Today’s grim news about recent Boeing aircraft orders and deliveries is just the latest valuable reminder that any evaluation of the Trump record on manufacturing and trade policy has to take into account the entire aircraft and parts industry’s transformation from a slight to a bigtime industrial laggard. Moreover, Boeing’s weakness – which has nothing to do with the President’s trade or any other policies — seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future, at least according to Boeing. The company’s latest long-term forecast for the global aircraft market affirms that it will take years for aviation worldwide to return to pre-CCP Virus levels.
The degree of the pain inflicted by Boeing’s troubles – which also include major safety woes that started making headlines in early 2019 – on the whole of domestic industry, and how unrelated manufacturing’s overall Trump era performance has been to the President’s tariff-heavy trade policies, becomes clear from diving into the most detailed U.S. manufacturing output figures available: the Federal Reserve’s industrial production data.
For example, the Fed numbers show that, during the Obama administration, adjusting for inflation, manufacturing output increased by 14.65 percent. Real aircraft and parts production output growth was just slightly slower: 12.39 percent.
But from the start of the Trump years until the arrival of the pandemic (February, 2017 through February, 2020), whereas the manufacturing sector as a whole expanded by 3.60 percent in price-adjusted terms, the aircraft and parts industry shrank by 13.10 percent.
Since the virus struck (from February through the latest available – August – numbers)? Manufacturing output is down by 6.39 percent after inflation, and aircraft and parts production is off by 10.81 percent.
As for the trade war impact, from March, 2018 (the first full month of President Trump’s metals tariffs and a good place for marking the start of the broader trade wars) until February, 2020 (the last month before the virus began significantly affecting manufacturing and the entire domestic economy), overall manufacturing production grew by a bare 0.83 percent. But that poor performance was clearly dragged down by the nation’s aircraft and parts factories – which turned out 10.74 percent less in terms of constant dollar product value.
Aircraft and parts were major industrial also-rans, too, during the comparable 23-month period preceding the first full month of the Trump metals tariffs. Their real production slumped by 4.11 percent, as manufacturing’s overall production rose by 4.07 percent.
The bottom line, then, couldn’t be clearer. The President was wrong in insisting that trade wars for big deficit countries like the United States are “easy to win.” But the facts also demonstrate that the victories the nation has won in these conflicts – which have been significant – would have been come much easier had the aerospace sector and its long-time leader Boeing not turned into such major losers.