December 8, 2015

Fighting the Last War? China, Currency Manipulation & US Trade Deficits


The Economic Policy Institute recently issued very interesting trade policy paper by Rob Scott entitled Setting the Record Straight: Unfair Trade Practices — Not High Wages — Have Hurt U.S. Manufacturing  (hereafter SRS).

The SRS paper provides useful insights regarding the trade policies and wages for China, Germany and the United States. One valuable contribution of the paper is its analysis of why Germany has a competitive advantage in manufactured exports despite  wages that are higher than in the U.S. (A future ABCD post will address this and other issues regarding exchange rates, capital flows, and the trade imbalance problems currently facing Europe.)

This post, however, focuses just on the issue of whether or not America should be blaming its trade deficit problems on currency manipulation by the Chinese rather than examining the problems being caused by America’s own international monetary policies – policies that are seriously out of line with the realities of the 21st century.

This post concludes that blaming Chinese currency manipulation is like beating a dead horse from the last currency war. If America wants to restore the vibrancy and international competitiveness of its manufacturing sector, if it wants to put millions of people back to work in good jobs, it needs to shift its policy focus to two far more important tasks.

First, America needs to understand that the world is changing rapidly, that many facts from the past are only myths today. It needs to understand why profound changes in the way exchange rates are determined make 20th century policies obsolete. Second, America needs to develop international monetary and trade policies that are relevant to the 21st century realities of a highly financialized world.