Everything you need to know about trade economics, in 70 words

If a country consumes more than it produces, it must import more than it exports. That’s not a rip-off; that’s arithmetic.

If we manage to negotiate a reduction in the Chinese trade surplus with the United States, we will have an increased trade deficit with some other country.

Federal deficit spending, a massive and continuing act of dissaving, is the culprit. Control that spending and you will control trade deficits.

Cracking the Mystery of Labor’s Falling Share of GDP

There are, by my count, now four main potential explanations for the mysterious slide in labor’s share. These are:

  1. China,
  2. robots,
  3. monopolies and
  4. landlords.

1) The China hypothesis basically says that the opening of the Chinese and Indian economies, combined with the invention of globalizing technologies like the internet and containerized shipping, dumped a flood of low-cost labor onto the world market, allowing multinationals to shop around for cheap workers while raising their profits.

.. One problem with this theory is that, according to Chinese statistics, labor’s share has been falling there, too.


2) ..The robots hypothesis says that as technology gets cheaper, employers are substituting machines for workers.

.. labor share is falling across the whole economy, but not within companies.


3)  .. the economy is simply shifting resources toward a few large companies that are very capital-intensive, and away from the more numerous, smaller companies that use more human labor. Autor et al. blame increasing monopoly power for labor’s decline.


4) .. While analyzing the work of French economist Thomas Piketty, Matt Rognlie found that national income accounts showed an increasing amount flowing to owners of land.


.. A recent blog post by Paul Krugman

.. When the productivity of the capital-intensive companies improves — due to mechanization, or the internet, or globalization — it shifts production toward those companies, and lowers wages in the process.

.. Now suppose that those capital-intensive companies are a small handful of superstar multinationals, while the labor-intensive companies are a bunch of small, local competitors. Improvement in robots, information technology and globalization would therefore be shifting resources away from the many and toward the few

.. new technologies that disproportionately help big, capital-intensive multinational companies.

Putting pressure on China probably won’t help U.S. workers. Here’s what might.

But diagnosing China’s sins is not the same as stopping them. The question is whether Trump, at this week’s summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping and in the future, can hit upon a strategy that actually helps U.S. workers.

.. Method two stands a better chance. It is to welcome China to the top table of the international system, and then demand that China play by the rules. After his failed bilateral experiment, this is what Clinton came around to: He brought China into the World Trade Organization. Since then, China’s behavior has not been perfect, but Beijing has abided by its WTO commitments more than reasonable commentators expected.

.. For the past three years or so, Chinese leaders have claimed interest in international law and China’s contribution to it.

.. Given China’s concern to be seen as a respectable superpower, the best way to constrain it is to promote international rules. Trump’s first instinct has been the opposite: He has denigrated the WTO, asserting that bilateral pressure is better. But there are signs that Trump is mellowing. He may be open to a better way.

.. China’s trade surplus with the United States is an extremely poor measure of misconduct: It reflects factors ranging from the dollar’s reserve-currency status to China’s tendency to import parts from third countries, assemble them, and sell the finished products to America, so that a Korean semiconductor might show up as a Chinese export to the United States. Unless the Trump team discards its bilateral metric, it will discredit its China policy by sounding clueless.

 .. But that still leaves room for getting tough. Appealing to China’s professed belief in a fair international system, Trump could propose a cut to China’s auto tariff, which, at 25 percent, is fully 10 times higher than the auto tariff imposed by the United States. He could warn China against aggressive use of subsidies and procurement muscle as it builds its next generation of industries in tech and aircraft.

5 Economics Terms We All Should Use

• Endogeneity

Something is endogenous when you don’t know whether it’s a cause or an effect (or both). For example, lots of people note that people who go to college tend to make more money. But how much of this is because college boosts earning power, and how much is because smarter, harder-working, better-connected people tend to go to college in the first place? It’s endogenous.

.. you should ask “What about endogeneity?”

• Marginal versus average

• Present value and discounting

.. Present value means trying to figure out how much some long-term thing is worth today. To find present value, you have to use discounting, which means you have to decide how much less you value things that come far in the future. The more you want things right now, the higher your discount rate is, and the lower the present value of things like college degrees or business investments that take a long time to pay off.

• Conditional versus unconditional

.. If you lived in the Middle Ages and you made it to adulthood, you would probably live well past 35. While conditional life expectancy has increased since then, it hasn’t gone up by nearly as much as the unconditional version — reductions in infant mortality have been the biggest difference.

• Aggregate

.. Individually, borrowing and spending money reduces your wealth. But in aggregate, debt doesn’t reduce the value of the whole world’s wealth, since one person’s debt is another person’s asset. When we consider our own lives, it makes sense to think from an individual perspective, but when we discuss government policy, it’s important to think in the aggregate.