Making News: Major New Trade & Antitrust Article Now On-Line…& 3 Podcasts!


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I’m pleased to announce the publication of a major freelance article tying together two so-far generally separate areas of American economic policy.  Featured in the Summer issue of American Affairs, it makes the case for using trade policy to reduce the levels of foreign competition faced by U.S. businesses and workers, and using more vigorous antitrust policy to replace them with higher levels of domestic competition.  Here’s the link.

In addition, the podcast of three China trade war broadcast media interviews from last Tuesday night are now on-line.  Click here for the link to the relevant segment on John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show; here for the link to my interview on Breitbart News Tonight (you need to scroll pretty far down before seeing my name); and here for my appearance on Israel’s i24News television network.

For the latter, two more steps are necessary – click on “Download” to receive an mp4 file that you can then open up.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.


(What’s Left of) Our Economy: More Evidence that U.S. Growth is Healthier Under Trump


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The current U.S. economic recovery has lasted so long (at more than ten years old, it’s already tied with the 1990s expansion as the longest on record), that anxiety about how long it might last, and when a new recession might begin, is entirely understandable. Yet what most economy watchers keep missing is what RealityChek regulars have understood for years – the quality of America’s growth matters at least as much as the quantity.

As a result, the latest government report shedding light on this growth – the preliminary look at the gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of this year – was important not only for revealing that the economy expanded at a healthy 3.21 percent at an annual rate. It was also important for showing that by several crucial measures, the growth recipe was by far the healthiest since at least the period during which United States enjoyed its last period of robust expansion – back in 2014 and 2015.

The definition of healthy growth used by RealityChek is growth that depends relatively little on increases in personal consumption and housing investment. Those segments of the GDP and their bloat were most responsible for inflating the previous decades’ bubbles that burst so disastrously in 2007 and 2008, nearly blew up the entire global economy, and triggered the worst national economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Fortunately, the GDP data compiled by the Commerce Department make it easy to calculate how their current growth contribution compares with their past record. And, as with the latest trade figures, they show that progress towards improving growth’s health has been dramatic so far during President Trump’s administration.

In particular, during that previous high growth period (under President Obama), the economy’s quarterly expansion ranged from 2.60 percent at an annual rate to 3.81 percent after inflation. But the growth contributions made by personal consumption and housing (which I’ve called a “toxic combination”) generally ranged from 62.86 percent to 79.70 percent (with one outlier quarter – the fourth of 2014 – coming in at nearly 187 percent, meaning that other elements of the GDP worked to shrink the economy).

During the high growth period under President Trump, which began in the first quarter of 2018, inflation-adjusted quarterly GDP has actually risen by a somewhat slower pace: between 2.58 percent annualized and that 3.21 percent rate of the first quarter of this year. But the contributions made by the toxic combination have ranged only from ten percent to 67.27 percent. And the figure for that high-growth first quarter of this year was only 22.19 percent.

Also worth noting are the growth rates during the Obama years when the role of the toxic combination was within that Trump range. They were somewhat lower.

Principally, in the second and third quarters of 2014, the toxic combination’s combined real growth contribution was 65.69 percent and 62.86 percent, respectively. Annualized constant dollar growth during those quarters was 2.60 percent and 3.04 percent. Those are solid results, but not quite as good as those from the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2018. Then, the toxic combination’s growth contribution ranged between 60 percent and 67.27 percent, and growth ranged from 2.87 percent to three percent.

As indicated above, these results can be pretty volatile from quarter to quarter. But smoothing them out by using annual figures tells a story even more favorable to the Trump record. Here are those annual figures starting with 2009-10, the first recovery year.

From left to right, the columns represent the personal consumption contribution to after-inflation growth measured in percentage points (e.g., the very first figures shows 0.99 percentage points of 1.80 percent growth), the housing contribution, the total percent – not percentage points – of growth they fueled, and the growth rate for the year in question.

09-10:          1.20/2.60       -0.08/2.60         1.12/2.60         46.92%         2.56%

10-11:          1.29/1.60        0.00/1.60         1.29/1.60         80.63%         1.55%

11-12:          1.03/2.20        0.31/2.20         1.34/2.20         60.91%         2.25%

12-13:          0.99/1.80        0.34/1.80         1.33/1.80         73.89%         1.84%

13-14:          1.97/2.50        0.12/1.80         2.09/1.80       116.11%         2.45%

14-15:          2.50/2.90        0.33/2.90         2.83/2.90         97.59%        2.88%

15-16:          1.85/1.60        0.23/1.60         2.08/1.60      130.00%         1.57%

16-17:          1.73/2.20        0.13/2.20         1.86/2.20        84.55%         2.22%

17-18           1.80/2.90      -0.01/2.90         1.79/2.90        61.72%          2.86%

From left to right, the columns represent the personal consumption contribution to after-inflation growth measured in percentage points (e.g., the very first figures shows 0.99 percentage points of 1.80 percent growth), the housing contribution, the total percent – not percentage points – of growth they fueled, and the growth rate for the year in question.

As with the quarterly figures, during the Obama years, when the growth contribution of the toxic combination was low, so was growth.  During the two full Trump data years, as growth itself sped up, the toxic combination’s contribution has plummeted to multi-year (at least) lows.

But a big question remains unanswered: When, under the Obama administration, the economy did manage to grow satisfactorily with a relatively small contribution by the toxic combination, this health growth recipe didn’t last. Indeed, by the third quarter of 2015, growth itself began slowing markedly, until it bottomed at 1.30 annualized in the second quarter of 2016. And it never broke two percent again. But the toxic combination’s contributions during that decelerating growth period ranged from 91.05 percent to a stunning 430 percent (in the fourth quarter of 2015).

The Trump years’ much better performance in this respect has lasted only two years. Only if this strengthening proves to have legs will it be legitimate to start considering the economy genuinely Great Again.

Im-Politic: Claims that Trump Has Betrayed His Voters Economically Look Weaker than Ever


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President Trump has betrayed all the (tens of millions) of working class and/or rural voters who supported him in 2016 – that’s been one of the most popular claims by his opponents politics and journalism alike. (See, e.g., this post.)  Even so, the evidence to the contrary being either ignored or unknown continues to impress.

At the end of last month, I presented some data showing that lower- and middle-income Americans have seen their economic lots improve faster relative to those of upper-income Americans under the first two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency than under the last two years of Barack Obama’s.  The gap hasn’t been enormous, but it sure seems to belie the idea that Trump voters were duped by a phony populist. 

This morning, the Commerce Department supplied some more in the form of its annual report on how inflation-adjusted personal income rose or shrank in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia over the latest data year (in this case, 2016-2017).

A casual reading of the report doesn’t provide much encouragement for Trump supporters. For example, of the ten states that saw real personal income rise the fastest, six gave their electoral votes to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, and only four to Mr. Trump. Moreover, of the ten states that performed the worst when it comes to personal income improvement, seven were in the Trump column and only three in Clinton’s.

Further, on average, the Clinton states enjoyed price-adjusted personal income advances of 2.60 percent in 2017. The comparable Trump state figure was only 2.05 percent.

So why do I argue that the Trump betrayal contentions get the story largely wrong? Because I’ve compared these 2016-2017 results with those of the year before – which was of course the last year of the Obama presidency. And what it shows is what surely matters to voters more the single year results – whether their personal incomes fared better or worse in 2017 than in 2016. And when these numbers are presented, the economic case for Trump votes looks awfully strong.

To be fair, after-inflation personal income nation-wide was much faster in Mr. Trump’s first year in office than in Mr. Obama’s last – and by a whopping 2.6 percent to 1.1 percent! Even so, the Trump states saw the best rates of improvement. Indeed, of the thirty states whose electoral votes were won by the President (and adding in Maine, which split its electoral votes), price-adjusted personal income grew faster in 2017 in fully 25 (or 80.65 percent). Income growth slowed year-on-year in only four 12.90 percent), and the rate stayed the same in two.

For most of the 21 Clinton states (including Maine), real personal incomes grew faster in 2017 than in 2016, too. But the percentage was lower (71.43 percent). In five of those 21 states (23.81 percent), inflation-adjusted personal income increases slowed, and Maine remained flat.

All together, inflation-adjusted personal income growth accelerated from 0.63 percent between 2015-2016 to 2.05 percent in 2016-17 for the Trump states – a much faster rate than the 1.58 percent to 2.60 percent speed-up for the Clinton states.

Especially interesting – between the two time periods, no fewer than seven Trump states saw their personal incomes grow in real terms in 2017 after shrinking in 2016. Only one Trump state (South Dakota) experienced the reverse. By contrast, none of the Clinton states suffered after-inflation personal income drops in 2016 – but none has experienced such dramatic improvement, either.

These state-wide numbers aren’t perfect measures of personal incomes developments, and they’re even more problematic as clues to political behavior. After all, most states are big enough to be highly diverse economically, and wide gaps between rich and poor can be found inside many. It’s also important to note that the Trump states generally keep lagging the Clinton states when real personal income growth is looked at in absolute terms.

But trends almost always deserve to count more than snapshots. And although the new real personal income numbers hardly show that the Trump states have entered economic nirvana, they make the betrayal claims look flimsier than ever.

Making News: Three China Trade War Interviews Coming Up Tonight!


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I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be doing three broadcast interviews tonight – and yes, that would be a record.  All of them will deal with updating the U.S.-China trade war, no doubt with a special focus on China’s new retaliatory tariffs on American goods.

At 8:10 PM EST, I’ll be returning to i24News.  This Israeli TV network only permits paying subscribers to watch live on-line, but if you go to this link, you can sign up for a free trial subscription.

At 10 PM EST, it’s on to John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show.  Listen live here.

And at 11:05 PM EST, I’ll be appearing on Breitbart News TonightThis looks like a sign-in page for free listening.

As usual, I’ll be posting podcasts and streaming videos of all these broadcasts as soon as they’re available.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: New Fed Manufacturing Figures Show Industry is Still Nicely Withstanding the Metals Tariffs


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This morning brought another poor result for U.S. domestic manufacturing – specifically, a 0.52 percent decrease in inflation-adjusted output that was its worst such performance since January’s 0.66 percent sequential decline. As a result, the temptation is to blame the Trump tariffs that have so dominated economic and business news headlines, but as usual, the data simply don’t support this claim.

Unquestionably, these new figures from the Federal Reserve point to a problem with American industry. Tariffs, however, look beside the point. Instead, the numbers reveal what looks like an April problem and an automotive problem, and especially where tariffs on metals are concerned – the major Trump-era levies that have been longest lasting, and where the affected manufacturing sectors are easiest to identify.

Here are the numbers for the economy’s chief metals-using industries. They start in April, 2018 (the first full months when the steel and aluminum levies went into effect). They show the growth rates between then and the last three data months. They include the statistics for overall manufacturing as a control group. And I’ve added two new pieces of information: the year-on-year real production changes for these sectors, and the data for durable goods manufacturing stripped of the automotive industry’s performance.

                                           Apr thru Feb   Apr thru March    Apr y/y prev  Apr y/y

overall manufacturing:          +0.48%             +0.52%              0.00%         +2.33%

durables manufacturing:       +1.31%            +1.35%             +0.40%         +2.49%

fabricated metals prods:       +2.87%            +2.72%             +2.14%         +4.44%

machinery:                           +1.49%            +1.92%              -0.69%         +4.05%

automotive:                          -1.71%             -1.93%              -4.43%          +3.07%

major appliances:                 -1.43%            -6.77%            -10.44%          +0.03%

aircraft & parts:                   +4.89%           +6.08%             +4.82%           -1.30%

durable mfg ex-automotive:  +1.82%        +1.91%              +1.21%          +2.41%

Comparing the automotive and the durables ex-automotive lines clearly shows both the automotive and April effects – with the latter suggesting the possibility of a production hiccup. Strengthening that interpretation: except for the major appliance category, nearly all the April, 2018-March, 2019 growth rates exceeded the April, 2018-February, 2019 growth rates. Moreover, the April automotive nosedive (which has taken place both on a month-on-month and year-on-year basis), is especially important because vehicle and parts production use so much in the way of machinery and fabricated metals products.

In addition, the safety issues encountered by Boeing may be responsible for the April aviation growth slowdown that may also have contributed to manufacturing’s broader woes that month.

The major appliances figures above continue to stick out like a sore thumb.  But of course, this sector has faced not only metals tariffs, but separate product-specific levies that went into effect in February, 2018.  In addition, America’s slumping housing sector has surely depressed sales and therefore production for reasons having nothing to do with tariffs.

As known by RealityChek regulars, gauging the impact of the tariffs on products from China is much more difficult for numerous reasons. Their role as inputs for manufacturing industries varies. The manufacturing classification system used by Washington for designating the tariff-ed products differs from that used for the Fed production statistics. The levies have been in place for a shorter period of time. And their scope has changed since the first batch went into effect in August.

Further, let’s not forget that the China tariff regime is due for some big changes starting in June, when President Trump has just decided that levies will rise on $200 billion worth of products from the People’s Republic. So the data below may tell us little about what to expect going forward. Here they are nevertheless for the handful of industries for which I’m sure the numbers create a reasonably accurate picture.

                                                      Aug thru Feb    Aug thu March    Aug thru April

overall manufacturing:                     -0.33%                -0.38%                -0.90%

ball bearings:                                  +0.32%                +0.25%               +0.14%

industrial heating equip:                 -2.60%                 -1.85%                -5.69%

farm machinery & equip:             -16.86%               -11.65%              -10.40%

oil/gas drilling platform pts:         +4.59%                +4.35%                +2.68%

Something of an April slump can be seen here, too (which in theory is hard to connect to the China tariffs), except for the farm machinery sector. 

The classic Wall Street sales pitch warns (eventually) that “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” So especially considering the higher China tariffs on the way in two weeks, and the possibility that all goods imports from China will be hit by levies at some future date, predicting manufacturing’s growth performance for the rest of this year seems unusually chancy.

Yet the April figures unmistakably show (yet again) that domestic U.S. manufacturing continues to withstand the metals tariffs with ease.

Making News: New China Trade War Op-ed for The Spectator On-Line…& More!


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I’m pleased to announce that a new op-ed of mine on the U.S.-China trade conflict has just been posted by Spectator/USA.  This is my first contribution for this American edition of the noted British magazine, and it reports on the data showing that China’s threatened retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products are really no big deal for the American economy.  Here’s the link.

In addition, Gordon G. Chang, co-host of and my frequent co-panelist on John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show quoted my views today on U.S.-China trade ties in The New York Daily News.  Click here to read.

Speaking of the Batchelor show, the podcast of last night’s appearance updating trade war developments is now on-line, too.  Here’s the link.

Also viewable:  the streaming video of my interview last night on U.S.-China trade on Israel’s i24News television network.  Go to this link, click download, and you’ll be able to open the recording.

In addition, on May 10, the website re-ran some of the China quotes of mine originally used in a recent posting from Gordon.  Click here to read.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

Making News: Updating the China Trade War on Israeli TV and U.S. National Radio


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I’m pleased to announce that I’m scheduled to be interviewed on two broadcast news programs tonight for analysis of the current state of the U.S.-China trade war, and especially the implications of China’s latest retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports.

At 8 PM EST, I’m slated to appear on the i24News network.  This Israeli television company requires a paid subscription for live on-line viewing, but you can register for a free trial subscription that will enable you to watch tonight at least at this link.  Luckily, I believe that I’ll be able to post a link to a streaming video of the segment by sometime tomorrow.

Then at 9:45 PM EST, you should be able to catch me back on John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show to go over the same ground with John, and co-host Gordon G. Chang.  You can listen live on-line at this link, and as usual, I’ll post a link to the podcast as soon as one’s available.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

Making News: New National Interest China Trade War Op-Ed Posted…& More!


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I’m pleased to announce the publication of my latest op-ed article.  Posted by The National Interest today, it presents a trove of data – including from the latest U.S. monthly trade report – showing that even though the outcome of the current U.S.-China trade talks is anyone’s guess, economic disengagement between the two countries is already underway.  Moreover, the process has sped up lately under President Trump.  Here’s the link.

The article was also re-posted on

Also, it was great to see‘s John Carney quote my views in his latest post debunking widespread claims that the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum, and on products from China, have already stoked raging consumer price inflation.  Click here to read.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming and recent media appearances, and other developments.


Making News: Latest National Radio Interview on China Trade Wars Now On-Line…& More!


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I’m pleased to announce that the podcast is now on-line of my interview last night on John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show on the U.S.-China trade conflict.  Click here for a fast-moving discussion of the fast-moving trade war, and where it could be headed, with John, co-host Gordon G. Chang, and me.

Also, it was great to see re-publish my May 7 post on evidence – from the horse’s mouth – of the America Last priorities too often held by globalist pre-Trump U.S. trade negotiators.  Here’s the link.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: New Trade Data Confirm that U.S. Growth Keeps Getting Healthier Under Trump


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This morning’s monthly U.S. trade figures (for March) enable an update for the economic impact of President Trump’s tariff-centric trade policies – and contain very good news both for Mr. Trump and for anyone hoping that the nation’s growth becomes healthier (which should be all Americans).

The major test, as RealityChek regulars know, is a comparison between the economy’s overall growth on the one hand, and the growth of the trade shortfall most heavily influenced by trade policies. The latter can be termed the “Made in Washington trade deficit,” since it strips out oil (which is rarely the object of trade deals or trade policy decisions) and services (where trade liberalization has made only limited progress).

If the economy is growing faster than this non-oil goods deficit (in inflation-adjusted terms – the gauge most closely followed by economy watchers), or if its growth rate is still slower but the gap between these rates is narrowing, that means that its expansion is at least starting to stem more from domestic production, and less from import-led (and therefore debt-financed) consumption. If the trends are showing the opposite results, then overall growth is becoming still more heavily reliant on credit-financed shopping (whether by households, businesses, governments or some combination of these).

And in case you forgot, that’s the kind of growth that led directly to the last global financial crisis and the worst American recession since the Great Depression. And even though the economy began recovering a decade ago, its expansion consistently trailed the growth rate of the Made in Washington trade deficit – and never more than when the inflation-adjusted gross domestic product was increasing most robustly.

That’s why the new U.S. trade figures are so encouraging. They confirm that the American economy recently has been able to grow impressively without supercharged Made in Washington trade deficits. In fact, that’s way understating the case. For calculations based on the March trade results show that, during the first quarter of this year, the after-inflation Made in Washington trade deficit actually shrunk sequentially (by a 6.09 percent annual rate) while real gross domestic product increased by a healthy 3.13 percent annualized.

Nor was the first quarter a fluke – at least not under the Trump administration. In the second quarter of 2018, the real Made in Washington trade shortfall sank sequentially by 5.90 percent annualized, while the overall economy surged by a price-adjusted 4.10 percent.

And an examination of the two during the current economic recovery produces an unmistakable pattern, which is best illustrated by looking at the far-right column (think of it as the multiple) of the table below: During the Trump years so far, good growth has resulted despite relatively modest increases (and, as we’ve just seen, despite some absolute declines) in the Made in Washington trade deficit. During the Obama years, Trump-like growth was only achieved when the Made in Washington trade deficit practically exploded. And when that trade deficit grew weakly, so did the gross domestic product.

Further, even though the multiple rose between the first and second years of the Trump administration, the quarterly 2018 figures show that this problem stemmed from the tariff front-running of the third quarter – when U.S. importers were scrambling to bring in products from abroad before they were hit with levies, principally on goods from China. Once this period of distortion ended, the multiple fell significantly (and probably overshot in the first quarter of this year).

Real Made in Washington trade deficit        Real GDP         Ratio of first to second

1Q 2019:              -6.09 percent                   3.13 percent                 -1.95:1

4Q 2018:               6.41 percent                   2.15 percent                  2.98:1

3Q 2018:             11.66 percent                   3.31 percent                  3.52:1

2Q 2018:             -5.90 percent                    4.10 percent                -1.44:1

1Q 2018:              1.35 percent                    2.20 percent                 0.61:1

2018:                  12.74 percent                    2.86 percent                 4.45:1

2017:                    6.75 percent                    2.22 percent                 3.04:1

2016:                    2.66 percent                    1.57 percent                 1.69:1

2015:                  22.63 percent                    2.88 percent                 7.86:1

2014:                  15.88 percent                    2.45 percent                 6.48:1

2013:                    6.15 percent                    1.84 percent                 3.34:1

2012:                 10.23 percent                     2.25 percent                 4.57:1

2011:                 11.92 percent                     1.55 percent                 7.69:1

2010:                30.71 percent                      2.56 percent              12.00:1

Another way to compare the Obama and Trump years in this respect: As previously noted on RealityChek, the constant dollar 3.21 percent GDP growth registered between the first quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 was the best such four-quarter growth stretch since the second quarter of 2014 and the second quarter of 2015 (when real growth was 3.37 percent).

Yet during that Obama high growth period, the real Made in Washington trade deficit shot up by 18.83 percent. During the Trump high growth period, this trade shortfall rose by only 4.99 percent.

The higher and broader tariffs on China threatened by the President to press Beijing in the current trade talks would represent the biggest test yet of the Trump policies’ impact on the health of America’s growth. But the March trade figures are the latest evidence that so far, they’ve passed such tests with flying colors.