Tag: export-import bank

Washington Post Half-Heartedly Seeks Clarity About Export-Import Bank Jobs Claims

It was good of the Washington Post Editorial Board to raise questions yesterday about the veracity of the “jobs-created-by-Export-Import-Bank-policies” claims proffered by the Bank’s supporters. I just wonder whether the editorial pulled its punches where a reporter on assignment or a more inquisitive journalist would have delivered an unabashed blow to the credibility of the Bank’s primary reauthorization argument: that its termination will lead to a reduction in U.S. exports and jobs.

Kudos to the Post for raising an eyebrow at the Bank’s claims of “jobs created” or “jobs supported” by Ex-Im financing:  

[W]hen it comes to jobs, well, just how rigorous are [Ex-Im’s] estimates, really? Congress ordered a study of that very question when it last reauthorized Ex-Im in 2012. In May 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) produced its verdict: Meh.”

“GAO noted that Ex-Im must speak vaguely of “jobs supported,” rather than concretely of jobs created, since its methodology cannot really distinguish between new employment and retained employment. To get a number for “jobs supported,” which includes both a given firm and that firm’s suppliers, Ex-Im multiplies the dollar amount of exports it finances in each industry by a “jobs ratio” (calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Using that approach, Ex-Im estimates an average of 6,390 jobs are “supported” by every billion dollars of exports financed. The Post is right to note the GAO’s conclusion:

These figures do not differentiate between full-time and part-time work and, crucially, provide no information about what might have happened to employment at the firms in question, or others, if the resources marshaled by Ex-Im had flowed elsewhere in the economy.

Most U.S. Manufacturers Victimized by Ex-Im’s Hidden Costs

In an earlier post today, I described a reasonable methodology for estimating the hidden costs imposed on companies whose suppliers receive export subsidies from the Export-Import Bank. Ex-Im officials like to talk about how they “grow the economy” and create jobs by enticing foreign customers with low-rate financing to buy U.S. exports. As I described in that earlier post, when the cost to business of exporting is mitigated by subsidies, companies will likely export more. That may be good for them, but it’s not so good for their U.S. customers, whose foreign competition is now enjoying lower costs (courtesy of U.S. taxpayers). Delta Airlines’ complaint about subsidized Boeing sales to Air India having an adverse impact on Delta, who competes for passengers with Air India, is a fairly clear example of the problem.

As an approximation of the cost imposed on Downstream Industy A, (let’s call it the Delta Effect), I used the subsidies received by every industry whose output is used in Downstream Industy A’s production process, adjusted those subsidies by the importance of the input relative to the total of all intermediate goods inputs, and summed up the values.  I did this for every 6-digit NAICS manfuacturing code and presented tables of results in descending order from biggest victim to biggest beneficiary.  There were 236 industries – perhaps too much information, particularly for a blog post.

So for greater clarity, this table compiles the data at the broader, 3-digit NAIC industry level.  

As you can see, most aggregated 3-digit industries are victims of Ex-Im subsidies.  And most of the 6-digit industries within each broader 3-digit industry are victims, too. U.S. manufacturers of electrical equipment, appliances, furniture, food products, non-metallic metals, chemicals, computers, plastics, rubber, paper, primary metals, and many other goods should give Delta a call and get really busy during Congress’s August recess.

The Export-Import Bank and Its Victims: Which Industries Bear the Brunt

The Export-Import Bank of the United States is a government-run export credit agency, which provides access to favorable financing for the foreign customers of some U.S. companies.  For several months, Washington has been embroiled in a debate over whether to reauthorize the Bank’s charter, which will otherwise expire on September 30.  While Republican House leadership remains publicly committed to shutting down the Bank, a bipartisan group of eight senators introduced reauthorization legislation last night, setting the stage for a post-August recess showdown.

Reauthorization buffs contend that Ex-Im fills a void left by private sector lenders unwilling to provide financing for certain transactions and, by doing so, contributes importantly to U.S. export and job growth.  Rather than burdening taxpayers, the Bank generates profits for the U.S. Treasury, helps small businesses succeed abroad, encourages exports of green goods, contributes to development in sub-Saharan Africa, and helps “level the playing field” for U.S. companies competing in export markets with foreign companies benefitting from their own governments’ generous export financing programs.  Accordingly, failure to reauthorize the Bank’s charter would be akin to unilateral disarmament.

But those justifications – two rationalizations, really, and a few token appeals to liberal sensibilities intended to create the illusion of a bipartisan imperative for reauthorization – are unpersuasive or non-responsive to Ex-Im’s critics.  By effectively superseding the risk-based decision-making processes of legions of private-sector, profit-maximizing financial firms with the choices of a handful of bureaucrats using non-market benchmarks and pursuing often opaque, political objectives, Ex-Im risks taxpayer dollars.  That Ex-Im is currently self-sustaining and generating revenues is entirely beside the point and is no more reassuring than a drunk driver rationalizing that he made it home safely last night so there’s no danger in drunk driving tonight.

Subsidies Make Businesses Weaker

The technical arguments against the Export-Import Bank are provided in this excellent summary by Veronique de Rugy. However, one argument against Ex-Im and other business subsidies is not stressed enough in policy debates: subsidies weaken the businesses that receive them.

Subsidies change the behavior of recipients. Just like individual welfare reduces work incentives, corporate welfare dulls business competitiveness. Subsidies give companies a crutch, an incentive not to improve efficiency or to innovate, as I noted here.

Yesterday, I looked at Chapter 1 of Burton and Anita Folsom’s new book, Uncle Sam Can’t Count, which examines federal fur trading boondoggles of 1795-1822. 

Now let’s look at Chapter 2, which focuses on the steamboat industry of the 19th century. The historical lesson is clear: subsidies make companies weak, inefficient, and resistant to innovation.

Here is a thumbnail sketch of the Folsoms’ steamboat story:

  • In 1806 New York gives Robert Fulton a legal monopoly on steamboat travel in the state. Breaking this misguided law, a young Cornelius Vanderbilt launches a competitive service in 1817.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the New York law in 1824. The effect is to usher in an era of steamboat innovation and falling prices for consumers.
  • Vanderbilt launches many new steamboat routes whenever he sees an opportunity to drive down prices.
  • With subsidies from the British government, Samuel Cunard launches a steamship service from England to North America in 1840. In response, Edward Collins successfully lobbies Congress to give him subsidies to challenge Cunard on the Atlantic route. With this unfortunate precedent, Congress proceeds to hand out subsidies to steamship firms on other routes.
  • By the 1850s, Congress is providing Collins a huge annual subsidy of $858,000. Irked by the subsidies and Collins’ inefficient service, Vanderbilt builds a better and faster ship and launches his own Atlantic service.
  • In 1856 two of Collins’ inferior ships sink, killing almost 500 people. Collins builds a new ship, but it is so shoddy that it is scrapped after only two trips.
  • Congress finally realizes that the aid to Collins is damaging, as it has spawned an inferior and mismanaged business. Congress cuts off the subsidies in 1858. Without subsidies, Collins’ steamship company collapses.
  • Vanderbilt also out-competes subsidized steamship companies on the East Coast-to-West Coast route through Central America.
  • In England, an unsubsidized competitor to Cunard—the Inman Line—is launched and begins out-competing and out-innovating the subsidized incumbent.
  • The subsidized Cunard and Collins aim their services at the high-end luxury market. The more efficient and unsubsidized Vanderbilt and Inman focus on driving down prices for people with more moderate incomes.
  • Government subsidies “actually retarded progress because Cunard and Collins both used their monopolies to stifle innovation and delay technological changes in steamship construction.”

Government subsidies have similar negative effects today, whether it is subsidies to energy companies, aid to farm businesses, or the Ex-Im program.

The difference is that in the 19th century Congress eventually cut off subsidies when the damage became clear, as it did with steamship subsidies in 1858 and fur trading subsidies in 1822. Maybe I’m overlooking something, but I can’t think of a business subsidy program terminated by Congress in recent years, or even in recent decades.  

Big Business Clashes with Libertarians and Tea Party over Ex-Im Bank

Two weeks ago I wrote about the efforts of big business to defeat libertarian-leaning legislators in states across the country. To confirm my point, on the same day the article appeared the Michigan Chamber of Commerce endorsed the opponent of Rep. Justin Amash, the one of whom I had written, “Most members of Congress vote for unconstitutional bills. Few of them make it an explicit campaign promise.”

Now a battle is brewing in Congress that pits libertarians and Tea Party supporters against the country’s biggest businesses. The Wall Street Journal headlines, “GOP’s Attack on Export-Import Bank Alarms Business Allies.” The “rise of tea-party-aligned lawmakers” is threatening this most visible example of corporate welfare, and David Brat’s attacks on “crony capitalism” in his surprise defeat of Eric Cantor have made some Republicans nervous. Amash told the Journal, “There are some large corporations that would like corporate welfare to continue.”

The biggest beneficiaries of Ex-Im’s billions are companies such as Boeing, General Electric and Caterpillar,  according to Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center. Cato scholars have made the same point, including Aaron Lukas and Ian Vasquez in 2002 and Sallie James in 2011.

Matthew Yglesias of Vox notes, “The Export-Import Bank is a great example of the kind of thing a libertarian populist might oppose. That’s because the bank is a pretty textbook example of the government stepping in to arbitrarily help certain business owners.” And he points out that supporters of the Bank include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the AFL-CIO, Haley Barbour, and Dick Gephardt. He could have added Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) said he worried about “a libertarian theology that’s really starting to creep in.” I hope he’s right.

PPI Considers Ex-Im Debate ‘Senseless’

What is the proper role of government in a free society? That is not an unreasonable question to debate in the public square – and to revisit with great frequency. Our era of $4 trillion federal budgets, debt-to-GDP ratios above 100 percent, and policymakers betting big on particular industries – even particular firms (check the WH visitor’s log) – renders that question all the more urgent.

Apparently, the Progressive Policy Institute disagrees. Last week, PPI’s managing director for policy and strategy condescendingly characterized the “protracted battle over the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank” as “senseless,” as though the serious questions raised about Ex-Im’s operations, raison d’etre, costs, and externalities were simply unworthy.  

But on what grounds is it senseless to ask Ex-Im apologists to explain why that boondoggle is not corporate welfare that puts taxpayers and “unchosen” businesses at risk? Why is it senseless to force a debate on the merits of earmarking $140 billion for the benefit of a select few companies, when in the “mother of all budget battles” that transpired last year, only $38 billion was cut? Why is it not appropriate to raise questions about the sustainability of a subsidy race that effectively outsources U.S. policy to Beijing or Brussels?

Debate is illuminating.  It can be reinforcing and it can raise fresh doubts.  And it is essential to the eternal vigilance we must exercise to protect our liberties.  Unfortunately, at least one scholar at PPI is so convinced that the questions raised in the debate over Ex-Im are so irrelevant that she recommends a much longer reauthorization period (5, 10, or 15 years) to avoid debate in the future.  

Progressives tend to have an abiding faith in the goodness of government, but this proposal would make a dictator blush. 

Ex-Im Reauthorization Vote Expected Tomorrow

House legislators have reached a “compromise” deal to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank of the United States until 2014 and at an increased funding level ($120 billion, with a possible increase to $140 billion). The compromise builds on a bill crafted by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) I blogged about in March, but seems to largely be a win for the pro-bank folks judging by the increased funding levels, with the “compromise” part being not much more than pathetic sops to those concerned about the bank’s mission, if not its very existence.

Inside U.S. Trade [$] has more details:

House Republican and Democratic leaders late last week announced that they had a reached a compromise deal to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank through fiscal year 2014 and immediately raise its lending cap to $120 billion, with the possibility of further increases to $140 billion during that period if default rates are kept low and other conditions are met. The House expects to consider the bill on Wednesday (May 9) under suspension of rules, a House GOP aide said.

The bill contains a longer reauthorization, and a higher lending cap, than what was included in an initial draft bill floated by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) in March. That draft bill would have renewed the bank’s charter only through June 2013, and would have raised the lending cap to $113 billion, up from the current level of $100 billion.

At the same time, the compromise bill reflects some of the demands of Cantor and other Republicans who are wary of reauthorizing the activities of a bank they say puts taxpayer money at risk and distorts the free market.

For instance, it conditions further increases in the lending cap, to $140 billion for fiscal year 2014, on the bank maintaining a default rate on outstanding loans that is below two percent and submitting other required reports. It also includes language from Cantor’s draft instructing the president to enter into negotiations with other countries to substantially reduce official export financing in general and for aircraft in particular, with the goal of ultimately eliminating such financing altogether.

Under suspension of rules, which is a procedure typically reserved for non-controversial legislation, debate is limited to 40 minutes and the bill must garner a two-thirds majority to pass.

The article goes on to describe all of the ostensible brakes that the Republican leadership have insisted placing on Ex-Im, but they really amount to the usual Washington ways of pretending they are implementing real reform: calls for the bank to issue business plans, address GAO concerns, be more transparent, etc. Nothing, unfortunately, about changing the accounting rules under which the bank operates let alone setting a path to winding down the bank altogether.

In short, the “compromise” is just fiddling while Washington is awash in red ink, and the federal government encroaches more and more into what should be private markets.