In early 2019, I released this video summarizing some of the evidence for free trade.
The bad news is that I must not be very persuasive. Trump continued with protectionist policy.
The good news is that we now have more evidence against that form of government intervention.
But first, I’m going to start with a bit of theory. Here’s a chart from the Council of Foreign Relations showing the relationship between prosperity and trade balances.
To see the chart, click here.
And here’s the explanation, courtesy of Benn Steil and Benjamin Della Rocca.
President Trump says that America running a trade deficit means that “jobs and wealth are being given to other countries.” …this statement is logically and historically false. The left-hand figure above shows that the relationship between trade deficits and growth in the United States, going back nearly 30 years, is the opposite. Rising growth tends to increase imports through higher consumption. The imports have not meant that “jobs and wealth are being given to other countries”: they have been a sign of a strong U.S. economy.
This is spot on. As I explained in my video on the trade deficit, people in richer, faster-growing countries can afford to buy more goods and services (regardless of where they are produced) than people in countries with anemic economic performance.
Indeed, this is why (at least in the pre-coronavirus era) America’s trade deficit was expanding.
Now let’s shift to the additional evidence that has accumulated since the video was produced.
Here’s are the key findings from a study by Kyle Handley, Fariha Kamal, and Ryan Monarch, which was just published by the Federal Reserve.
Using 2016 confidential firm-trade linked data, we document the implied incidence and scope of new import tariffs. Firms that eventually faced tariff increases on their imports ac-counted for 84% of all exports and they represent 65% of manufacturing employment. For all affected firms, the implied cost is $900 per worker in new duties. To estimate the effect on U.S. export growth, we construct product-level measures of import tariff exposure of U.S. exports from the underlying firm micro data.More exposed products experienced 2 percentage point lower growth relative to products with no exposure. The decline in exports is equivalent to an ad valorem tariff on U.S. exports of almost 2% for the typical product and almost 4% for products with higher than average exposure.
Here are some results of a recent study by Stephen J. Redding, Mary Amiti, and David Weinstein.
Using data from 2018, a number of studies have found that recent U.S tariffs have been passed on entirely to U.S. importers and consumers. …Using another year of data including significant escalations in the trade war, we find that U.S. tariffs continue to be almost entirely borne by U.S. firms and consumers. We show that the response of import values to the tariffs increases in absolute magnitude over time, consistent with the idea that it takes time for firms to reorganize supply chains.
Here’s a chart from the study showing how Trump basically tripled average trade taxes over the past couple of years.
To see the chart, click here.
Next we have a 2019 study authored by Davide Furceri, Swarnali A. Hannan, Jonathan D. Ostry, and Andrew K. Rose.
We estimate impulse response functions from local projections using a panel of annual data that spans 151 countries over 1963-2014. Tariffs increases are associated with persistent economically and statistically significant declines in domestic output and productivity, as well as higher unemployment and inequality, real exchange rate appreciation and insignificant changes to the trade balance. Output and productivity impacts are magnified when tariffs rise during expansions and when they are imposed by advanced (as opposed to developing) economies; effects are asymmetric, being larger when tariffs go up than when they fall. Results are robust to a large number of perturbations to our methodology, and hold using both macroeconomic and industry-level data.
These charts from their study paint a damning picture.
The bottom line is that Trump’s trade policies are hurting the U.S. economy (just like China’s protectionist policies are hurting that nation’s economy).
P.S. A great mystery is how some analysts understand that it’s bad to have higher taxes on trade, yet also think it’s perfectly okay to impose even bigger tax increases on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship. The folks at the International Monetary Fund are very guilty of this type of fiscal hypocrisy.