Im-Politic: An Immigration and Racism Link Deserving Much More Attention

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H-1B” and “racial injustice” probably aren’t terms most people would believe have much to do with each other. That’s why a recent CNBC interview with a leading African American financier deserves your attention even if it is two weeks old. Because he shows not only that they’re intimately connected, but that even someone who is focusing on the link needs to think much more about how exactly it works, and what needs to be done about it.

For those who don’t follow immigration issues closely, “H-1B” is the name of the category of visa that the federal government allots business for foreigners they supposedly need to employ because their “specialty” skills can’t be found in the domestic workforce. The skills cover a wide range, but according to this organization (which loves the program) most of the vias requested by U.S. companies are for science and technology occupations, and indeed their prevalence in these fields is responsible for most of the controversy they’ve generated.

For evidence abounds that, contrary to their claims, the tech companies that seek these foreign workers so ardently aren’t using them because they’re geniuses, but because they’re cheap – and because they need to remain tied to the company that sponsored them if they have any hope of getting permanent legal residence in the United States. (My go-to source on this issue is University of California-Davis computer scientist and immigration authority Norman Matloff, whose work can be found at this terrific blog.)

As a result, H-1B opponents argue that their use undercuts American pay levels in science and technology fields, and severely undercuts the argument that gaining these skills is one of the best guarantees available to young Americans of prospering in the turbulent economy of recent decades. But the program damages the economy in a way less often noted by opponents: It guts the incentives American business might develop to invest in American workers’ skills generally, or to press government to get the country’s education act together so as to make sure that the skills they need are available domestically.

And this is where the racial injustice and related economic inequality issues come into play – along with that CNBC interview. The subject, Jim Reynolds, is an inspiring African American success story who’s long been active in civic affairs in a city with one of the nation’s biggest African American populations – his native Chicago. (See this profile.) CNBC brought him on the air on July 2 to talk about racial diversity on Wall Street.

The conversation proceeded along these lines till it was about two thirds of the way through, when Reynolds made this totally unprompted and stunning pivot. Its worth quoting in full, and came in response to a question on whether he thinks Wall Street is genuinely committed to hiring more minorities in the wake of the George Floyd killing and ensuing tsunami of nationwide calls to end racism and related economic injustices.  (I also need to present it because this point didn’t make it into the CNBC news story accompanying the interview video that’s linked above.)   

You ask if I think this is real…. I was at an Economics Club dinner a couple of years ago…and one of the top CEOs in the city [Chicago], actually, one of the top CEOS in the country – a Fortune 100 company – spoke to the group, and what he said to the group that one of his most frustrating experiences is working with H-1B programs, and why they won’t let his company recruit more of the talent that they need in the tech space….[H]e said that in the middle of downtown Chicago, where we have African American and Hispanic youth in the city, ten minutes from where he was standing, that have…let’s call it 40, 50, 60 percent unemployment, that go to schools that don’t really…teach them this sort of thing, and I wondered why he didn’t even think about this. Sure, you can go to China, and you can go to India, and recruit that talent. And that talent – and I’ve spent a lot of time in China – that talent started getting developed in middle school When they come here, and they go to the quants on Wall Street and the quants in Silicon Valley – and they do dominate that space – they started studying this stuff like when they were eight years old, nine years old. And I’ve started thinking about and talking about and I’m working with our wonderful Mayor Lori Lightfoot about, let’s get these corporations thinking about – and this time is great – investing in these black and Hispanic schools. Now. Let’s grab our young black and Hispanic kids in middle school. Let’s have a Facebook program in the school, Microsoft program, Alphabet program, Apple program in these schools. I think that’s an opportunity.”

I couldn’t have done a better job of making the H-1B-racial injustice connection. But as I suggested above, Reynold is still missing a piece of the puzzle: The CEO he mentions, and others like him, simply aren’t going to make those investments because they don’t have to. And they don’t have to precisely because they have a cheaper alternative – and one that doesn’t require them to deal with the kinds of workforce training challenges they’ve never faced: the H-1B program.

So if Reynolds really wants to expand opportunity for disadvantaged minority youth (and other young Americans) all over the country, he’ll start pressing for the elimination of the H-1B program, and for broader immigration policies that deny businesses in all sectors the easy option of hiring low-cost foreigners – and in the process, creating even more power over workers and thereby intensifying the downward pressure they can keep exerting on their wages and benefits.

Reynolds, moreover, is in a particularly good position to lobby for these changes effectively because, as made clear in the profile linked above, his close friends include a fellow named Barack Obama – who has more than a little influence on the liberals and progressives who have emerged (along with Corporate America) as among the stubbornest opponents of immigration policies that put American workers – including of course minority workers – first.

Making News: Two New National Radio Podcasts Now On-Line on the U.S.-China Trade War & the Biden Manufacturing Plan

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I’m pleased to announce that two podcasts are now on-line of national radio interviews I did last week about the status of U.S.-China relations, the trade and broader economic conflict between the two countries, and about presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s new plan to revive domestic manufacturing.

The most recent is of a Thursday night segment on “Breitbart News Tonight” and can be found at this link.  To listen to this discussion of the Biden plan, you’ll need to scroll down a bit till you see my name.

The second is of a Wednesday night appearance on “The John Batchelor Show,” and this segment on the China trade war, can be found at this link.

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

Our So-Called Foreign Policy: Evidence that the Multinationals Really Did Sell the U.S. Out to China

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RealityChek readers and anyone who’s familiar with my work over many years know that I’ve often lambasted U.S. multinational companies for powerfully aiding and abetting China’s rise to the status of economic great power status – and of surging threat to U.S. national security and prosperity. In fact, the dangers posed by China’s activities and goals have become so obvious that even the American political and policy establishments that on the whole actively supported the policies – and that permitted money from this corporate Offshoring Lobby to drive their decisions – are paying attention.

If you still doubt how these big U.S. corporations have sold China much of the rope with which it’s determined to hang their own companies and all of America (paraphrasing Lenin’s vivid supposed description of and prediction about the perilously shortsighted greed of capitalists), you should check out the latest report of the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC). As made clear by this study from an organization set up by Congress to monitor the China threat, not only have the multinationals’ investments in China figured “prominently in China’s national development ambitions.” They also “may indirectly erode the United States’ domestic industrial competitiveness and technological leadership relative to China.”

Worst of all, “as U.S. MNE (“multinational enterprise) activity in China increasingly focuses on the production of high-end technologies, the risk that U.S. firms are unwittingly enabling China to achieve its industrial policy and military development objectives rises.”

And a special bonus – these companies’ offshoring has greatly increased America’s dependence on China for supplies of crucial healthcare goods.

Here’s just a sampling of the evidence presented (and taken directly by the Commission from U.S. government reports):

> U.S. multinationals “employ more people in China than in any other country outside of the United States, primarily in the assembly of computers and electronic products.” Moreover, this employment skyrocketed by 574.6 percent from 2000 to 2017.

> “China is the fourth-largest destination for U.S. MNE research and development (R&D) expenditure and increasingly competes with advanced economies in serving as a key research hub for U.S. MNEs. The growth of U.S. MNE R&D expenditure in China is also comparatively accelerated, averaging 13.6 percent yearon-year since 2003 compared with 7.1 percent for all U.S. MNE foreign affiliates in the same period. This expenditure is highest in manufacturing, particularly in the production of computers and electronic products.”

> “U.S. MNE capital expenditure in China has focused on the creation of production sites for technology products. This development is aided by the Chinese government’s extensive policy support to develop China.”

> The multinationals’ capital spending on semiconductor manufacturing assets “has jumped 166.7 percent from $1.2 billion in 2010 (the earliest year for which complete [U.S government] data is available) to $3.2 billion in 2017, accounting for 90 percent of all U.S. MNE expenditure on computers and electronic products manufacturing assets in China.”

> “China has grown from the 20th-highest source of U.S. MNE affiliate value added in 2000 ($5.5 billion) to the fifth highest in 2017 ($71.5 billion), driven primarily by the manufacture of computers and electronic products as well as chemicals. The surge is especially notable in semiconductors and other electronic components.”

> “[P]harmaceutical manufacturing serves as the largest chemical sector in terms of value-added [a measure of manufacturing output that seeks to eliminate double-counting of output by stripping out the contribution of intermediate goods used in final products]…” And chemicals – the manufacturing category that include pharmaceuticals – has become the second largest U.S-owned industry in China measured by the value of its assets (after computers and electronic products).

Incidentally, the report’s tendency to use 2000 as a baseline year for examining trends is no accident. That’s the year before China was admitted into the World Trade Organization (WTO) – and the numbers strongly reenforce the argument that the multinationals so avidly sought this objective in order to make sure that the value of their huge planned investments in China wouldn’t be kneecapped by any unilateral U.S. tariffs on imports from China (including those from their factories). For the WTO’s combination of consensus decision-making plus the protectionist natures of most of its members’ economies created a towering obstacle to Washington acting on its own to safeguard legitimate American domestic economic interests from Chinese and other foreign predatory trade and broader economic activity.

At the same time, despite the WTO’s key role in preserving the value of the multinationals’ export-focused China investments, the USCC study underestimates how notably such investment remains geared toward exporting, including to the United States. This issue matters greatly because chances are high that this kind of investment (in China or anywhere else abroad) has replaced the multinationals’ factories and workers in the United States. By contrast, multinational investment in China (or anywhere else abroad) that’s supplying the China market almost never harms the U.S. domestic economy and in fact can help it, certainly in early stages, by providing foreign customers that add to the domestic customers of U.S.-based manufacturers.

There’s no doubt that the phenomenal growth of China’s own consumer class in recent decades has, as the China Commission report observes, generated more and more American business decisions to supply those customers from China. In other words, the days when critical masses of Chinese couldn’t possibly afford to buy the goods they made in U.S.- and other foreign-owned factories are long gone.

But the data presented by the USCC does nothing to support this claim, and the key to understanding why is the central role played by computer, electronics, and other information technology-related manufacturing in the U.S. corporate presence in China. For when the Commission (and others) report that large shares of the output of these factories are now sold to Chinese customers, they overlook the fact that many of these other customers are their fellow entities comprising links of China-centric corporate supply chains. These sales, however, don’t mean that the final customers for these products are located in China.

In other words, when a facility in China that, for example, performs final assembly activities on semiconductors sells those chips to another factory in China that sticks them into computers or cell phones or HDTV sets, the sale is regarded as one made to a Chinese customer. But that customer in turn surely sells much of its own production overseas. As the USCC documents, China’s consumer market for these goods has grown tremendously, too. But China’s continually surging share of total global production of these electronics products (also documented in the Commission report) indicates that lots of this output continues to be sold overseas.

Also overlooked by the USCC – two other disturbing apects of the multinationals’ activities in China.

First, it fails to mention that all the computer and electronics-related investment in China – which presumably includes a great deal of software-related investment – has contributed to China’s economic and military ambitions not only by transferring knowhow to Chinese partners, but by teaching huge numbers of Chinese science and technology workers how to generate their technology advances. The companies’ own (often glowing) descriptions of these training activities – which have often taken the form of dedicated training programs and academies – were revealed in this 2013 article of mine.

Second, the Commission’s report doesn’t seem to include U.S. multinationals’ growing investments not simply in high tech facilities in China that they partly or wholly own, but in Chinese-owned entities. As I’ve reported here on RealityChek, these capital flows are helping China develop and produce high tech goods with numerous critical defense-related applications, and the scale has grown so large that some elements of the U.S. national security community had been taking notice as early as 2015. And President Trump seems to be just as oblivious to these investments as globalist former President Barack Obama was.

These criticisms aside, though, the USCC has performed a major public service with this survey of the multinationals’ China activities. It should be must reading in particular for anyone who still believes that these companies – whose China operations have so greatly enriched and therefore strengthened the People’s Republic at America’s expense – deserve much influence over the U.S. China policy debate going forward.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: The Woke Street Journal (on Trade)?

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Since it’s already 11 AM as I begin writing, and the Biden presidential campaign still hasn’t released the full version of a broad manufacturing and economy blueprint scheduled to be issued today (as opposed to this summary), and since it’s still not clear when the document will appear, I’ll focus for now on a development that’s surely more startling, and possibly more important in the long run.

It’s a recent Wall Street Journal column and its viewpoint on trade policy, and it was so mind-blowing that my first reaction was that the author must be dropping acid.

More specifically, the piece was by Gerard Baker, who served as the Journal‘s Editor-in-Chief from 2013 to 2018, and is now an editor at large. That was clearly a demotion, but there’s no indication that the move stemmed from any unhappiness about Baker’s overall policy views. (He was thought by some to be soft on President Trump, but Trump trade policies were never brought up.) 

Yet on Monday, a publication whose editorial positions have from its beginnings practically been defined by all-but-uncritical worship of free markets and their international counterpart, free trade, ran a Baker piece making the following points:

> “The modern woke corporation publicly disdains and derides the values on which the nation—and its profits—were built, even as it pursues global opportunities at the expense of American communities”; and

> Cleaning out the “rot in American capitalism” must include “ensuring that corporations prioritize Americans over their globalist, progressive agendas.”

I know that I recently reported a big Journal position switch – opposing decades of pre-Trump policies that sought to tie America’s economy more closely to China’s. But much of the case made by the editorial board was grounded in national security – which is entirely understandable, but narrower than what Baker seems to be calling for.

After all, his new views didn’t mention national security at all. They were a full-throated demand that Washington’s international economic policies prioritize America First.

Baker isn’t the full editorial board. But neither is his column an example of the kind of tokenism that’s typically shaped Mainstream Media editorial departments’ (including the Journal’s) treatment of trade and related economic policy issues – interrupt a continuing flow of articles singing the praises of conventional trade and globalization policies with the occasional contrarian piece by a fringe figure (like left-wing consumer advocate Ralph Nader or far-right conservative Pat Buchanan), or every once in a while by a leading Democratic party trade critic like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.

The effect of these practices clearly was to foster the impression that for the most part only genuine oddballs could question the pro-free trade consensus. But even though Baker left his former position under something of a cloud, he’s not a professional gadfly. He’s a lifelong member of The Club. Just look at these credentials: the Bank of England, Lloyd’s, The Times of London, the Financial Times, the BBC. Even Oxford! So it’s tough to see his latest as anything but another significant (and welcome) straw in the wind.

In fact, it raises a fascinating question: Which part of the Journal will repudiate free trade idolatry fastest and most completely? Its highly and openly (and legitimately) opinionated editorial page? Or its straight news department, which like its counterparts elsewhere in the Mainstream Media, often act just as opinionated – but more subtly so?

Making News: Back on National Radio Tonight Talking Trump on China

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I’m pleased to announce that I’m scheduled to return tonight to John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show tonight to talk about where the U.S.-China economic conflict could be heading.  The segment is especially timely because the Trump administration is signaling that some major executive orders concerning China and the related issue of strengthening American manufacturing will be issued shortly.  Listen live to analyses from John, co-host Gordon G. Chang, and me by clicking here.

As usual, lately, because of pandemic conditions in New York City, the show’s home base, the interview was recorded this afternoon, and I don’t know exactly when my segment will air.  But the entire program runs from 9 PM-12 PM EST, and tuning into all of it will be well worth your while!

If you can’t listen tonight, I’ll post a podcast as soon as one’s available.  And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

Im-Politic: On Biden’s New Plan for Medical & Other Supply Chain Security

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Joe Biden’s plan for rebuilding U.S. supply chains to ensure American access to critical products like healthcare goods came out yesterday, and any fair reading would have to conclude that these proposals are about as serious as the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee’s proposals in related areas – like China policy. That is to say, they’re not terribly serious at present.

As with China policy, the first concern entails credibility. In 2011, when Biden was Barack Obama’s Vice President, the Commerce Department issued a report detailing all sorts of dangerous vulnerabilities in U.S. supplies of all manner of vital healthcare goods. The “Obama-Biden administration” did absolutely nothing in response – unless you count avidly pursuing offshoring-friendly trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that were bound to worsen these vulnerabilities. You could also throw in a record of continually coddling the trade and broader economic predation practiced by China, which surely fostered similar results.

As a result, it’s legit to ask whether any of these proposals will survive Day One of a Biden presidency.

In this vein, it’s more than a little disturbing that Biden proposes to use the Defense Department’s policies to minimize supply chain vulnerabilities as his model for addressing such problems for a wide variety of products –not just healthcare-related goods. These include “energy and grid resilience technologies, semiconductors, key electronics and related technologies, telecommunications infrastructure, and key raw materials.”

Unfortunately, the principal lessons taught by the Defense Department’s record on supply chains are how to duck the problem or define it out of existence, and the administration in which Biden served was no exception. Some of the biggest specific problems (as made clear in this Obama administration report):

>The Pentagon’s overall assessments prioritized financial metrics, not specific domestic production capabilities, as measures of the defense manufacturing base’s health.

>Its treatment of globalization’s challenges placed major emphasis on taking “advantage of emerging capabilities, regardless of where they originate,” not maximizing domestic production capabilities.

>Although specific vulnerabilities – and the related need to maintain or rebuild adequate domestic capabilities – were acknowledged, this vulnerabilities were consistently portrayed as isolated holes that could somehow be plugged without taking into account the dependence of these narrowly defined products on their own supply chains. Indeed, Biden’s new plan seems to reveal a similar flaw when it describes itself as “a set of targeted proposals to ensure the United States has the domestic manufacturing capacity necessary for critical supply chains.”

>Moreover, the Department has long supported objectives such as interoperability with allies’ armed forces and maintaining traditional – pre-Trump – global systems of what it defined as free trade, both of which often clashed with the goal of incentivizing domestic production. These goals were explicitly stated in this George W. Bush administration report, and here’s no evidence that the Obama-Biden Pentagon ever disagreed.

Indeed, the new Biden blueprint indicates that the former Vice President’s definition of supply chain security is pretty global, instead of national, as well:

Instead of insulting our allies and undermining American global leadership, Biden will engage with our closest partners so that together we can build stronger, more resilient supply chains and economies in the face of 21st century risks. Just like the United States itself, no U.S. ally should be dependent on critical supplies from countries like China and Russia. That means developing new approaches on supply chain security — both individually and collectively — and updating trade rules to ensure we have strong understandings with our allies on how to best ensure supply chain security for all of us.”

If America’s allies were proven reliable suppliers of these products themselves, Biden’s perspective would make sense. But the list of countries that have recently hoarded medical goods for themselves as soon as the CCP Virus pandemic’s full dangers became apparent included most of these allies – meaning that the U.S. vulnerability problem far exceeds “China and Russia.”

Nor is it entirely evident how clearly Biden has thought though the tax policy provisions of his plan. Tax policy’s role is clearly viewed as crucial, as the plan emphasizes that

Pharmaceutical offshoring has been heavily driven by tax code provisions that have encouraged companies to locate pharmaceutical production in low-tax countries even where those countries have labor and other costs comparable to the U.S.”

Consequently, Biden says he will “eliminate Trump Administration tax incentives for offshoring and pursue other tax code changes that will encourage pharmaceutical production in the U.S.”

At the same time, Biden favors raising the overall U.S. corporate tax rate from the 21 percent to which it has recently been lowered to 28 percent, along with a 15 percent “minimum tax” on large corporations. So good luck to drug companies – or any other companies making goods deemed critical by Biden – gleaning clear reshoring or domestic production ramping signals from this combination.

Perhaps any confusion will be cleared up by other alleged Biden measures to boost U.S.-based production – like “new targeted financial incentives, including tax credits, investments, matching funds for state and local incentives, R&D support, and other incentives to encourage the production of designated critical materials such as semiconductors in the United States”? At best, business will surely need to see many more details along these lines before committing the needed capital.

Unless maybe as President, Biden will simply mandate that the needed new facilities will be built when all else fails (as well as in tandem with those other policies)? That’s obviously the implication of his promise to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) “to its fullest extent to rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity in critical supply chains, using the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and applying them to our national needs.”

Or does Biden actually view the DPA as his primary tool for “generating the domestic mobilization we need”? That seems like a reasonable conclusion, especially given that it’s the first specific measure he mentions. Maybe instead he’s really talking about using the Act simply “to direct U.S. companies to ramp up production of critical products that will be needed over the near-term.”

Regardless of Biden’s real intentions, though, it’s anything but clear how Biden believes the DPA can be used to increase U.S. production in many of the industries he mentions as vital where such output has largely migrated overseas That’s especially true for the “semiconductors, key electronics and related technologies, [and] telecommunications infrastructure” he specifies. It’s sure going to be far more difficult than, say, ordering auto companies, to make ventilators.

It’s just as unclear how these Biden’s ideas can succeed without a much stronger trade policy dimension – and specifically, continued and even expanded tariffs. And it shouldn’t be limited to straightening out the muddled views mentioned above. 

Specifically, maintaining levies on chronically subsidized and dumped products like metals, along with sweeping tariffs on systemically protectionist China (and on other similar countries) would send the all the companies and sectors concerned an invaluable message. Bipartisan endorsement of these protections would demonstrates that they really can have confidence that new investments won’t be decimated by trade and broader economic predation. Just as important, an enduring commitment to tariffs would help convince overseas competitors (domestic and foreign owned) that if they want to sell the products in which they have big edges to Americans, they’ll need to make these products in America.

The good news is that at least some of these mysteries may be cleared up “soon,” when this Biden plan promises the former Vice President will release his “comprehensive strategy to create American jobs through modern American manufacturing.” The bad news is that if he what he’s said and written so far is any indication, he’ll have a lot of rewriting to do.

Those Stubborn Facts: Black Lives that Still Apparently Don’t Matter

Number of killings in Chicago during this last July 4th weekend: 17

Number of unarmed black Americans killed by police, full year 2019: 14

(Sources: “87 shot, 17 fatally, in Chicago July 4th weekend violence, police say,” by Jessica D’Onofrio and Craig Wall,” ABC7 Eyewitness News, July 6, 2020, https://abc7chicago.com/chicago-shooting-shootings-this-weekend-violence-how-many-shot-in/6301523/ and “Fact check: More Black people died in 2019 police shootings than in George Floyd protests,” by Adrienne Dunn, USA Today, June 18, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/06/18/fact-check-more-black-people-killed-police-than-floyd-protests/5323116002/ )

 

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: U.S. Manufacturing Keeps Gaining Independence

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Like a strike-shortened sports season’s champion, the conclusion in today’s RealityChek post needs an asterisk. The conclusion stems from this morning’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by Industry report from the Commerce Department, which shows that U.S. domestic manufacturing continues to become ever more self-reliant. In other words, it’s reducing its dependence for growth on foreign-made industrial goods of all kinds generally speaking.

The asterisk is needed because the new data covers the first quarter of this year, and therefore it includes March – when much of the U.S economy was shut down by government order or recommendation due to the CCP Virus. As a result, a chunk of the results say nothing about how manufacturing or the rest of economy would have performed in normal times.

Still, this morning’s evidence that U.S.-based industry is becoming more autonomous comes from several different findings calculable from the GDP by Industry’s raw data.

For example, again, due partly to the shutdowns’ effects, the report shows that according to a widely followed measure called value-added, domestic manufacturing’s output dipped by 0.99 percent between the first quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of this year. At the same time, the manufacturing trade deficit during this period shrank by 7.31 percent – more than 13 times faster. During the last comparable period (fourth quarter, 2018 to fourth quarter, 2019), manufacturing production grew by 0.70 percent, and its trade gap narrowed by 7.59 percent – a somewhat better performance on both scores.

At this point it’s vital to note that these growth rates are by no means good. In fact, they’re the worst by far since the final year of the Obama administration – when on a calendar year basis, domestic industry shrank by 1.19 percent. Yet during that same year 2016, despite this contraction, the manufacturing trade shortfall expanded by 4.66 percent. So if you value self-sufficiency (as you should in a world in which the United States has found itself painfully short of many healthcare-related goods, and in which dozens of its trade partners were hoarding their own supplies), it’s clear that during 2016, the nation was getting the worst of all possible manufacturing worlds.

Also important: there’s no doubt that the same Trump administration tariffs and trade wars with which domestic manufacturing has been dealing over the past two years have slowed its growth. In other words, industry has been adjusting to policy-created pressures to adjust its global, and in particular China-centric, supply chains. That’s bound to create inefficiencies.

If you don’t care about significant American economic reliance on an increasingly hostile dictatorship, you’ll carp about paying any efficiency price for this decoupling from China (and other unreliable countries). If you do care, you’ll recognize the slower growth as an adjustment cost needed to correct the disastrous choice made by pre-Trump Presidents to undercut America’s economic independence severely.

Moreover, during the last year, domestic manufacturing output was held back by two developments that had nothing to do with President Trump’s trade policy: the strike at General Motors in the fall of 2019, which slashed U.S. production both of vehicles and parts, and of all the components and materials that comprise dedicated auto parts; and the safety problems at Boeing, which resulted in the grounding of its popular 737 Max model worldwide starting in March, 2019, and in a suspension of all that aircraft’s production this past January.

Also encouraging from a self-reliance standpoint. During the first quarter of 2019, the manufacturing trade deficit as a percentage of domestic manufacturing output sank from just under 43 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 (and 43.36 percent for the entirety of last year) to 37.27 percent. That’s the lowest level since full-year 2013’s 35.82 percent.

These figures should make clear that the manufacturing trade deficit’s share of manufacturing output kept growing during the final Obama years and into the Trump years. Indeed, on an annual basis, this number peaked at 47.01 percent in the third quarter of 2019. To some extent, blame what I’ve previously identified as tariff front-running (the rush by importers throughout the trade war to bring product into the United States before threatened tariffs were actually imposed) along with those supply chain-related adjustment costs.

To complicate matters further, as suggested above, that very low first quarter result stemmed partly from the nosedive taken by manufacturing and other U.S. economic activity in March. Since that level is clearly artificially low, it’s probably going to bob up eventually – but hopefully not recover fully.

In all, though, the first quarter GDP by Industry report points to a future of more secure supplies of manufactured goods for Americans. And unless you believe that domestic manufacturers have completely lost their ability to adjust successfully to a (needed) New Normal in U.S. trade policy, the release points to a return of solid manufacturing output growth rates as well.

Im-Politic: Biden’s CCP Virus Fairytales

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I totally get that Joe Biden would want to throw cold water all over this past Thursday’s U.S. jobs report (for June), whose reported massive gains smashed expectations for the second straight month. He’s virtually certain to be formally named the Democrats’ presidential nominee this year. Therefore, he naturally has a strong interest in portraying the state of the nation, including its economy, in the worst possible terms.

I also totally get that the nation’s media would report Biden’s gloom-mongering. He’s a major political candidate, and what he says is by definition news.

What I totally don’t get is how none of the country’s pundits and other political analysts have caught the glaring weakness and equally glaring internal contradiction in Biden’s core claim that a million more Americans “would still have their job if Donald Trump had done his job.”

The weakness: Biden apparently is charging that the President should have shut down the economy and strongly recommended mask-wearing and social distancing measures (which of course inevitably have their own, independent economy-depressing effects) much earlier than he did (the first such Trump action – a stay-at-home guidance – came on March 16). As a result, he suggests, the U.S. jobs market would be in much better shape. 

But as reported in this Washington Post examination of Biden’s CCP Virus record, nothing of the kind had issued from the former Vice President or his camp by that time. So much, therefore, for any contention that he’s been especially prescient when it comes to the virus’ impact on the economy and on employment in particular.

The contradiction: Let’s say that Biden had indeed recommended a much earlier shutdown – and that the Trump administration had taken his advice immediately. And let’s suppose that the President’s record had been much better in terms of testing and contact-tracing – which Biden has called “the key to restoring enough confidence for businesses to reopen safely and consumers to reengage with the economy” (as opposed to what he has described as the President’s reopening plan: “just open”). Would the massive job losses suffered by the U.S. economy have been avoided, as Biden has suggested? Would even “a million more Americans” be employed – and presumably safely employed (a number whose source I haven’t found, and that represents a small fraction of the 15 million jobs that remain lost since the CCP Virus’ full effects began to be felt)?

Biden and many Americans clearly would like these claims to be true. But good luck finding any supporting evidence. Indeed, everything we know about the anti-virus efforts even of countries that allegedly have dealt much better with the pandemic reveals those expectations to be wholly unrealistic.

Germany is probably the best example – since it’s not a totalitarian dictatorship like China that can lock down massively while truly trampling on the few individual liberties it ever allowed the slightest breathing room. Even so, it’s been widely depicted as the gold standard for anti-virus success.

To summarize, on March 22, Chancellor Angela Merkel imposed on the country one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns. A cautious easing began on May 6. And how have the country’s workers fared? Take a look at the chart below (from Bloomberg.com). That joblessness spike looks an awful lot like America’s. P.S. These figures don’t include millions of German workers not officially counted as unemployed only because of Bonn’s work-sharing programs, which has kept them nominally at work via wage subsidies.

German unemployment surged during pandemic

Moreover, practically no sooner did Germany’s reopening begin, than significant virus case flareups began.

In other words, even Germany’s experience makes clear that if you favor maximum anti-virus efforts, like pervasive lockdowns, there’s no avoiding massive unemployment. And given the disease’s transmission rates – which may have worsened, possibly due more to mutation than to any reopenings, even as its never extreme lethality may be weakening – anyone insisting on the contrary deserves to be seen as just another cynical politician peddling fairytales.

 

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: A Big China Mystery Inside the Latest U.S. Trade Figures

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The big mystery about yesterday’s monthly U.S. trade report (for May) concerns China. Specifically, why are imports from the People’s Republic streaming into the American economy again, considering the stiff, sweeping tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese-made goods destined for U.S. markets, and of course the continuing troubles faced by the U.S. economy from the CCP Virus?

I won’t be able to provide a detailed answer till sometime next week – when I expect the U.S. International Trade Commission to post the data on its website. But I can say right now that these imports were great enough account for more than all of the blame for $4.85 billion (9.74 percent) sequential widening of the overall U.S. trade gap in May.

That combined goods and services trade shortfall hit $54.60 billion – its highest level since October, 2008’s $60.88 billion. And back then, more than half that overall trade deficit was oil. In May, the United States ran an oil trade surplus – as it’s done since last fall.

Moreover, the overall May U.S. goods trade deficit (also known as the merchandise deficit) of $76.06 billion was the biggest such total since December, 2018’s $80.21 billion –and represented a $4.24 billion (5.90 percent) increase from April’s levels.

The specific China goods numbers? The bilateral trade gap widened by $4.49 billion (19.99 percent) sequentially in May – a figure 92.58 percent as big as the entire monthly U.S. trade deficit increase and, as mentioned above, greater than the monthly increase in the merchandise shortfall. In other words, as the goods trade deficit from everywhere else in toto fell during May, it rose from China. (Of course, because the U.S. trades with so many different countries, this doesn’t mean that goods trade shortfalls fell with every one of them other than China. But overall, the non-China goods trade gap narrowed.)

And the role of merchandise imports was as crucial as it is puzzling. U.S. goods imports from China rose on month in May by $5.53 billion (or 17.79 percent). So they alone exceeded the $4.85 billion sequential increase in the overall trade deficit and the $4.24 billion rise in the goods deficit.

Even weirder – goods imports from China were up in May while overall imports and global goods imports were down (by 0.88 percent and by 0.76 percent, respectively).

Despite the widening of the merchandise trade gap with China, U.S. goods exports to the People’s Republic improved on month in May – by $1.04 billion, to $9.64 billion. That’s not terribly surprising, since all indications are that China’s economy began recovering sooner than America’s from its own CCP Virus-induced shutdown. In fact, that monthly merchandise export total is the highest since last November’s $10.10 billion – meaning that those U.S. sales are back in their range for the whole of last year, before the virus broke out in China.

But was the U.S. economy rebounding strongly enough in May to explain easily a resumption of buying from China that also brought goods imports back to their highest level since November, and well inside their range, too, for all of last year? That’s hard to accept, if only because overall U.S. goods imports remain significantly depressed from last year’s levels, and because of those Trump tariffs. Such bewilderment seems justified even given that in recent years, May has been a month during which merchandise imports from China have risen strongly. After all, this wasn’t a normal May.

It’s true that on a year-to-date basis through May, U.S. goods imports from China in 2020 are down 15.90 percent – more than the 12.60 percent drop for goods imports total (but not that much more). The difference is somewhat greater with the 10.35 percent decrease in January-May total U.S. non-oil goods imports – which are a better global comparison with China goods imports, since China doesn’t sell oil to the United States.

It’s also true that the United States’ merchandise deficit with China through May of this year has shrunk much faster (24.58 percent) than its overall global goods deficit (7.78 percent) and much, much faster than its global non-oil goods deficit (2.34 percent). But it’s true as well that a non-trivial amount of this progress has reversed itself this month (as well as in April).

And that’s why I’ll get you the detailed answer to the “what are these China imports” question ASAP.