Tag: higher prices

Ask Consumers if They Like a Weak Dollar

According to a Washington Post story today, “the weak dollar is one problem the United States loves to have.” The story reports how the fall of the dollar against the euro and other currencies in the past year has boosted U.S. exports and discouraged imports, cutting the trade deficit and allegedly boosting the U.S. economy. A weaker dollar has spurred complaints in Europe and elsewhere, but here at home the Post story leaves the impression the approval is practically unanimous.

Nowhere in the 1,058-word story is the impact on consumers ever mentioned. But it is American consumers who pay the biggest price when the dollars we earn buy less on global markets. We are paying more for oil, which not coincidentally has zoomed toward $80 as the dollar flounders. A weaker dollar means higher prices than we would pay otherwise for a range of goods, from imported shoes and clothing to food, that loom large in the budgets of American families struggling to make ends meet in this difficult economy.

Ignoring consumer interests is widespread in reporting about trade. It reflects the strong bias of elected officials to see trade issues strictly through the lens of producers and never consumers. After all, it is producers who form trade groups and hire lobbyists to promote their exports or protect themselves from imports. Nobody in Washington represents the diffused, disorganized but much more numerous 100 million American households.

The dollar’s value should be set by markets, and I have no reason to believe the dollar is over- or undervalued. But pardon me if I dissent from the consensus that a falling dollar is unambiguously good news.

Obama to Impose Tariff on Chinese Tires

From the quiet shadows of the White House, at around 10 pm on Friday night, came word that President Obama will impose prohibitive duties of 35% on imports of Chinese tires.

Well, we at Cato and elsewhere have warned repeatedly of the dangerous consequences of this outcome (June 18, July 24, August 13, September 9, September 11). Former Cato colleague and coauthor Scott Lincicome has an excellent analysis on the ramifications right here.

The good news is that we now have clarity about where the president stands on trade. The bad news is that his stance reflects his isolationist primary election campaign rhetoric and not the post-election messages of avoiding protectionism and repairing the damage done to America’s international credibility by unilateralist Bush administration policies. Short of armed hostilities or political subversion, no state action is more provocative than banning another’s products from entering your market. I guess this paper was too audaciously hopeful. We’re chastened.

Technically, the Chinese are not legally entitled to retaliate because the United States has legal recourse to restrictions under this so-called “China safeguard” law until 2013. But plenty of American exporting interests have been worried enough to write numerous letters to Obama urging restraint–but to no avail.

Restrictions have never been imposed under this law because in all previous cases – all during the previous administration – President Bush exercised his discretion to reject the recommended duties because of the likely cost of those restrictions on the broader economy. Thus, the Chinese know the decision is a matter of presidential discretion, unlike the antidumping and countervailing duty laws, which are on statutory autopilot and don’t require the president’s attention. Accordingly, the tire restrictions are the edict of the American president, and thus carries more profound meaning for the Chinese.

One of the more thrilling spectacles in all of this, if politicians were capable of humility, would be watching President Obama explain his decision to impose tire duties on China at the G-20 meeting he is hosting in Pittsburgh in 12 days. Recall the president’s pledge (along with the other G-20 leaders) at the last G-20 meeting in London to avoid new protectionist measures.

American credibility on trade is spent. And maybe Obama will find comfort in that fact because he won’t be burdened with that historic responsibility, as he signs off on the slew of new requests for trade restrictions (which are undoubtedly coming soon) under this law from other U.S. industries seeking handouts.

Strap on your armor; the die has been cast.