Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. US Housing Market Real Estate Crash The Next Shoe To Drop – Part II - Chris_Vermeulen
2.The Coronavirus Greatest Economic Depression in History? - Nadeem_Walayat
3.US Real Estate Housing Market Crash Is The Next Shoe To Drop - Chris_Vermeulen
4.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications and AI Mega-trend Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
5. Are Coronavirus Death Statistics Exaggerated? Worse than Seasonal Flu or Not?- Nadeem_Walayat
6.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications, Global Recession and AI Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
7.US Fourth Turning Accelerating Towards Debt Climax - James_Quinn
8.Dow Stock Market Trend Analysis and Forecast - Nadeem_Walayat
9.Britain's FAKE Coronavirus Death Statistics Exposed - Nadeem_Walayat
10.Commodity Markets Crash Catastrophe Charts - Rambus_Chartology
Last 7 days
Coronavirus Pandemic UK and US Second Waves, and the Influenza Doomsday Scenario - 8th Jul 20
States “On the Cusp of Losing Control” and the Impact on the Economy - 8th Jul 20
Gold During Covid-19 Pandemic and Beyond - 8th Jul 20
UK Holidays 2020 - Driving on Cornwall's Narrow Roads to Bude Caravan Holiday Resort - 8th Jul 20
Five Reasons Covid Will Change SEO - 8th Jul 20
What Makes Internet Packages Different? - 8th Jul 20
Saudi Arabia Eyes Total Dominance In Oil And Gas Markets - 7th Jul 20
These Are the Times That Call for Gold - 7th Jul 20
A Reason to be "Extra-Attentive" to Stock Market Sentiment Measures - 7th Jul 20
The Beatings Will Continue Until the Economy Improves - 6th Jul 20
The Corona Economic Depression Is Here - 6th Jul 20
Stock Market Short-term Peaking - 6th Jul 20
Gold’s Major Reversal to Create the “Handle” - 5th July 20
Gold Market Manipulation And The Federal Reserve - 5th July 20
Overclockers UK Custom Build PC Review - 1. Ordering / Stock Issues - 5th July 20
How to Bond With Your Budgie / Parakeet With Morning Song and Dance - 5th July 20
Silver Price Trend Forecast Summer 2020 - 3rd Jul 20
Silver Market Is at a Critical Juncture - 3rd Jul 20
Gold Stocks Breakout Not Confirmed Yet - 3rd Jul 20
Coronavirus Strikes Back. But Force Is Strong With Gold - 3rd Jul 20
Stock Market Russell 2000 Gaps Present Real Targets - 3rd Jul 20
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) Big Pharma Stock for Machine Learning Life Extension Investing - 2nd Jul 20
All Eyes on Markets to Get a Refreshed Outlook - 2nd Jul 20
The Darkening Clouds on the Stock Market S&P 500 Horizon - 2nd Jul 20
US Fourth Turning Reaches Boiling Point as America Bends its Knee - 2nd Jul 20
After 2nd Quarter Economic Carnage, the Quest for Philippine Recovery - 2nd Jul 20
Gold Completes Another Washout Rotation – Here We Go - 2nd Jul 20
Roosevelt 2.0 and ‘here, hold my beer' - 2nd Jul 20
U.S. Dollar: When Almost Everyone Is Bearish... - 1st Jul 20
Politicians Prepare New Money Drops as US Dollar Weakens - 1st Jul 20
Gold Stocks Still Undervalued - 1st Jul 20
High Premiums in Physical Gold Market: Scam or Supply Crisis? - 1st Jul 20
US Stock Markets Enter Parabolic Price Move - 1st Jul 20
In The Year 2025 If Fiat Currency Can Survive - 30th Jun 20
Gold Likes the IMF Predicting a Deeper Recession - 30th Jun 20
Silver Is Still Cheap For Now - 30th Jun 20
More Stock Market Selling Ahead - 30th Jun 20
Trending Ecommerce Sites in 2020 - 30th Jun 20
Stock Market S&P 500 Approaching the Precipice - 29th Jun 20
APPLE Tech Stock for Investing to Profit from the Machine Learning Mega trend - 29th Jun 20
Student / Gamer Custom System Build June 2020 Proving Impossible - Overclockers UK - 29th Jun 20
US Dollar with Ney and Gann Angles - 29th Jun 20
Europe's Banking Sector: When (and Why) the Rout Really Began - 29th Jun 20
Will People Accept Rampant Inflation? Hell, No! - 29th Jun 20
Gold & Silver Begin The Move To New All-Time Highs - 29th Jun 20
US Stock Market Enters Parabolic Price Move – Be Prepared - 29th Jun 20
Meet BlackRock, the New Great Vampire Squid - 28th Jun 20
Stock Market S&P 500 Approaching a Defining Moment - 28th Jun 20

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

AI Stocks 2020-2035 15 Year Trend Forecast

Savings Are a Lousy Excuse for America’s Trade Deficit

Economics / US Economy Jul 15, 2010 - 02:28 AM GMT

By: Ian_Fletcher

Economics

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleEveryone who’s been paying attention knows by now that Americans consume too much and save too little.   This is statistically true, but it has unfortunately become the basis of a mischievous lie about the cause of America’s monstrous trade deficits.  That is, many orthodox economists have been claiming that our trade deficit is really a savings problem in disguise.


Sometimes it is admitted that America saves too little; sometimes it is claimed that the real problem is a savings glut abroad, mainly in East Asia.  Either way, this implies that trade policy is irrelevant to our massive and ongoing trade deficits, and thus that it is futile to try to bring them down through changes in trade policy, as only changes in savings rates can alter anything. For example, the China Business Forum, an American group, claimed in a 2006 report, “The China Effect,” that:

The United States as a whole wants to borrow at a time when the rest of the world...wants to save. The result is a current account deficit in the United Sates with all countries, including China.

This analysis is dubious on its face, as it implies that whether American cars and computers are junk or works of genius has no impact on our trade balance.  (Neither, apparently, does it matter whether foreign nations erect barriers against our exports.)  Nevertheless, this story is stubbornly repeated in some very high places, largely because it excuses inaction.

But this analysis depends upon misunderstanding the arithmetic relationship between trade deficits and savings rates as a causal relationship. In national income accounting, our savings are simply the excess of our production over our consumption—because if we don’t consume what we produce, saving it is the only other thing we can do with it. (If we export it, we’ll get something of equivalent value in return, which we must then also consume or save, so exporting doesn’t change this equation.) And a trade deficit is simply the opposite, as if we wish to consume more than we produce, there are only two ways to get the goods: either import them, or draw down supplies (aka savings) saved up in the past.

As a result, trade deficits do not “cause” a low savings rate or vice-versa; they are simply the same numbers showing up on the other side of the ledger. (The decision to eat one’s cake does not cause the decision not to save one’s cake; it is that decision.) So neither our trade deficit nor our savings rate is intrinsically a lever that moves the other—or a valid excuse for the other.

 Sometimes, it is even argued that foreign borrowing is good for the United States, on the grounds that it enables us to have lower interest rates and higher investment than we would otherwise have. But this argument is a baseline trick. It is indeed true that if we take our low savings rate as a given, and ask whether we would be better off with foreign-financed investment or no investment at all, then foreign-financed investment is better. But our savings rate isn’t a given, it’s a choice, which means that the real choice is between foreign- and domestically-financed investment. Once one frames the problem this way, domestically-financed investment is obviously better because then Americans, rather than foreigners, will own the investments and receive the returns they generate.

A related false analysis holds that our trade deficit is due to our trading partners’ failure to run sufficiently expansive monetary policies. This basically means their central banks haven’t been printing money as fast as the Fed. Some American officials, like Clinton’s Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, have even verged on suggesting this is a form of unfair trade.  Now it is indeed true that our major trading partners have not been expanding their money supplies as fast as we have. But as we have been doing so largely in order to blow up asset bubbles in order to have more assets to sell abroad to keep financing our deficit, it is not a policy sane rivals would imitate. We can hardly ask  the rest of the world to join us in a race of competitive decadence. (If they did, the result would almost certainly just be global inflation anyway.)

Another dubious theory holds that America’s deficit is nothing to be ashamed of because it is due to the failure of foreign nations to grow their economies as fast as ours. Thus George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, Jr., said in 2007 that:

We run a trade deficit because our vibrant and growing economy creates a strong demand for imports, including imports of manufacturing inputs and capital goods as well as consumer goods—while our major trading partners do not have the same growth and/or have economies with relatively low levels of consumption.

This analysis appeals to American pride because it carries the implication that we are merely victims of our own success and that our trade deficit is caused by the failure of foreign nations to be as vibrant as we are. It implies that somebody else ought to get his house in order. Unfortunately, it is obviously false that our deficit is caused by slow growth abroad when some of our worst deficits are with fast-growing nations such as China. As for “relatively low levels of consumption” abroad, this is true enough, but it also implies that balancing our trade will remain impossible as long as we have  trading partners with low consumption levels. And indeed we do, simply because so much of the world’s population is still impoverished and not consumers in our sense of the word.

It is time for America’s ruling circles to stop their endless game of seeking ever more sophisticated ways of pretending that America’s trade crisis is something other than what it is: a trade crisis, which will eventually have to be dealt with by actual trade policies like retaliatory tariffs against foreign mercantilism.  The desperate attempts of the political and economic elite to  frame the crisis as anything other than what it actually is merely produces policy paralysis while the clock ticks away on our unsustainable trade deficit, risking a bigger economic debacle the longer we wait.

Ian Fletcher is the author of the new book Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace It and Why (USBIC, $24.95)  He is an Adjunct Fellow at the San Francisco office of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, a Washington think tank founded in 1933.  He was previously an economist in private practice, mostly serving hedge funds and private equity firms. He may be contacted at ian.fletcher@usbic.net.

© 2010 Copyright  Ian Fletcher - All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules