

Paul Krugman: Trade and Tribulation

"Politicians should be honest and realistic about trade":

Trade and Tribulation, by Paul Krugman, Commentary NY Times: Why did Bernie Sanders win a narrow victory in Michigan, when polls showed Hillary Clinton with a huge lead? Nobody really knows, but there’s a lot of speculation that Mr. Sanders may have gained traction by hammering on the evils of trade agreements. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, while directing most of his fire against immigrants, has also been bashing the supposedly unfair trading practices of China and other nations.
So, has the protectionist moment finally arrived? Maybe, maybe not...
To make sense of the debate over trade, there are three things you need to know.
The first is that we have gotten to where we are — a largely free-trade world — through ... diplomacy, going all the way back to F.D.R. This process combines a series of quid pro quos — I’ll open my markets if you open yours — with rules to prevent backsliding.
The second is that protectionists almost always exaggerate the adverse effects of trade liberalization. Globalization is only one of several factors behind rising income inequality, and trade agreements are, in turn, only one factor in globalization. ...
And yes, Mr. Sanders is demagoguing the issue...
That said, not all free-trade advocates are paragons of intellectual honesty. In fact, the elite case for ever-freer trade ... is largely a scam..., in general, agreements that lead to more trade neither create nor destroy jobs; that they usually make countries more efficient and richer, but that the numbers aren’t huge; and that they can easily produce losers as well as winners. In principle ... the winners could compensate the losers, so that everyone gains. In practice, especially given the scorched-earth obstructionism of the G.O.P., that’s not going to happen.
Why, then, did we ever pursue these agreements? A large part of the answer is foreign policy... And anyone ragging on about those past deals, like Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, should be asked what, exactly, he proposes doing now. Are they saying that we should rip up America’s international agreements? Have they thought about what that would do to our credibility and standing in the world? ...
The larger point in this election season is, however, that politicians should be honest and realistic about trade, rather than taking cheap shots. Striking poses is easy; figuring out what we can and should do is a lot harder. But you know, that’s a would-be president’s job.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Paul Krugman: When Fallacies Collide

Does protectionism cause recessions?:

When Fallacies Collide, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The formal debates among the Republicans who would be president have exceeded all expectations. Even the most hardened cynics couldn’t have imagined that the candidates would sink so low, and stay so focused on personal insults. Yet last week, offstage, there was in effect a real debate about economic policy between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, who is trying to block his nomination.
Unfortunately, both men are talking nonsense. Are you surprised?
The starting point for this debate is Mr. Trump’s deviation from free-market orthodoxy on international trade. Attacks on immigrants are still the central theme of the Republican front-runner’s campaign, but he has opened a second front on trade deficits, which he asserts are being caused by the currency manipulation of other countries, especially China. This manipulation, he says, is “robbing Americans of billions of dollars of capital and millions of jobs.”
His solution is “countervailing duties” — basically tariffs — similar to those we routinely impose when foreign countries are found to be subsidizing exports in violation of trade agreements.
Mr. Romney claims to be aghast. In his stop-Trump speech last week he warned that if The Donald became president America would “sink into prolonged recession.” Why? The only specific reason he gave was that those duties would “instigate a trade war and that would raise prices for consumers, kill our export jobs and lead entrepreneurs and businesses of all stripes to flee America.”
This is pretty funny if you remember anything about the 2012 campaign. ... Mr. Romney was saying almost exactly the same things Mr. Trump is saying now. ...
More important than Mr. Romney’s awkward history here, however, is the fact that his economic analysis is all wrong. Protectionism can do real harm, making economies less efficient and reducing long-run growth. But it doesn’t cause recessions.
Why not? ... In fact, a worldwide trade war would, by definition, reduce imports by exactly the same amount that it reduces exports. There’s no reason to assume that the net effect on employment would be strongly negative.
But didn’t protectionism cause the Great Depression? No, it didn’t — protectionism was a result of the Depression, not its cause. ...

So there you have it. The good news is that there was a real policy debate going on within the G.O.P. last week. The bad news is that it was junk economics on both sides.