FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Knocking Down False Economic Gods

by PETER MORICI

The recession is a wake up call. Americans need to confront some false gods–free trade, gas guzzlers and Wall Street.

In the 1990s, the U.S. launched the World Trade Organization and opened trade with China. Americans were to import more tee-shirts and TVs and sell more software and sophisticated services to a world hungry for U.S. knowhow. That would move Americans into better paying jobs.

Unfortunately, the U.S. welcomed imports with more enthusiasm than China and other developing countries, who kept high tariffs and notorious regulatory barriers to purchases of western products. America’s CEOs and bankers learned how to outsource just about everyone’s job but their own-radiologists and computer engineers joined textile workers among trade-displaced workers.

Since the last recession, imports have jumped nearly $1 trillion, while exports are up only about $650 billion, and the trade deficit now exceeds $700 billion. For most Americans inflation-adjusted wages have stagnated or fallen, while corporate CEOs and bankers get fat on bonuses and can’t lose stock options.

China is the biggest problem. It subsidizes foreign purchases of its currency, the yuan, more than $460 billion a year, making Chinese products artificially cheap at Wal-Mart. The U.S. trade gap with the Middle Kingdom has swelled to $250 billion.

Mercantilist growth in China and elsewhere in Asia has pushed up global oil prices nearly five fold in six years, and the U.S. oil deficit is now $350 billion and rising.

To raise our kids, finance a huge trade deficit and generally live beyond our means, Americans borrowed from foreigners.

Essentially, the banks wrote ever-more creative mortgages and extended excessive credit card and auto loans. The banks bundled those markers into highly complex bonds, designed to generate fat paydays for loan brokers and bank executives, and sold risk-laden securities to foreign governments, insurance companies, pension funds, and wealthy investors.

When the worst of the bogus bonds collapsed, those backed by risking adjustable rate mortgages, the banks got stuck with billions of yet unsold bonds. Bear Stearns collapsed, and the Federal Reserve loaned the banks and Wall Street securities dealers $600 billion against shaky bonds on a 90-day revolving basis. That essentially socializes the banks’ losses on bad bonds.

You have to love Ben Bernanke’s ideas about free trade and capitalism. If you are an autoworker and lose your job to Korean imports, as a good economist, he tells you to go to school and find another job. If you are a New York banker caught paying yourself too much and run short of foreign investors to fleece, he makes you a big loan lets you hunt for other unwitting clients.

Now foreign investors are nervous about all the money they have lent Americans and the integrity of U.S. banks. They are fleeing dollar investments for euro-denominated securities, gold, oil, and just about anything sounder than the greenback.

Americans are forced to cut back, not just on purchases of cheap Chinese coffee makers, but also products made in America. That pushes the economy into recession.

Digging out requires us to cut the trade deficit and clean up Wall Street. Simply, we need to burn less gas, balance commerce with China and live within our means.

We can either let the price of gas double to force conservation or accept tougher mileage standards. Fifty miles a gallon by 2020, instead of the 35 currently planned, is achievable, but means more hybrids and lighter vehicles.

As long as China subsidizes the sale of yuan to Wal-Mart and other U.S. importers, the U.S. Treasury should tax dollar-yuan conversions. When China stops manipulating currency markets, the tax would stop. That would reduce imports from and exports to China, create new jobs in the U.S., raise U.S. productivity and workers incomes, and reduce the federal deficit.

Ben Bernanke has given the banks a lot and received little in return, except a lot of bad loans. He should condition the Fed’s largesse on reforms at the big banks, even if that means lower pay for Wall Street big wigs.

Let the bankers try earning their money. Just like the rest of us.

PETER MORICI is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

 

 

 

 

PETER MORICI is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and the former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail