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 Richmans' Trade and Taxes Blog

Economist for the WallStreet Journal Has It Wrong on Trade
Raymond Richman, 3/19/2017

Greg Ip, chief Economics Commentator of the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article (3/16/20!7) entitled,  “Deficits are a Flawed Guide to Unfair Trade”. First the term “unfair trade” is seldom if ever used by economists. They usually speak of countries employing mercantilist practices (i.e., tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade including export subsidies). Second, economic theory maintains that balanced trade is always beneficial to both trading partners, even when one of them imposes barriers. Third, when trade is not balanced, it is surely beneficial for the trading partner with the trade surplus. It gains jobs for its workers, it contributes to economic growth, and it gains reserves in the form of foreign currency and government bonds.  It is probably not beneficial for the party experiencing the trade deficit, depending on what the party with the surplus does with the currency it receives in exchange for the trade surplus. What is important to all trading partners is their balance with the world. The U.S. has been running a trade deficit with the rest of the world for decades which has converted the U.S. since about 1970 from the world’s leading creditor to the world’s leading debtor. 

Mr. Ip states that U.S trade deficits “result from a combination of saving, consumption and investment behavior". To his credit, Mr. Ip does acknowledge that unfair practices, including subsidized exports, benefits the American consumer at the expense of American factory workers. However, fixing unfair practices, he writes, “won’t necessarily correct the overall deficit…Persistent trade deficits reflect structural factors.” That is a statement which on its face is incorrect. There are many causes of chronic trade deficits including artificial barriers, exchange rates that do not equilibrate, inappropriate government policies which is what he probably meant by “structural factors”, etc. He writes, “The U.S. has a trade deficit because it consumes more than it produces. Lacking sufficient savings, the U.S. sells assets…to foreigners to finance consumption and capital spending.” He ignores the fact that U.S. multi-nationals have been saving but invest much of their savings abroad and many export some or most of their product back to the U.S. As for financing capital spending, that’s what moving factories abroad means. The trade deficits are not caused by American consumers who buy very little directly from foreign countries but by foreign and domestic corporations that import autos and consumer goods much of whose value is produced abroad.    ...


Comments: 1

Do Trade Deficits Matter - The Debate Heats Up -- We're published in today's American Thinker
Howard Richman, 3/16/2017

In today’s American Thinker, we discuss the debate about whether trade deficit’s matter between Trump’s National Trade Council director Peter Navarro (an economic nationalist) and the Wall Street Journal editorial page (economic globalists). We conclude:

The Wall Street Journal continues: “Perhaps the best way to think about the U.S. trade deficits is not to think about it.” It’s true; they’re not. If the economic globalists at the WSJ win, America will be the big loser. If President Trump enacts the suggestions of Peter Navarro and the other economic nationalists, America will benefit immensely.”

To read the commentary, to to:


Comments: 1

Trump Must Give Priority to Reducing the Trade Deficits
Raymond Richman, 3/13/2017

Pres. Trump has his priorities wrong. Repealing Obamacare, building the wall on the Mexican border, improving education through school choice, lowering  the rates of corporate income tax, reform of the personal income tax, strengthening our military capabilities, etc. are  desirable but none of them attacks the real long-term malaise of the U.S. economy, the huge annual U.S. trade deficits. One cannot restore America’s greatness without reducing our international trade deficits which have been the primary cause of the wage stagnation and unemployment in manufacturing, restoration of which must be given the highest priority.

The ideology of free trade has permeated the media like the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, the New York Times, the Heritage Foundation, and many others including most of the economists in academia. Fortunately, a few like Prof. J. M. Keynes put free trade in perspective. A free trader in principle, he asserted that when the U.K. trading partners pursued “beggar-thy-neighbor” policies, the U.K. should retaliate. For over a century, economists have pointed out that even when countries pursued mercantilist practices, all trading partners gained in welfare so long as trade was balanced. But both parties do not gain if trade is unbalanced. ...


Comments: 0

Wall Street Journal Suggests Not to Think About the Trade Deficits
Raymond Richman, 3/11/2017

The editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, 3/10/2017, wrote an editorial entitled “How to Think About the Trade Deficit”, which they considered an answer to Prof. Peter Navarro’s piece on 3/6/2017, “Why the White House Worries About Trade Deficits.”


Were I still a Prof. of Economics, I would give the WSJ an “F” in the economics of international trade.  In the second  paragraph, one reads “a trade deficit isn’t a debt that must be repaid. It is often a sign of economic prosperity.”  A trade deficit results in the accumulation abroad of U.S. currency, every dollar of which recites that “This note is legal tender tor all debt, public and private.” The U.S. does not have to pay it back but it can be used to buy U.S. government bonds, to purchase Rockefeller Center as the Japanese did, buy real estate as many Germans have done, buy U.S. companies, or keep our IOUs as reserves for future use. The consequence of the trade deficit wherein our trading partners do any one of the above is to create jobs in the trade surplus country and none in the U.S.


In the third paragraph, the WSJ equates balance of payments with balance of trade, capital flows vs. trade in goods. The former is exchanging a $20 bill for two 10s. When we experience a trade deficit, our trading partners gives us goods in exchange for our $20 bill. It takes labor and capital in the exporting country to produce the goods we import while all it takes is paper and ink to produce our evidence of debt. Why would anyone want to exchange goods for a printed piece of paper – are they stupid? No they are buying our promise to let them gain ownership of productive assets in our country in exchange for the paper we used to pay for their goods.


In the 7th paragraph WSJ writes  that if trade surpluses were a sign of success, the 1930s might been different, quoting Prof. Don Boudreax  of George Mason U, “For only 18 of the 120 months of that dreary decade did the United States run a trade deficit. For each of the remaining 102 months of the decade of the 1930s the  U.S. ran a trade surplus.” No one claims that trade deficits have much if anything to do with cyclical fluctuations. That the U.S. ran trade deficits during periods of prosperity has nothing to do with the argument that trade deficits have caused the loss of millions of good-paying jobs in manufacturing. ...


Comments: 0

The Result of Excessive Government Is Democratic Fascism  
Raymond Richman, 3/8/2017

A country in which central government expenditures account for an excessive part of the GDP can hardly be called democratic. The role of government in a democracy should be limited to defense, treasury operations, inter-country relations, a judicial system, the construction and maintenance of public infrastructure, maintaining law and order, and a limited number of specialized agencies. To the extent that the central government intervenes in the operation of the private economic system it should be limited to the grant of patents and copyrights as a reward for innovation and invention and little else. The setting of prices and wages should be beyond its powers. Even the anti-trust laws smack of crony capitalism.


The reader will recall that the Nazis professed to be socialist; indeed the term Nazi stands for National Socialist German Workers Party, dedicated to government control of all industry. Aided and abetted by Communists and communist fellow travelers, the party has been mislabeled a right-wing party but its basic orientation is socialist.  Bernie Sanders self-described himself as a democratic socialist but since he proposes unlimited government expenditures of a social nature his philosophy should be more appropriately described as democratic fascism....


Comments: 0

The Proposed Border Tax Would Derail Trump’s Proposals to Reduce Trade Deficits
Raymond Richman, 3/6/2017

Republicans have proposed a border tax supposedly intended to reduce the trade deficits and the budget deficits. And so-called conservative Republicans are pushing to substitute a value-added tax for the progressive personal income tax. The border tax is a modified version of the value-added tax. So both proposals are designed to add two regressive taxes since both fall on consumption and do not tax savings or wealth. We already have border taxes. Retail sales taxes do not apply to exports and most states impose retail sales taxes with rates as high as 9.45% in Tennessee,  9.3% in Arkansas, 8.9% in Alabama, Louisiana, and 8.89 percent in Washington State. The border tax would add 20% making the taxes on import as high as nearly 30%.

Under international law, retail sales taxes and value-added taxes can be exempted from and deducted from exports without violating the rules against “dumping”, i.e., defined as selling abroad at lower prices than sales at home. The value-added tax under international laws is considered a retail sales tax and may be rebated to exporters. Under international law, the border tax might not be considered a sales tax and therefore might violate international laws because the proposed tax affects only exports and imports. The issue would have to  be decided in the courts which will take years. Congress could pass a value-added tax which would be deductible, but popular opposition to a sales tax at the federal government level would prevent it ever from passing. The border tax is a modified value-added tax. Under the plan, companies wouldn't be able to deduct the cost of imports from their revenue, a move that today enables them to lower their overall tax burden. At the same time, exports and other foreign sales would be made tax-free. The plan would operate like a tax on the trade deficit and raise about $100 billion per year which could help pay for lower income tax rates.

We have three principal objections to the border tax. First, it is a new federal tax and the federal government is already too large. Second, it is a regressive tax, falling on consumption only. Third it will punish not only countries with which we have a large chronic trade deficit but punish those with which have a trade surplus. ...


Comments: 1

The Proposed Border Tax Would Derail President's Proposals to Reduce Trade Deficits
Raymond Richman, 3/1/2017

Our State retail sales taxes are border taxes and are not imposed on exports. Under international law, retail sales taxes and value-added taxes can be exempted from and deducted from exports without violating the rules against dumping, defined as selling abroad at lower price than sales at home. The proposed border tax seeks to impose a 20% tax on all imports. Under international law, the border tax may not be considered a sales tax and therefore might not be deductible. The issue will be decided in the courts which will take years. Congress could pass a value-added tax which would be deductible, but popular opposition to a sales tax at the federal government level would prevent it ever from passing. The border tax is a modified value-added tax. Under the plan, companies wouldn't be able to deduct the cost of imports from their revenue, a move that today enables them to lower their overall tax burden. At the same time, exports and other foreign sales would be made tax-free. The plan would operate like a tax on the trade deficit and raise about $100 billion per year which could help pay for lower income tax rates.

Congress could pass a 20% value-added tax, which amounts to a 20% retail sales tax, but there is no way such a proposal could pass the Congress or be signed by any President in his first term. The border tax is a sort of value-added tax; after all, the value of goods is the sum of value-added. Value-added is the sum of wages, profits, interest, and rent incurred in the course of producing goods and services, which equals the price of the goods and services produced. The IMF for decades has been promoting the value-added tax, concealing the fact that it is equivalent to a retail sales tax to make it easier to be enacted.

The border tax falls on all our trading partners, even those with which we have trade surpluses. Why would we want to hurt them? And the border tax raises the prices of all imports not merely those from countries with which we are experiencing huge deficits.  ...


Comments: 0

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  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

    Journal of Economic Literature:

  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

    Atlantic Economic Journal:

  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]