Friday, December 03, 2010

So near but yet so far

Dean Baker gets a lot of stuff right early, but then heads off the rails again Ozzie-style:

China's government is saying is that it has no better use for its money than subsidising the consumption of people in the United States and other wealthy countries, by propping up the value of the dollar. That may seem surprising since per capita income in China is less than $8,000 a year, while it is over $45,000 a year in the United States, but if this is what China's leaders insist, who are we to argue?

In effect, China is subsidising its exports to the United States. This is very generous of the Chinese government, since the United States can take advantage of China's generosity to enjoy a higher standard of living. Currently, our deficit with China is equal to 2% of GDP. This means that China is handing us goods and services that are worth roughly $280bn a year more than the value of goods and services we give them in exchange.

I wouldn't put it exactly this way, but kudos, Dean, you're nailing it!

Then there's this:

While this displaces a large amount of domestic production, we can ensure that the displacement does not result in unemployment by simply shortening working weeks. If everyone's working week was shortened by 2.0% (the equivalent of one week per year of vacation), we could keep the workforce fully employed even in the case of reduced demand.

People, the idea that every $ of the trade deficit with China represents a $ of lost domestic production is risible. Does Dean really think the next cheapest producer of Walmart products operates plants in the USA? What about Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, even Mexico? Bilateral trade is not a leak-proof iron pipe. Reductions in a trade deficit with a single country does not guarantee reductions in the overall trade deficit. That's just econ 101.

Dean is also a bit confused about where most low education workers in the USA work:

At present, China's trade policy primary hurts non-college-educated workers, since those with college and professional degrees are largely protected from the same sort of competition that manufacturing workers face. It is important to eliminate the barriers that protect doctors, lawyers and university professors from competition with their lower-paid counterparts in the developing world. This way, trade with China would put downward pressure on the wages of professionals, not just manufacturing workers.

First, most non college educated workers do NOT work in manufacturing. Manufacturing employment is a small fraction of overall employment. Many non-college educated workers work in the service sector and thus are largely "sheltered" from import competition.

Second, as Dean knows full well, American university professors in the USA face tremendous competition from foreign workers. In our small department in Oklahoma we have a Greek, an Argentine, a Turk, and three Chinese professors; about one third of the department lived abroad before starting grad school. Go look at the home page of the Harvard economics department and count the foreigners.

I fully support increased immigration for professionals (and indeed for almost everyone), but Dean just does not have his facts straight here.


Anonymous said...

"That's just econ 101."
Not really. Even in intermediate undergrad macro, our teacher kept saying in her little French-Canadian voice that we could increase GDP by simply increasing exports. Trade theory that I have learned so far has been so poor/un-nuanced. I learn much more from the blogs I follow.

Angus said...

Yeah, between the mercantilists and the cheerleaders, trade theory can really get fouled up.

BR said...

Isn't econ 101 normally micro and 102 macro? I think it's econ 102. ;)