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July 07, 2007


Jeremy McKibben

Even if the trade deficit shrinks, I'm worried that folks in the US will still clamor for protectionism in the face of Chinese export subsidies. For one, subsidies are a much easier thing to understand than currency undervaluation, so it's hard to tell if voters will view a more balanced trade deficit as a victory if it takes subsidies to achieve it. Slapping on a tariff, on the other hand, is a surefire way for a politician to look strong against the Chinese, even if it makes no sense economically.

Per Kurowski

This sounds a like a reasonable backdoor solution, in a two country model, but does it really work when Chinas industry subsidies could mostly be helping to keep up their competitiveness vis-à-vis the USA, while Chinas increased demand could go elsewhere.

A front door solution would instead be to have a salary decrease in the USA, which would align the currencies… but then again I understand it is so much easier having China to revalue, than letting people back home know that with that you are in fact devaluing and reducing in real world terms the salaries paid to the workers in the USA.

If a plan of this sort comes hand in hand with another strategic plan of how to boost the competitiveness of a country with $44.000 per capita GDP against a big country with a $7.700 PPP GDP per capita, equivalent to 18% of the USA, then it might be a good interim measure, but otherwise one has to keep wondering whether the exchange rates are there only to provide yearly equilibriums in the current account flows, or if they also have a role in trying to help to find some balance in the long term stocks too.

China knows very well that with each US dollar in reserves they purchase they are incurring in a loss, that will be mark to market in the future, but they are willing to do so since at least that seems to be placing them on a road where they can see possibilities of at one day in the horizon being able to reach the USA.

If the USA tries to postpone that day from coming with measures less designed to strengthen the nation than to camouflage its weaknesses, then the American children, or at least the American grandchildren, will most certainly be up for some disappointing surprises.

At this moment the best way for the USA to get to $60.000 GDP per capita lies in helping China reach $20.000 GDP per capita, equivalent to 33% of the USA, and if there is not room in the world for that (for instance in terms of energy and climate change) or the capability to handle it, then I guess we really are facing complete different scenarios than those we are discussing.


I would rather wait for the growing Chinese middle and upper classes to demand a revaluation of the currency themselves than give Chinese special interests more opportunities to extract rents and pervert trade.


Here's a better idea: let's let China grow so rapidly that they need to import U.S.-produced goods and resources at faster rates than those at which they export China-produced stuff to the U.S. Oh wait, that's already been happening:


Looking at more current data, even with the recent slowdown in trade between the two nations, the rate of growth of U.S. exports to China is still well ahead of China's exports to the U.S.


for what little its worth

needless to say
i agree totally
with your analysis and
i love your mephisto ish
policy recommendation

now check with the TNCs

ugh !!!!!

key passage:

" An undervalued currency is the linchpin of this growth strategy, as it provides the incentive needed by investors (foreign and domestic) to establish and expand exportable industries"

nb "foreign"
foreign as in tnc

yes now
but after a 50% reval
my guess the TNCs
will say
"nyet baby "

direct export subsidy
by its discretionary nature
could would should
also prove discriminatory

the gubmint and the party bosses
could easily
lever the TNCs
out of their present
re-export game
in favor of home growns

would the TNCs
really allow
the currency tilt to vanish??????

that might restrict
their power plays
in peking
to threatening the restriction
of further PRC
american market access

besides how can u sell
sure let chicom
" naked subsidy " kill
our red white and blue ribbon jobs

hell just the notion of it
would cause
the norte americano
protectionists to howl
like wolves in a horse opera

i like the lower the water level and force the TNCs
to use
golden gate keeping
by less submerged
more direct and
more arbitrary means

i hear the hi fi boys now
"why spoil the montee we got goin now "

why dispell
the miasmic fuddle
the forex fiddle allows

still thanks to mass press club ignorance
of this game
too far from parity forex
and its consequent trade gap chronics
serves as a nice
patophysical cover



"subsidies are a much easier thing to understand than currency undervaluation"


per k
pour quoi

in your analysis
you make sense
and non sense
waltz together
like honeymooners


"A front door solution would instead be to have a salary decrease in the USA"

no because its the relative price of imports that we want to change

yes there'd be an income effect
but its the subbstitution effect we're afterthat hits both our china imports
less the price effect
of export subsidy
and our china exports
though its a serious point
to suggest
the reval might cause other exporting nations to gain chinese market share
instead of american


you might have phrased
the following key passage
more simply eh ??

"a 20% subsidy would require, say, a 10% appreciation to offset its effect on the current account, still leaving a roughly 10% increase in the relative profitability of exportables "



i think we can't wait till the gap closes all by itself

have you calced the time interval
and the likely result on our industrial platform
after all
auto parts as an example
are just now starting to
take the heat


The effect on our interests rates seems to have been left out of this solution.


the interest rate effect
of a reduced trade and payments deficit goes one way ..down
the declining dollar
as a policy objective requires no lifting of rates
to counter the fall ....

there is of course
relative price adjustments between tradeables
and non tradeables
and this might work smoother if the mid term secular level
of prices rises faster
then otherwise

key here no demand curb is strictly necessary
no macro brakes on income of households here
to cut the import volume

all this can be adjusted on the fly
if we aren't too finicky

a little new deal type macro /forex /credit flow
ought to be enough if its done by uncle in good faith
toward both globe
american jobblers

pragmatism and again pragmatism

that's the american way !!!!


"the interest rate effect
of a reduced trade and payments deficit goes one way ..down
the declining dollar
as a policy objective requires no lifting of rates
to counter the fall ...."--paine


I don't understand this. If there is less demand for our debt wouldn't interests rates have to go up in order to get people to buy it?


Someone will have to explain to me how the Walmart shopper figures in all of this.

Say the price of an imported TV rises by 50%, what are the shopper's options? Either they can forgo the purchase or they can pay more. They can't substitute a US-made TV, we don't make them anymore. Now extend that to the hundreds of other items that we must import since there are no longer any domestic suppliers.

It seems like a formula for a drop in US economic activity to me. On the political side I'm also willing to bet that Walmart has more political clout than prof Rodrik. So chances of getting something like this considered are nil.

However, it's summer - time for dreaming...


Dani -

I'm going to be the devils advocate and suggest in global political economy bilateral trade imbalance doesn't matter in the final analysis.

What really matters from a strategic perspective is GWB advocacy of PRC not as a competitor but adversary.

Congress and it's political legitimacy is reflected in their low standing (lower than GWB!) with voters.

Trade imbalance is a historical factor which people like Galbraith and Myrdal have written extensively and downgraded its importance in global economic development.

Example: Congress/POUS made a lot of noise about Japan and its economic muscle during 80's and look what came of it.

The issue is really a non-issue and more of an academic curiosity than a political one.

And, if you've been following last weeks news from mailand china, they're putting a plan of their own in place to redirect dollar savings which are mounting up. Asian bond market of the future is what's likely to emerge from current reading of policy developments in Peking.



regarding the redirecting dollar savings, it's actually not the case as the other deals they are going to make will be denominated in dollars (heard it from news). so it seems they are looking for higher ROE rather than switching from dollar to other currenies.


i agree with robertdfeinman

remember what greenspan once said even rmb to appreciate 20-30%, the trade deficit wouldnt go away though vis-a-vis china might reduce (indeed may be the other way round in short-run - read it from paul krugman's "currencies and crisis"). and it also depends on the demand elasticity, right? like walmart & other TNCs, they account for 50% of exports from china, i doubt whether they could switch quickly & the pass-through ratio.

here's another article from the economists:



I don't understand how it is a cost to accumulate foreign reserves by printing money. It seems like that would be a benefit -- free hard currency, only a printing press required.



this gap close will take years of rmb rising
and more to the point
braod south currency appreciation

yes the cost of tradeables here will rise
but that implies no recession

given the relative price drift
set in motion by the falling dollar
we will save
our domestic
wage rate structure
and what's left of
our production base
can catch its breath



less foreign demand
for us bonds true

but with a closing
bop deficit
less supply too


dont you think the root of problem is negative saving rate? in this sense, w/o raising it, even rmb appreciates, it isnt sufficient to bring back manufactured industries & the deficit just change from vis-a-vis china to other countries.


(The only exception are commodity exporters, who benefit from increased demand from China.)

And capital goods exporters!


alex righto

germany a good example

stop saying negative savings rate
that is consumer spending plus gubmint spending

the gubmint can draw on global capital
domestic savings is not necessary
right now the us household market is warth wide consumer of last globe macro resort

no one ought to want that
role abandoned without off sets like a dramatic increase in chinese russia mid east oiler etc
consumer imports
(likely ? only with serious currency revals )
the chinese need to absorb more of their
own comsumer products

the imblance is now the source of hypernormal
global grow rates

here's a mild
problem analogy
to global macro management

imagine conducting
us fiscal /monetary /trade
/exchange rate /credit
---for macro optimum----
with no central gubmint
only states
the structure
of 1780's america

David Wiczer

Your policy suggestion has merit in the case of China; certainly a slightly-distortionary, but overt subsidy is preferable to the seriously distorting and less predictable policy of currency misvaluation.
However, I don't think you're right to offhandedly dismiss the WTO ban on export subsidy as having 'little economic logic.' Such a rule is necessary for international trade to push productive capacity to locations where it is most productive. As a strong proponent of trade-led development you must have nightmares of some Frankenstein-ian industrial policy whereby rich countries subsidize their own 'strategic' exports destroy prospects for export-oriented industrialization and/or create lots of production inefficiencies?

The whole question of Chinese 'industrial welfare' policy seems an exercise in the 'second best': all options are distortionary and somehow less desirable. But WTO rules are to be timeless, universal guides. Any student of repeated games sees the need to have consistent rules to direct behavior and in the case of international trade, the world is generally worse off if export subsidies are generally allowed. So the particular rule has 'economic logic,' as does the existence of such rules in an otherwise anarchic international market.


david w
u may be missing a certain diabolical cast
to dr's post

"nightmares of some Frankenstein-ian industrial policy whereby rich countries subsidize their own 'strategic' exports destroy prospects for export-oriented industrialization"

that frankentstein walks among us he's they

and they are north based
the days of post colonial
commodity trade
one crop plantations
oil pumping stations
and mineral mines
are joined
but the ever explanding
lower wage game
the global industrial base
is moving to the emerging world

brutal up and go
movement has always been part of frank's pattern

after all england was the first industrial first nearly post industrial
and first re industrial nation

it comes in waves phases
and irregular cycles
but the deal is a wheel turning

Michael Sullivan

David W: I'm inclined to agree with Dani R. that the rules against export subsidies have little economic logic (although they may have some political logic). The reason is that any individual country's incentive is to keep these subsidies low whenever there are not clear market failures to overcome, as they are costly to *that* country alone.

Unless there is some global hegemon forcing/preventing trade, these subsidies cannot be net costly to other countries without providing net benefits to the home country equal tto (or in excess of) that net external cost.

So if such a subsidy is inefficient (as many will be), the political pressure should be in the right place to get rid of it.

What that argument is missing is the wholesale perversion of economics that happens in politics. Economically uneducated people in the US see those subsidies as hurting the US, as export industry job losses are much more obvious than lower prices. Presumably china's population, like much of the US's, sees trade growth as good, and does not know how to judge the costs/benefits of particular industrial policies. Even policies that are horribly inefficient typically never go away as long as there is some constituency that recieves a large benefit from it. It's often only when a policy becomes pareto *in*efficient (i.e. everybody is a loser) that real political action can be considered.

For this reason, I rather agree with you that the WTO rules are a good idea, even if they are economically illogical. In a world of approximately rational national actors, there would be no need for the rule.


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Just a personal note. I feel I've had my identity stolen. The wjd123 making the comments on this page is a new wjd123 and not the old one who been here since the conception of Dani's blog.

paine, I don't know if it makes any difference to you but your not arguing with who you think you're arguing with.

How can this be. How can there suddenly be two wjd123s on this blog?

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