Advertisements
Advertisements

The Trump-Yellen policy mix is the perfect excuse for Trump’s protectionism

It is hard to find any good economic arguments for protectionism. Economists have known this at least since Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations in 1776. That, however, has not stopped president-elect Donald Trump putting forward his protectionist agenda.

At the core of Trump’s protectionist thinking is the idea that trade is essentially a zero sum game. Contrary to conventional economic thinking, which sees trade as mutual beneficial Trump talks about trade in terms of winners and losers. This means that Trump essentially has a Mercantilist ideology, where the wealth of a nation can be measured on how much the country exports relative to its imports.

Therefore, we should expect the Trump administration to pay particularly attention to the US trade deficit and if the trade deficit grows Trump is likely to blame countries like Mexico and China for that.

The Yellen-Trump policy mix will cause the trade deficit to balloon

The paradox is that Trump’s own policies – particularly the announced major tax cuts and large government infrastructure investments – combined with the Federal Reserve’s likely response to the fiscal expansion (higher interest rates) in itself is likely to cause the US trade deficit to balloon.

Hence, a fiscal expansion will cause domestic demand to pick up, which in turn will increase imports. Furthermore, we have already seen the dollar rally on the back of the election Donald Trump as markets are pricing in more aggressive interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve to curb the “Trumpflationary” pressures.

The strengthening of the dollar will further erode US competitiveness and further add to the worsening the US trade balance.

Add to that, that the strengthen of the dollar and the fears of US protectionist policies already have caused most Emerging Markets currencies – including the Chinese renminbi and the Mexican peso – to weaken against the US dollar.

The perfect excuse

Donald Trump has already said he wants the US Treasury Department to brand China a currency manipulator because he believes that China is keeping the renminbi artificial weak against the dollar to gain an “unfair” trade advantage against the US.

And soon he will have the “evidence” – the US trade deficit is ballooning, Chinese exports to the US are picking up steam and the renminbi continues to weaken. However, any economist would of course know that, that is not a result of China’s currency policies, but rather a direct consequence of Trumponomics more specifically the planed fiscal expansion, but Trump is unlikely to listen to that.

There is a clear echo from the 1980s here. Reagan’s tax cuts and the increase in military spending also caused a ‘double deficit’ – a larger budget deficit and a ballooning trade deficit and even though Reagan was certainly not a protectionist in the same way as Trump is he nonetheless bowed to domestic political pressures and to the pressures American exporters and during his time in offices and numerous import quotas and tariffs were implemented mainly to curb US imports from Japan. Unfortunately, it looks like Trump is very eager to copies these failed policies.

Finally, it should be noted that in 1985 we got the so-called Plaza Accord, which essentially forced the Japanese to allow the yen to strengthen dramatically (and the dollar to weaken). The Plaza Accord undoubtedly was a contributing factor to Japan’s deflationary crisis, which essentially have lasted to this day. One can only fear that a new Plaza Accord, which will strengthen the renminbi and cause the Chinese economy to fall into crisis is Trump’s wet dream.

 

Advertisements

The scary rise in protectionism

Over at Geopolitical Intelligence Service (GIS) where I am a regular commentator I have a comment on Protectionism’s scary rise.

The very unpleasant echo from the 1930s

I am trying very hard not to become alarmist, but I must admit that I see very little positive news at the moment and I continue to see three elements – monetary policy failure/weak growth, the rise of extremist politics (Trump, Orban, Erdogan, Putin, ISIS etc) and sharply rising geopolitical tensions coming together to a very unpleasant cocktail that brings back memories of the 1930s and the run up to the second World War.

It has long been my hypothesis that the contraction in the global economy on the back of the Great Recession – which in my view mostly is a result of monetary policy failure – is causing a rise in political extremism both in Europe (Syriza, Golden Dawn, Orban etc) and the US (Trump) and also to a fractionalization and polarization of politics in normally democratic nations.

That is leading to the appeal of right-wing populists like Donald Trump, but equally to the appeal of islamist groups like ISIS among immigrant youth in for example France and Belgium. Once the democratic alternative loses its appeal extremists and populists will gain ground.

The geopolitical version of this is Ukraine and Syria (and to some extent the South China Sea). With no growth the appeal of protectionism and ultimately of war increases.

Unfortunately the parallels to the 1930s are very clear – without overstating it try to look at this:

  • Syrian war vs Spanish civil war: Direct and indirect involvement of authoritarian foreign regimes (Stalin/Hitler vs Erdogan/Putin)
  • Euro  zone vs the gold standard
  • The rise of populists and extremists: Communists, Nazis and Fascists vs Syriza, Golden Dawn, Jobbik, Orban, regional separatism in Europe, anti-immigrant sentiment, Trump and ISIS (in Europe) etc.
  • The weakening (failure?) of democratic institution: Weimar Republic vs the total polarization of politics across Europe – weak and unpopular minority governments with no “political muscle” for true economic reforms across Europe.

Maybe this is too alarmist, but you would have to be blind to the lessons from history not to see this. However, that does not mean that history will repeat itself – I certain hope not – but if we ignore the similarities to the 1930s things will only get worse from here.

PS if you are looking for more empirical evidence on these issues then have a look at Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick and Christoph Trebesch’s recent very good post on voxeu.org on The political aftermath of financial crises: Going to extremes.

HT Otto Brøns-Petersen.

—-

If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: daniel@specialistspeakers.com or roz@specialistspeakers.com.

“Book that ski trip to St. Moritz” – long live free trade!

Here is Scott Sumner:

“Off topic, but a few months back I did a post pointing out that the combined current account surplus of the “Nordic bloc” (Norway/Sweden/Denmark/Holland/Germany/Switzerland), was nearly 50% more than China’s surplus.  Recall that old Keynesians like Paul Krugman think current account surpluses depress world AD and cost jobs in America.  That’s true whether they occur naturally or due to government policy.  BTW, both the Nordic and Chinese surpluses are partly natural and partly a result of explicit government policies to encourage saving.

I just checked The Economist, and the new figures are even more lopsided:

China:  $259.3 billion CA surplus

Nordic bloc:  $484.0 billion CA surplus.

That slave labor in the Nordic bloc is stealing all our jobs!  If I was an old school Keynesian protectionist I’d be worried right now that the Nordic bloc was a sort giant blob that was sucking all the life out of the world economy.  Especially Norway and Switzerland, which combine for more than $165 of the surplus, despite having only 1/10th of the Nordic bloc population, and 1/100th of China’s population.  But I’m not an old school Keynesian protectionist, so I’m not worried at all.  Go ahead and book that ski trip to St. Moritz, and don’t feel guilty about it.”

What can I say? Scott is of course completely right – once again. He might of course also had noted that monetary policy is overly tight in the “Nordic bloc” – something which hardly is helpful for the “Nordic bloc” itself or the US economy.

%d bloggers like this: