One of the hardest things to accept for all of us who want Donald Trump to be a one-term president is the fact that some things are true even if Donald Trump believes them! And one of those things is that we have a real trade problem with China. Imports of Chinese goods alone equal two-thirds of the global U.S. trade deficit today.
.. he’s so weirdly obsessed with protecting “manly” industries like coal, steel and aluminum that affect our allies more than China — and he’s built such a chaotic policymaking process and unilaterally surrendered so much leverage to Beijing — that he can’t be relied upon to navigate the China trade issue in our national interest.
.. David Autor, the M.I.T. economist who’s done some of the most compelling research on the impacts of China trade
.. the “shock” that China delivered to U.S. lower-tech manufacturers in the years right after Beijing joined the World Trade Organization in 2001
.. roughly 40 percent of the decline in U.S. manufacturing between 2000 and 2007 was due to a surge in imports from China primarily after it joined the W.T.O.
.. it led to the sudden loss of about one million factory jobs in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump won all of those states.
.. This “China shock,” said Autor, led not only to mass unemployment but also to social disintegration, less marriage, more opioid abuse and more people dropping out of the labor market and requiring government aid.
.. “International trade creates diffuse benefits and concentrated costs,”
.. has created identifiable losers in trade-impacted industries
.. We assumed that China would “reform and open” after it joined the W.T.O.,
.. Instead, China “reformed and closed.” So China kept a 25 percent tariff on new cars imported from the U.S. (our tariff is 2.5 percent)
.. China grew its companies behind a wall of protection, fed them with state funds and, when they were competitive enough, unleashed them on the world
.. “Chinese and foreign makers are about to start sending huge numbers of fully built cars to the U.S. We are about to see a big increase in the U.S. trade deficit in automotive in the next several years.”
.. U.S. tech firms, like Apple, that want to offer cloud services to Chinese citizens have to store the data in China on servers operated by a Chinese partner. The U.S. has no such regulation.
.. “if they don’t accept demands to partner with Chinese companies and store data in China, then they risk losing access to the lucrative Chinese market, despite fears about trade secret theft and the rights of Chinese customers.”
.. “no US auto company is allowed to own even 50% of their own factory in China, but there are five 100% China-owned EV auto companies in the US.”
.. American electric vehicle (E.V.) companies operating in China are forced to have a Chinese partner and transfer technology to them.
.. they are also playing by a set of rules that others would be naïve to ignore.
.. So what would a smart American president do? First, he’d sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord. TPP eliminated as many as 18,000 tariffs on U.S. exports
.. focused on protecting what we do best — high-value-added manufacturing and intellectual property.
.. China was not in TPP. It was a coalition built, in part, to pressure Beijing into fairer market access, by our rules. Trump just gave it up for free.
.. “Since you like your trade rules so much, we’re going to copy them for your companies operating in America: 25 percent tariffs on your cars, and your tech companies that open here have to joint venture and share intellectual property with a U.S. partner — and store all their data on U.S. servers.”
.. Having a really tough trade negotiation with China on manufacturing and high technology, but doing it in secret, makes sense to me.
Starting a public trade war with our allies over aluminum and steel that raises the costs for our manufacturers, that doesn’t protect our growth industries and that loses allies that we need to deal with China makes absolutely no sense.
.. We needed to be, and still need to be, much more serious, and generous, about creating “wage insurance” and community reinvestment policies for people and places whose employers are suddenly wiped out by a trade shock.
.. tax incentives, Pell grants, community colleges — to create the conditions for every American to be constantly upgrading skills
.. Too much of the economic discussion of late “has been focused on the 1 percent versus the 99 percent,” observed Autor. “It’s become a kind of ‘inequality porn’
.. You lose sight of the fact that there is a dramatic rise in the economic return to tangibly acquiring skills — skills that are available and should be within everyone’s reach.”
.. The lack of real meritocracy in our country today, he added, “is not about the returns to realized skills. It is about the inequality in the ability to acquire those skills.
.. If you get educated in America today, and have a good work ethic, you are going to be rewarded.’
.. What does education do? It gives you a skill set and enables you to adapt to change better.
And cities and towns anchored by universities tend to reinvent themselves more easily; they’re engines of adaptation.
On most policy issues, when President Trump states his position, you can tell that he’s blurting out an unformed idea that is always subject to change. No one is really surprised when, a day or an hour later, he says the exact opposite, because when it comes to policy, generally speaking, he doesn’t know and he doesn’t care.
There is one exception, however: trade... Free trade has widely distributed benefits and concentrated costs, while a tariff like this one that is meant to help a particular industry has concentrated benefits and widely distributed costs... There have always been two core ideas underlying his beliefs on trade. The first is that trade is a zero-sum contest in which the only goal is exporting goods. If we import something from another country, even if comparative advantage makes it perfectly reasonable for us to do so, then the other country has “won” and the United States has “lost.”.. Trump’s second idea about trade is that it represents a kind of contest of pride, even manhood. When he talks about trade he nearly always says that other countries, particularly China, are “laughing at us.” When we, say, buy cheap consumer goods from abroad, it means we’re the sucker, the sap, the patsy... Yet you’ve never heard Trump say exactly which provisions of NAFTA he dislikes or what he would change, probably because he doesn’t know himself. He just thinks that trade wars are good, and easy to win... Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser, tried to argue to him that increased tariffs would hurt the economy by raising prices on goods that contain steel and aluminum, to which Trump replied that it’s “a small price to pay.” Since he sees this issue to be about not just jobs but even more importantly about pride and dignity, that won’t persuade him.
From where Trump stands, imposing the tariffs is an end in itself. It shows those foreigners that we won’t be taken advantage of, that we’re big and strong, that nobody’s going to laugh at us and get away with it. It’s “winning.” Even if we wind up losing.