A recent study on U.S.-China trade concludes that Trump’s trade policies cost the U.S. economy nearly a quarter million jobs. But its obsolete understanding of trade flows ends up pointing trade policymakers in the wrong direction.
The idea that trade imbalances are more likely to be the result of credit imbalances than of savings imbalances ignores the role of savings imbalances in creating credit imbalances. When a surplus country demands to be paid for its trade surplus with claims on American assets, the U.S. economy must adjust to create these assets—and one of the most common ways it does so is by expanding credit.
It is easy to assume that sovereign debt forgiveness involves a collective transfer of wealth from the creditor country to the debt-owing country, but this is only true under specific—and unrealistic—conditions. In today’s environment, sovereign debt forgiveness mainly represents a transfer within the creditor country. It benefits farmers and manufacturers in the creditor country at the expense of the country’s nonproductive savers.
There is a widespread belief that a country’s national debt burden is sustainable if the interest rate on its debt is less than its expected GDP growth rate. But, in fact, the relationship between interest rates and the GDP growth rate reveals more about the distribution of income in a country than about the sustainability of its debt.
It is a mistake to assume that there is a global capital and technology frontier toward which every country must strive to acquire development. Economic development requires, above all, the right set of formal and informal institutions.
U.S. households will likely respond to the shocks of the pandemic by increasing their savings rates, as will foreign households. If the U.S. government does not decisively increase spending, higher American household savings will force either American debt or unemployment to rise even more.
The debate about whether it is U.S. consumers or Chinese businesses that pay for American tariffs on Chinese-produced goods reveals absolutely nothing about whether the tariffs harm or benefit the U.S. economy.
There are conditions under which governments can create money—or debt—without fear of inflation or excessive debt burdens. There are other conditions under which debt or money creation can lead to inflation and balance sheet problems.
Taxing capital inflows is a far better way to balance trade than imposing tariffs. This would address the root causes of trade imbalances, improve the productive investment process, and shift most of the adjustment costs onto banks and speculators.
Facebook seems to think its new digital currency Libra will be used mainly for purchasing goods and services and for current account transactions. But it will probably be used mainly for capital account transactions. Do we really want to eliminate frictional costs on the capital account?
Income inequality in the United States hampers growth and forces up debt. In advanced economies in which investment is not constrained by scarce savings, high levels of income inequality lead automatically to either more unemployment or more debt. Such inequality undermines not only the health of the economy, but eventually also the rich.