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This last week has made clear that it’s not just China’s economy and leadership that have been cut loose from their moorings. It’s also the leading economists and Big Media journalists who pretend they know much more about Chinese economic policies – and how America should deal with them – than the rest of us know-nothings.

Indeed, within the last two days, no less than two economists and The Economist magazine have published pieces intended to show the folly of those who have long urged American crackdowns on predatory Chinese economic practices like currency manipulation (which makes Chinese-made goods and services artificially cheaper versus all foreign counterparts all over the world), intellectual property theft and technology extortion, and illegal subsidization and the dumping into foreign markets of the resulting surplus output at cut-rate prices. And as always, you can be sure that the prominent placement of these pro-status quo messages reflects their endorsement by the publications in question.

The first addle-brained attempt to assure Americans that their government’s do-nothing China policy is on the right course came in a Washington Post article by former senior World Bank China expert Eswar Prasad. One of his main goals – which is anything but weird for an establishment voice – is debunking Donald Trump’s claim that “China is killing us” when it comes to trade. But then the weirdness comes non-stop.

First, Prasad seems to think that the way to discredit the Republican presidential front-runner is to show that China’s growth has not been “driven primarily by cheap exports” – and especially by sales of “cheap consumer goods.” But that’s never been Trump’s main concern, or that of voters critical of America’s China trade policies. Instead, it’s been the destruction of family-wage American manufacturing jobs by predatory Chinese trade practices.

Second, Prasad joins the crowd of so-called experts who try to show that China’s trade surplus with the United States isn’t as big as the headline figure suggests. The reason: So much of what the Chinese sell to this country consists of U.S.-made parts, components, and other inputs. But as I’ve pointed out, the evidence Prasad cites is of no comfort to American workers whatever. The Apple iPhone he uses as an example of a semi-faux Chinese export turns out to be made not mainly of American parts, but of other (protectionist) countries’ parts. And as made clear by his criticisms of Washington’s approach to trade with countries like Mexico and Japan, Trump fully understands that China isn’t America’s only international economic challenge.

Even weirder is that Prasad then goes on to point out that China’s manufacturing “has started moving up the value-added chain, shifting from a focus on low-cost, low-tech goods such as shoes and textiles to more sophisticated products with a higher technological content. “ He’s absolutely right. But does he think that none of these more advanced manufactures goes into China’s exports? If he does, he obviously isn’t familiar with findings from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – which show that the Chinese content of China’s exports has risen dramatically over the last 20 years.

No less bizarre was Matthew Slaughter’s Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday arguing that “Movements in the yuan’s nominal exchange rate do not affect long-term trade flows or jobs in the U.S.” This Dartmouth economist is on reasonable ground in contending that “The exchange rate that matters for trade flows is the real exchange rate, i.e., the nominal exchange rate adjusted for local-currency prices in both countries,” and that this real exchange rate “in turn, reflects the deep forces of comparative advantage such as technology and endowments of labor and capital.”

What Slaughter seems to forget, however, is that China’s labor market is heavily repressed, and its government still tightly controls capital flows (although China has taken some steps towards liberalization). In other words, these determinants of comparative advantage are thoroughly manipulated by Beijing, and according to Slaughter, they do influence trade flows and their impact on national growth and employment. So by extension, China is manipulating that real exchange rate – and if the United States cares about the impact on its economy, it has no choice but to respond.

Just as odd – despite the author’s opposition to countering the trade effects of Chinese currency policy, he does acknowledge that China “has too many barriers to trade and investment, too much favor for local companies, too weak protection of intellectual property,” and that U.S. leaders need to “encourage China to overcome its policy shortfalls that truly do cost America good jobs at good wages.” Trump’s China trade position paper recognizes many of these “shortfalls.” But unlike Slaughter and other stand-patters, he understands that “encouragement” has failed for decades, and that stronger responses are needed.

The third example of China inanity comes from The Economist, which also seems determined to ease concerns about China’s currency manipulation even though it doesn’t mention the yuan’s recent slide. According to the magazine – which has always championed the cause of unfettered international flows of trade and other economist assets – currency devaluations are not nearly as big a deal as they once might have been because they’ve become less and less successful in artificially stimulating exports.

One big problem with this claim, however, is that it assumes devaluations are seen by trade policy critics as export boosters in all cases. And that’s a straw man. After all, export success depends on numerous factors, and if a national economy is otherwise a mess – as is the case with countries mentioned by The Economist like Russia and Brazil, cheaper currencies can’t possibly be panaceas. To some extent the article recognizes various complications. But they don’t come up until the piece is well underway.

And what’s also peculiar is that The Economist touts a method of calculating the appropriateness of exchange rates that pegs China’s yuan as – get this – nearly 50 percent undervalued. Does anyone seriously think that if Chinese exports became 50 percent more expensive, all else equal, they’d sell nearly as briskly?

Here’s a suggestion: How about Prasad, Slaughter, and The Economist writers get together, try to hash out their own differences, and see if they can produce a China article that’s halfway coherent? Almost anything has to be better than what they’ve done separately.

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