Topic: International Economics and Development

Shed No Tears for U.S. Manufacturers

I’m going on BBC radio shortly to comment on the creation of a new lobbying group called the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Funded in part by the United Steelworkers Union, the group promises to agitate for trade restrictions against allegedly “unfair” imports from China.

Putting the “unfair trade” charge aside for a moment, there is no evidence that U.S. manufacturing as a whole is suffering from import competition, whether fair or unfair (whatever that means). Consider a few facts that you probably won’t find on the AAM’s slick new website:

U.S. manufacturing output is up 40 percent in the past decade by volume. American workers continue to produce more chemicals and pharmaceuticals, more semiconductors and sophisticated medical equipment, more aircraft and even auto parts than ever before.

After-tax profits of U.S. manufacturing companies topped $400 billion last year.

Imports from China have displaced relatively few Americans workers. Workers who have lost their jobs because of imports from China account for only about 1 percent of annual U.S. job displacement. The sectors where China has been most competitive tend to be in lower-value goods such as clothing, shoes and other labor-intensive products.

Manufacturing jobs have been declining, not because of falling production, but because of soaring productivity. We are producing record volumes of manufacturing output with fewer workers because remaining workers are so much more productive.

China represents the fastest growing major export market for U.S. manufacturing exporters.

To get more details and analysis on our trade relationship with China, check out my 2006 Cato Trade Briefing Paper, “Who’s Manipulating Whom?”

No Pearl(stein)s of Wisdom

Count the Washington Post’s chief business writer, Steven Pearlstein, among the disciples of “Dobbsonomics.” In his column today, Pearlstein writes:

There is a reason that, when it comes to trade and globalization, more Americans believe Lou Dobbs than Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke — and it’s not because they’ve been bamboozled. The reason is that Americans perceive, correctly, that in recent years liberalized trade has not delivered as promised…(emphasis added)

Exactly what were those promises, Steven? Since 2001, the year of our last recession and the year China joined the WTO, U.S. GDP has increased 32 percent and about eight million net new jobs were created in the economy. Today’s unemployment rate stands at 4.4 percent. And don’t tell me that those 3 million people who lost manufacturing jobs at the beginning of the decade are flipping burgers or just stopped looking for work. The median salary in the services sector recently surpassed the median manufacturing salary.

A lot of the criticism of trade these days seems to be nothing more than expressions of self-loathing. As uneducated, unsuspecting, indebted sloths, Americans are living on borrowed time. Surely there will be hellish consequences to pay for our present profligacy.

Next time, let’s see the facts supporting the conclusion that U.S. trade policies have not delivered.

Stacked Deck

The Senate Agriculture Committee continues their hearings today with a focus on Title I – that’s the part of the farm bill that deals with farm subsidies. In the list of witnesses (available here), you will see significant representation from the main commodity groups (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and a few others) and farmer groups (American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union). From what I can see, only two witnesses (out of the list of sixteen due to appear) could be expected to give a different take on farm programs: the North American Millers Association, as a user of commodities, might speak up about the damage commodity programs do to markets, and Bread for the World are rightly concerned about the effect of American farm subsidies on poor people around the world.

To be sure, farmers are affected by these programs and deserve a seat at the witness table. But where are the taxpayer groups? The food producer associations? Is the Committee even interested in the effects these programs have on the rest of us who pay for farm welfare? I guess that’s a rhetorical question.

One-Half Cheer for a Weaker Dollar

I spent two days last week in Oslo, Norway, for a conference and naturally wanted to sample one of the country’s fine beers. My pint of Ringes was served cold at Lorry’s, a popular and slightly low-brow pub near the Royal Palace. I nursed it slowly because it cost 61 kronor, which converts to slightly more than $10.

It seems I’m not the only American traveling abroad these days who has found that our once mighty dollars do not go as far as they used to. As this morning’s Investor’s Business Daily reports:

The dollar last week sank to a 26-year low against the British pound and is nearing record lows vs. the euro. Even the lowly Japanese yen has gained some ground against the greenback. 

Analysts say the dollar’s fall is the result of a cyclical shift in the global economy: Growth and interest rates in Europe and Asia are outpacing those in America, drawing capital away from U.S. stocks, bonds and other assets.

Most politicians and many economists believe that a weaker dollar is just what the U.S. economy needs. A depreciated dollar means U.S. exports are more affordable abroad and imports more expensive at home, promoting sales and profits for U.S. exporters and putting downward pressure on the trade deficit. 

Count me on the side of Milton Friedman in believing that exchange rates should float freely without government interference. But excuse me if I can’t work up much enthusiasm for the depreciating dollar. And it isn’t just because I want to pay less for a beer in Oslo.  

A weaker currency cuts like a double-edged sword in our domestic economy. On the downside, it raises prices for millions of American families that buy imported clothing, shoes, food, and consumer electronics.  It raises input costs for U.S. businesses. It puts upward pressure on the price of oil, which is universally quoted in dollars.  In fact, I counted the many ways in which we will all pay for a weaker dollar in an op-ed a few months ago. (Don’t be fooled by the headline written by a distracted copy editor!) 

So pardon me if I don’t lift a hearty toast to the weaker dollar.

Free Market Has Lifted Millions Out of Poverty

Free market incentives are spectacularly changing lives over much of the world. In the last 25 years, hundreds of millions of people—400 million in China alone—have climbed out of the dire poverty of living on less than $1 per day. It is the largest movement out of poverty in human history. At 10 p.m. EST on Tuesday, April 24, HDNet will be premiering the documentary The Ultimate Resource, which tells the story of what can happen when ordinary people around the world are given the tools to help themselves. Cato senior fellow Johan Norberg, James Tooley, the author of several Cato policy papers, and noted scholars Muhammad Yunus and Hernando de Soto, are featured in the production.

An IMF Study Says the UK Is a Tax Haven

The International Monetary Fund has published a study that seeks to use a neutral formula for determining which jurisdictions are tax havens. The formula used is far from ideal, focusing primarily on the size of the financial services sector relative to the overall economy rather than specific policies such as privacy laws and/or information-sharing policies. But it is worth noting that the United Kingdom was placed on the list of major offshore centers. Does anybody want to guess when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will put the UK on its “tax haven” blacklist? If you answered never, you get a gold star. The OECD is infamous for targeting small and relatively powerless jurisdictions, while giving a free pass to its own member nations - such as the UK, US, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria, and Belgium - that have tax haven policies (see this study from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity for more information). In any event, the IMF study is good news since it further exposes OECD hypocrisy and enables persecuted low-tax jurisdictions to more effectively resist pressure from high-tax nations. The IMF study also is good news, since it upsets leftists in the UK, as this column in the Observer illustrates:

The International Monetary Fund has effectively branded Britain a tax haven. The world’s most important financial organisation last week published a working paper seeking a definition of offshore financial centres. For the very first time it ranked Britain alongside the likes of Bermuda and the Cayman Islands - unregulated jurisdictions associated with illicit funds. …The City of London is the world’s largest tax haven… The UK has become a centre for illicit funds drained from many of the world’s poorer countries, and British offshore secrecy prevents those countries from running effective tax regimes.

Tax Competition Forcing Lower Corporate Rates in Europe

The news pages of the Wall Street Journal have an excellent article showing how nations in Europe are cutting corporate tax rates in an effort to compete for jobs and capital. The politicians and bureaucrats do not like this process, of course, but European Commission-led efforts to harmonize taxes fortunately have failed. In closing, the WSJ article cites a post on the Cato blog about the shame of America having a higher corporate tax rate than France:

Europe’s major economies are competing with one another to cut corporate taxes as they fight to attract and keep investment, fueling a trend that has taken Europe’s corporate-tax rates below those of other regions. Nominal tax rates on corporate income in the European Union average 26%, compared with 30% in the Asian-Pacific region and nearly 40% in the U.S. The latest moves by European governments suggest business taxes in the EU will fall further in coming years. … In recent years, many smaller European nations – including Ireland and the former Soviet-bloc nations of Eastern Europe – have slashed corporate-tax rates to as low as zero, as part of their economic-growth strategies, and have succeeded in attracting investment from multinational corporations. That success has put pressure on Europe’s larger economies to cut their taxes. Until recently, Germany condemned the low-tax competition from Poland and others as “tax dumping.” But after failing to win support within the EU, Germany has joined in: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition has agreed to cut the corporate-tax rate to just under 30% next year from 39%. Others in Western Europe have reacted to the tax cut in Germany, Europe’s largest economy. In March, Britain’s finance chief, Gordon Brown, announced a reduction to 28% from 30%, following complaints from British companies that Britain was losing its status as one of Europe’s low-tax countries. Nicolas Sarkozy, a leading contender to become France’s next president, wants to cut the French corporate-tax rate to less than 28% from around 34%, albeit with some vaguely defined strings attached. … Elsewhere in Europe, Spain is reducing its tax rate on corporate profits to 30% from 35% in stages. … The Cato Institute in Washington, a free-market think tank, calls it “rather embarrassing” that France has a lower corporate-tax rate than the U.S.