Trade Deficit Disorder

02/06/2018

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Daniel J. Ikenson

It’s been a tough week for President Trump – and it’s only Tuesday. Just when Trump nearly had the country acknowledging his omnipotence, the stock market took a record one-day plunge on Monday and then, this morning, we learned that the president’s first year in office coincided with the largest U.S. trade deficit in nine years. Lest Mr. Trump concludes that he hasn’t been protectionist enough, there is another way for him to explain (without need of contrition or humility, of course) how he presided over a bigger trade deficit in his first year than was experienced in any of President Obama’s eight.
Trade deficits are pro-cyclical and have nothing to do with trade policy. Imports rise when the economy grows. When the economy grows—and it has been growing relatively strongly this past year—households, businesses, and governments consume more. They purchase more domestic and imported goods and services. Stronger growth tends toward larger trade deficits. Maybe Trump can try that slogan on for size.
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