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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Sep 29, 2011 - 7:25 AM


Dr. Peter Morici: Free trade Is failing America
By Proffessor Peter Morici
Sep 29, 2011 - 2:45 AM

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President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk in a hold area before the President delivers his third annual back-to-school speech at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. Sept. 28, 2011.

Dr. Peter Morici: No economic policy could better serve Americans than genuine free trade but open trade policies are failing Americans.

The basic idea is compelling. Let each nation do more of what it does best, and specialization will raise productivity and incomes.

Americans are not sharing in those benefits because President Obama, like President Bush, permits China and others to cheat on the rules, unchallenged and to the detriment of the US interests he was elected to champion.
 
The World Trade Organization has greatly reduced tariffs, prohibits virtually all export subsidies, and regulates other national policies that could subvert trade, such as health and product safety standards arbitrarily slanted to favor domestic suppliers.

For these rules to optimize trade, raise productivity and boost incomes, exchange rates must adjust to reasonably reflect production costs. To buy Chinese televisions, Americans must be able to purchase yuan with dollars; however, an artificially strong dollar that overprices US tractors and software in China unravels the benefits of trade by denying Americans opportunities to export to pay for those televisions.

Exchange rates are established in currency markets, created by businesses trading through major financial institutions. Unfortunately, China and several other Asian governments blatantly manipulate those markets without a credible US response and with ruinous consequences for the US economy American workers.

The United States annually exports $2.1trn in goods and services, and these finance a like amount of imports. This raises US gross domestic product by about $210bn, because workers are about 10% more productive in export industries, such as software, than in import-competing industries, such as apparel.

Unfortunately, US imports exceed exports by another $565bn, and workers released from making those products go into non-trade-competing industries, such as retailing, where productivity is at least 50% lower.

This slashes GDP by $235bn, overwhelming the gains from trade, and requires workers displaced by imports to accept lower wages. If these workers find no work at all, the loss is much greater and could reach the full $565bn - - in actual fact, that seems to be what is happening.

The trade deficit creates an excess supply of dollars in international currency markets, as Americans offer more dollars to purchase foreign products than foreigners demand to purchase US products.

Simple supply and demand should drive down the value of the dollar against the yuan and other currencies, make US imports more expensive and exports cheaper, and reduce or eliminate the trade deficit. But the Chinese government subverts this process by habitually printing and selling yuan for dollars in currency markets, keeping its currency and exports artificially cheap.

Currency manipulation creates a 25% subsidy on China’s exports, and other Asian countries are impelled to follow similar policies, lest their exports lose competitiveness to Chinese products.

Also, huge trade imbalances between Asia and the West, perpetuated by currency mercantilism, create an imbalance in demand - - a shortage of demand for the goods and services produced in the United States and Europe, and artificially robust demand for products made in China and elsewhere in Asia.

Consequently, to keep the US economy going, Americans must both borrow from foreigners and spend too much, as they did through 2008, or their government must amass huge budget deficits by borrowing from abroad, as it is now.
 
In the bargain, the United States sends manufacturing jobs to Asia in industries that would be competitive in the United States, but for rigged exchange rates. The trade deficit slices $400 to $600bn off GDP, overwhelming the gains from trade by any measure, and Americans suffer unemployment above 9% and sinking wages.
 
China grows at nearly 10% a year and makes American diplomats look like fools for advocating free markets as a growth policy.

Campaigning for the Presidency, Barack Obama promised to do something about Chinese currency manipulation, but he has simply failed to act. Instead, like a good supplicant, he thanks Chinese officials for buying US Treasury securities.

China’s development policies make its leaders look smart but nothing makes them look like geniuses better than an American president who appeases their beggar-thy-neighbor policies.

It will be impossible for the United States to create the 14m jobs needed to bring unemployment down to pre-recession levels without taking on China’s currency manipulation and other unfair trade practices.

For that Americans may need to wait for a better president - - one with the courage to stand up to China.

Peter Morici,

Professor, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland,

College Park, MD 20742-1815,

703 549 4338 Phone

703 618 4338 Cell Phone

pmorici@rhsmith.umd.edu

http://www.smith.umd.edu/lbpp/faculty/morici.html

http://www.smith.umd.edu/faculty/pmorici/cv_pmorici.htm

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