Global Trade and Tariffs

While the US President proceeds with tariffs, 11 countries sans the US just signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership that will reduce tariffs among theses countries. This is the infamous TPP that the President pulled out of early in his Presidency.

David Smick, an economic advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton said both Presidents loved global trade. It should be noted that more jobs were created under these two Presidents with Clinton #1 at 22.9 million and Reagan at #3 at 16.1 million (FDR was second). While we need to be mindful of and help employees impacted by job loss, we need to recognize global trade is accretive to the US economy and creates more jobs. We do well when we all do well.

As one global economist said, tariffs and trade wars are how recessions start. So, in protecting some jobs, we will likely be impacting negatively a much greater number.

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Saturday’s Alright for Fighting

One of Elton John’s more boisterous songs is the title of this post. It is OK to stand up for the rights of others and yourself, but we need not resort to physical fighting. We must do so with our words that express our ideas. Words that are hurtful or demean are a verbal form of fighting.

I mention this as we must not follow the example of how the President chooses to communicate. We must be civil and listen to each other’s ideas and perspectives. Name calling is a shortcut when the speaker does not have a good argument. When I hear the President or anyone else name call, it makes me pay attention to the opposing side’s argument. The same holds true when he berates people.

The sad truth is people who act like this do so to be tough and bully others into doing things their way. Eventually it wears thin and others won’t want to be around people who act this way. It is one reason the White House has so much turnover. It is reported the latest departure is due to her being constantly berated by her boss. It came to a head when she admitted under oath she told “white lies” on his behalf.

Our issues are complex and deserve rational and reasoned debate. The causes are often multi-faceted and deserve holistic solutions. They do not need to be based on whims or inaccurate information. They do not need to be rashly done without vetting, especially when others need to be aware of and can plan for them. The rash decision by the President to impose tariffs is a good example because it caught the White House staff, members of Congress, our trading partners, investors and business leaders off guard.

This should not be how important decisions are made. We should rationally talk through them and look at their ramifications. We should invite input as complex issues need to be vetted. They need buy-in. This one was not. Tariffs may sound good, but they usually have devastating results. As one global economist said “this is how recessions start.”

 

 

A little bit of this and that

It is a rainy Sunday, so it is a great day to drink coffee and read. Since I am struggling for a longer post subject, here is a little bit of this and that for your reflection and thoughts. In no particular order:

There are many people who will tell you what is wrong with the Middle East, but I don’t believe it is a solvable problem. There are too many passionate religious and tribal differences that cross borders. Unless like minded people had control over their situation, did not need to rely on others and could respect the rights of others, peace is simply not achievable. In my simple view, the best anyone can achieve is to place lids on simmering pots on a stove.

The global economy is expected to grow by 3.9% each of the next two years, up from slightly lower results in 2016 and 2017. Yet, Christine LaGarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, cautioned at Davos last week over concerns of socio-economic inequity and the rising debt in the US. Not everyone is benefitting from the growth which will cause greater uncertainty and unrest.

In a very interesting and not unexpected development, Canada and other nations completed the TPP, which is the Asia-Pacific trade agreement the US exited, When the US tried to negotiate a bilateral agreement with Japan, the Japanese trade leaders suggested the US reconsider the TPP instead. The US finds itself on the outside looking in. I find it interesting that the US President said in an interview which will air tonight that he would reconsider the pullout from Paris. It is hard to have a relationship when you are not in the room with others.

On a related subject, if Brexit follows through with the commitment to leave the EU, other cities will continue to benefit from EU headquarters migration from London. Paris, Dublin and Frankfurt are each benefitting from conpanies moving EU headquarters. A softer Brexit will help reduce the migration, but it will continue.

I guess if there is a theme to all of these subjects it is working together across country borders and regions within is more productive than going it alone. Yet, one thing remains true – collaboration is hard work. It requires give and take. If one party gets everything it wants, then the others will not, so detente is harder. So, when I hear someone who likes to win say an agreement is a disaster, I don’t put as much credence in those comments. Lifting all boats makes more money for everyone. A man won a Nobel prize for this concept. So, let’s work hard together for peace and prosperity for all. It beats the hell out of the alternatives.

 

A few painful truths

We are overlooking some very painful truths primarily for short term gain. As I chatted with staff members for several US Senators, I found myself saying “you sound like a young person; you do realize we are leaving this problem for you?” I hope they start thinking more about what I said because of what we are ignoring.

The reason for my question is Congress has passed one Tax bill and is debating another that will increase our $20.5 trillion debt by at least $1.5 trillion. Yet, not only are we ignoring the $20.5 trillion debt, we are ignoring that the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to grow by $10 trillion without the Tax bill impact. So, in 2027, the debt could be $32 trillion if the Tax bill is signed into law. This is beyond poor stewardship – it is malfeasance. We would be screwing those young staffers I spoke with.

Unfortunately, there is more. Our leadership has decided to make the US the only country in the world to not support the Paris Climate Change Accord. Not only are we denying hard truths and overwhelming scientific evidence, we are shooting ourselves and planet in the foot. Renewable energy is passed the tipping point and we risk getting left behind as other nations invest in Innovation for the new economy. Fortunately, cities, states and businesses are carrying the banner dropped by our leadership, who is being relegated to the kids table at Thanksgiving. At the next post-Paris event, the US may not be invited at all. If we don’t deal more decisively with climate change, we will be screwing those young staffers and their children.

A final issue to mention, but not the final problem we are ignoring, is the US is retrenching from our global leadership role to the delight of China and Russia and chagrin of our western allies. The President gave a speech in Vietnam this month similar to the one made in Davos earlier in the year. America will retrench to a nationalistic country seeking bilateral agreements. On each occasion, his speech was followed by Xi Jingping who gave the global leadership speech the US normally gives. What our President fails to understand is globalization lifts all boats and our economy benefits more than if we look to maximize only our share. This concept has been called the “Nash Equilibrium” in honor of the Nobel Economics prize winner who developed it, John Nash. If we retrench, we will be harming our future growth and screwing those young staffers.

As I mention, these are not the only things we are ignoring – poverty, job losses due to technology advances, healthcare costs, environmental degradation, infrastructure, better gun control, etc. Yet, should we not alter our path set by these leaders, this path will be defined in the future as the period when the US gave up its global leadership role. And, the world will be a lesser place because of it. Sadly, I have witnessed these words spoken by more than a few global financial and security experts.

 

 

Try building your cars in the US – what a great idea

During his visit to Japan, the US President came upon a sudden revelation. He said “Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over.” What a great idea! The nice part is Japan automakers are already building cars in Tennessee (Nissan), Ohio (Honda) and Kentucky (Toyota). Last time I checked, those three states are part of the US.

What sometimes gets lost in his bluster, demonization and excessive tweeting is a man who is not steeped in history, geography or current events. Nor, as folks who work with him have said, does he shows much interest in learning or doing homework to make himself more aware. So, we must live with John Belushi’s less-studious character in the movie “Animal House,” when he spoke of the “Germans bombing Pearl Harbor,” as our President.

How should Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe react to such an uninformed statement by our President? I wonder if he looked at an adviser and nonverbally conveyed “really?” Does the US President know BMWs are made in South Carolina, Volkswagens are made in Tennessee and Mercedes and Hyundais are made in Alabama, e.g.?

When we talk about global trade and jobs, we cannot overlook what these foreign companies and many others are doing here. They are employing American workers. The focus tends to look only at jobs lost and not jobs gained by global trade. That inappropriately simplifies the issue and leads to wrong conclusions.

Global trade increases the economic pie, especially when the global needs are nurtured. That is a key premise of the Nash Equilibrium which won a Nobel Prize for its creator John Nash. Yes, we need to be mindful of jobs lost and provide restorative action. This could range from retraining to recruiting new businesses or looking for trade-offs. The same strategy holds true with the more significant culprit in job loss, technology advances.

Initially, I thought the now President was over-simplifying things to sell his messiah-like message. Only I can solve your problems, believe me, he has said in numbers of ways. As award winning author Thomas Friedman said about the President, “He has no second paragraph.” The sad truth is the President has no second paragraph because he may not know what comes next.

A President does not need to know everything – that person cannot possibly fulfill that mission. But, we must have one that knows more things than this one does and who does not lie or bluff when he does not. And, if does not know, he need not be afraid of learning.

You cannot shrink to greatness

I often borrow the phrase “you cannot shrink to greatness,” which I first heard when companies downsized to make their numbers. When leaders don’t know how to grow revenue or if market conditions do not support revenue growth, they cut staff. Lately, I have been using it to define the goal of nationalist thinkers who believe by restricting global trade, they can make things great.

On the whole, global trade is accretive to growth. Yes, we need to constantly review trade agreements to protect workers, but even trade agreements like NAFTA add value and jobs. If NAFTA were done away with, the state of Texas and the US would suffer, as would our key trading partners on our continent.

A venture capitalist said it succinctly. “Do you know what creates jobs? Customers.” The more trade, the more customers. It is that simple. As for the job losses which subtract from trade related gains, we do need to review the causes and effects. Many jobs have been lost dating back to the 1980s. Companies chase cheap labor, always have. So regardless of trade agreements, the companies were offshoring just as our President has done with his clothing lines and ball caps.

Also, where we are losing more jobs is to technology gains. We do much more manufacturing here, but with far fewer workers, than we did in the 1980s. These technology improvements will continue. So, before we blame trade agreements and throw the baby out with the bath water, we need to understand the metrics. What jobs are created, which ones are lost and why?

The other factor that does not get enough airplay is just as US companies are building products closer to customers, so are foreign companies here. Think of all the foreign cars and trucks made here in Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama, etc. and think of foreign companies like Doosan, Mitsubishi, Michelin, Husqvarna, to name only a few, who have facilities here in the states. These are additive jobs to our economy.

Reducing trade is not conducive to growth. If you recall the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” about the schizophrenic John Nash, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics, ask yourself why he won? His theory called the Nash Equilibrium proved very useful in global deals in growing the pie bigger. The Nash Equilibrium says if we look to maximize only our own gain, while others do the same, the competition squashes trade. Yet, if we work together to make everyone benefit, the economic pie gets larger.

Reducing trade is also not conducive to greater security. The more commerce you do with countries that may not be an ally, the more you both will work to keep the commerce successful. So, military interventions would be harmful to that trade.

So, retrenching from the global markets, would not only be dilutive to growth, it would make us less secure. This is the argument that should be very visibly discussed as we look to improve agreements. Because no agreement is not a good course as it will cause a shrinking effect. And, you cannot shrink to greatness.

 

Our next President may want to give more attention to the larger economies

It seems our President-elect is more consumed with Russia than he should be. Why the undue dalliance is something that the analysts should evaluate. Yet, Russia is not even in the top ten economies in the world.

Of course, we should endeavor to have commerce with countries as bilateral trade breaks down barriers. But, I would be more concerned with our larger partners – China, Japan, Germany, UK, France, India, Brazil Canada, and Italy. These and other trading partners like Mexico have a major impact on the US economy and job markets.

I would be more concerned with impacting trade with China than anything else. That could have a huge bearing on US jobs. Like the mistake with Brexit, we must not forget the jobs created here by foreign companies. Companies wanting to tap the US market have figured out it is more cost effective to build big things here rather than ship them from abroad – think Nissan,  Honda, Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, Hyundai, Husqvarna, Doosan, etc.

An economist said in 2015, China’s slowing growth has a bigger impact on the economy than similar percentage declines elsewhere. Yet, we should seek trade with other partners as well, to diversify and tap other markets. More commerce with Russia is a good thing, just as more commerce with Cuba and Iran is. Conducting trade creates relationships and builds more unity. Countries will be less inclined to upset applecarts. And, in Iran  the median age is 35, so the opportunity to change the future relationship in a positive way exists.

I recognize fully that there are leaders and countries we need to be highly skeptical of such as Russia, Iran, The Philippines right now, Syria and North Korea, e.g. Duterte is a thug, Putin is conniving and Little Kim is bat shit crazy, so we need to be leery of these folks

So, before our President-elect accepts Putin’s offer as a prom date, he may want to consider dancing better with our other successful partners.