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Kudlow’s Trade Coalition of the Willing

Kudlow’s Trade Coalition of the Willing

Who knew when I posted this:

We could go back to 2002 and how the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 was sold to people like Senator John Kerry and Senator Hillary Clinton. The Bush-Cheney White House sold this as a means to encourage Iraq to comply with certain UN resolutions and not necessarily a prelude to war. Of course the White House was lying as we knew by March 2003. Of course Bush-Cheney lied about a lot of things with respect to Iraq back then including its forecast that an invasion would be quick, low cost, and very effective in establishing a Western democracy in Iraq. How did that work out exactly? Kudlow helped the White House cheerlead for this invasion arguing it would lead to so much Iraqi oil production that oil prices would fall to $12 a day. How did that work out again?

I was reacting to Kudlow claiming we are not in a trade war. Just as I thought Kudlow had reached all heights of stupidity, he exceeds expectations:

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Are We in a Trade War?

Are We in a Trade War?

President Trump sent two of his minions out yesterday to lie about this question. Kudlow:

We are not in a trade war. What this is is an attempt to right some of the wrongs with respect to China.

Our Treasury Secretary said essentially the same thing:

Our objective is still not to be in a trade war with [China] … I’m cautiously optimistic that we will be able to work this out.”.

We could go back to 2002 and how the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 was sold to people like Senator John Kerry and Senator Hillary Clinton. The Bush-Cheney White House sold this as a means to encourage Iraq to comply with certain UN resolutions and not necessarily a prelude to war. Of course the White House was lying as we knew by March 2003. Of course Bush-Cheney lied about a lot of things with respect to Iraq back then including its forecast that an invasion would be quick, low cost, and very effective in establishing a Western democracy in Iraq. How did that work out exactly? Kudlow helped the White House cheerlead for this invasion arguing it would lead to so much Iraqi oil production that oil prices would fall to $12 a day. How did that work out again? We should have listened to Anthony Zinni:

Former Centcom Chief General Anthony Zinni Calls Iraq War a Blunder

He was saying invading Iraq would be a blunder even back in 2002. Of course Trump says we will win the trade with China. On Trump’s absurd claim, perhaps we should listen to Luke Skywalker :

This Is Not Going To Go! The Way You Think

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Trump’s Trade War, Stranded Assets, and Wilbur Ross’s Shipping Company

Trump’s Trade War, Stranded Assets, and Wilbur Ross’s Shipping Company

Paul Krugman relates declines in stock valuations to the insanity of trade policy from Donald Trump and taught me a new expression – stranded asset:

An asset that is worth less on the market than it is on a balance sheet due to the fact that it has become obsolete in advance of complete depreciation.

Paul notes:

Yet there is a reason why stock prices might overshoot the overall economic costs of a trade war. For a trade war that “deglobalized” the U.S. economy would require a big reallocation of resources, including capital. Yet you go to trade war with the capital you have, not the capital you’re eventually going to want – and stocks are claims on the capital we have now, not the capital we’ll need if America goes all in on Trumponomics. Or to put it another way, a trade war would produce a lot of stranded assets … But the costs to the economy as a whole might not be a good indicator of the costs to existing corporate assets. Since about 1990 corporate America has bet heavily on hyperglobalization – on the continuance of an open-market regime that has encouraged complex value chains that sprawl across borders. The notebook on which I’m writing this was designed in California, but probably assembled in China, with many of the components coming from South Korea and Japan. Apple could produce it entirely in North America, and probably would in the face of 30 percent tariffs. But the factories it would take to do that don’t (yet) exist. Meanwhile, the factories that do exist were built to serve globalized production – and many of them would be marginalized, maybe even made worthless, by tariffs that broke up those global value chains. That is, they would become stranded assets. Call it the anti-China shock. Of course, it wouldn’t just be factories left stranded by a trade war. A lot of people would be stranded too.

Companies in the export sector have already seen their stock valuations take a hit from the upcoming trade war. But why am I focusing on Wilbur Ross as an owner of a shipping company?

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Our Depleted National Defense Budget?

Our Depleted National Defense Budget?

Our title is perhaps the most obnoxious line in the Hoover Five oped per some of the appropriately harsh comments to Cochrane’s post, which alas I did not cover here. Before I do so, let me turn the microphone over to Jonathan Chait:

It is a foundational belief of Republican Party doctrine that tax cuts cannot have any adverse impact on the national debt. Indeed, Republicans have invented a new language in which budget deficit does not actually mean the difference between revenue and outlay at all. It is a term used exclusively to express panic over social spending. Economists and intellectuals associated with the party are therefore required to, in essence, keep two different sets of books when discussing fiscal policy in public. In November, a group of Republican luminaries, including Michael J. Boskin, John H. Cochrane, John F. Cogan, George P. Shultz, and John B. Taylor co-authored an op-ed cheering on the Trump tax cuts. Isn’t it a little dangerous to permanently increase the deficit, especially during the peak of an economic expansion? Nonsense, they argued. The effect on interest rates of higher debt “is likely to be modest, given that the United States operates in an international capital market, which means that the impact of changes in interest rates resulting from greater investment demand and government borrowing are likely to be relatively small.” No need to worry your pretty little heads about interest rates, since international capital markets will supply as many buyers of Treasury bills as needed, forever. Party on! Now that the Trump tax cuts have passed, though, they have pivoted to a message of deep concern about rising debt. Boskin, Cochrane, Cogan, Shultz, and John B. Taylor have written another oped. It applauds the tax cuts and calls for more. Yet it warns that the failure to cut social spending will lead to catastrophe. Including higher interest rates

Well said! Now to defense spending. I could go all nominal like the Hoover Five and note that nominal defense spending rose by 90% from 2000 to 2017 but then nominal GDP rose by 88.5% over the same period. So we have updated the graph provided by Jeffrey Miron:

Figure 6 Defense Spending as a Percentage of GDP

 

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Why “Entitlement” Cuts and Not Tax Increases Again?

Why “Entitlement” Cuts and Not Tax Increases Again?

John Cochrane has to remind us that he co-authored a really bizarre oped:

Unless Congress acts to reduce federal budget deficits, the outstanding public debt will reach $20 trillion a scant five years from now, up from its current level of $15 trillion. That amounts to almost a quarter of million dollars for a family of four, more than twice the median household wealth. This string of perpetually rising trillion-dollar-plus deficits is unprecedented in U.S. history.

Oh good grief! Can one say relative to GDP? We are also about to see a $20 trillion per year level of national income – “unprecedented in U.S. history”. But yea – they did begin with mocking this Trump nonsense:

President Trump’s recently released budget is a wake-up call. It projects that this year, a year of relatively strong economic growth, low unemployment and continued historically low interest rates, the deficit will reach $870 billion, 30 percent greater than last year.

Relatively strong economic growth is not exactly the same as Kudlow’s forecast of 5% growth is it? Oh wait – Cochrane and company have been touting strong growth effects from the Trump tax cuts. Never mind. Back to Cochrane the new found deficit alarmist:

In recent months, we have seen an inevitable rise in interest rates from their low levels of recent years. Rising interest rates and increasing deficits threaten to build upon each other to send public debt spiraling upward even faster. When treasury debt holders start to doubt our government’s ability to repay, or to attract future lenders, they will demand higher interest rates to compensate for the risk. If current spending and tax policy continue unaltered, higher interest costs will have to be financed by even more debt. More borrowing puts more upward pressure on interest rates, and the spiral continues. If, for example, interest rates were to rise to 5 percent, instead of the Trump administration’s prediction of just under 3.5 percent, the interest cost alone on the projected $20 trillion of public debt would total $1 trillion per year. More than half of all personal income taxes would be needed to pay bondholders. Such high interest payments would crowd out financing of needed expenditures to restore our depleted national defense budget, our domestic infrastructure and other critical government activities. Unchecked, such a debt spiral raises the specter of a crisis. Some may think that such concerns are overblown, as there is no current evidence in financial futures markets that a crisis is on the horizon.

Let’s stop right there and note that the interest rate on 30-year government bonds is only 3% not 5%. But of course Cochrane knows so much more than the market knows – I guess. But yea there is a long-run government budget constraint so let’s get to the policy prescription:

To address the debt problem, Congress must reform and restrain the growth of entitlement programs and adopt further pro-growth tax and regulatory policies. The recently enacted corporate-tax-reform plan is a good first step, as it sharply increases the incentive to invest and grow businesses, which will increase incomes. The revenue loss, which amounts to about 0.4 percent of gross-domestic product in 2025, is not by itself a budget buster, considering both the offsetting revenue reflow from higher incomes and the far larger long-run entitlement explosion.

Yea – that Laffer curve! Kudlow is a genius! PLEASE! Their message is that tax cuts for the rich as fine and dandy but we cannot afford to honor your Social Security benefits. Didn’t we cover this alreadyAddendumOf course I should turn the microphone over to the two Justins! Justin Fox is right: Beware of Economists Crying ‘Entitlement Explosion’- Our inability to speak frankly about the nation’s fiscal situation has real consequences. He is criticizing the same oped as he provides a much more detailed and honest discussion of the issues. Meanwhile Justin Wolfers does a nice job of debunking the supply-side silliness:

Corporate tax cuts will put billions of dollars back in the hands of businesses this year. Naturally, people want to know how those businesses will spend it. But the answer doesn’t really matter, at least not for understanding whether the tax cuts were a good idea. That’s because the economic case for corporate tax cuts has almost nothing to do with what corporations do with the extra cash. Economists generally recognize that corporate tax cuts have two quite distinct effects. First, a tax cut increases the incentive to invest… This incentive effect drives most economic models of investment, and few economists debate its underlying logic, although there’s considerable debate as to whether it will yield a large or small increase. Second, a tax cut showers extra cash on companies. That cash largely comes from companies that are suddenly paying a lower tax rate on profits earned from past investments. This windfall has a big effect on the distribution of income, with billions of dollars going to owners of capital at the expense of taxpayers. But few economists believe that this cash transfusion will do much to bolster future investment, because the profitability of a new capital project depends on future revenues and expenses, not on how much cash a company has lying around.

Most models of investment also note that a higher cost of capital discourages investment. Cochrane et al. are worried about higher interest rates but then they ignore this effect on investment as they hype the incentive effects. It is entirely plausible that the extra consumption from rich people getting showered with the Trump tax cuts will actually crowd out investment and reduce long-term growth. So what we will get is mainly a higher deficit. When Cochrane calls this a good first step – one has to wonder what the real agenda is.

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Trump on Our Trade Surplus/Deficit With Canada

Trump on Our Trade Surplus/Deficit With Canada

Menzie Chinn listens to the latest from Donald Trump so we don’t have to:

And by the way, Canada? They negotiate tougher than Mexico. Trudeau came to see me, he’s a good man, he said we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please. Nice guy, good looking guy. Comes in. Donald we have no trade deficit. He’s very tough. Everyone else, getting killed or whatever. But he’s tough. I said, well Justin, you do. I didn’t even know. Josh, I had no idea. I just said you’re wrong. You’re wrong. It was so stupid. [LAUGHTER]. I thought it was fine. I said, you’re wrong Justin. He said, nope we have no trade deficit. I said, well in that case I feel differently. I said but I don’t believe it. I sent one of our guys out. His guy, my guy. They said check because I can’t believe it. Well, sir you’re actually right, we have no deficit but that doesn’t include energy and timber. [LAUGHTER]. Well you don’t have timber, and when you do we’ll lost $17 billion. It’s incredible.

Menzie provides this source on our 2016 bilateral trade surplus with Canada:

U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totaled an estimated $627.8 billion in 2016. Exports were $320.1 billion; imports were $307.6 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016.

OK we had a trade surplus when measuring both goods and services. But wait:

Goods exports totaled $266.0 billion; goods imports totaled $278.1 billion. The U.S. goods trade deficit with Canada was $12.1 billion in 2016. Trade in services with Canada (exports and imports) totaled an estimated $ 83.7 billion in 2016. Services exports were $54.2 billion; services imports were $ 26.9 billion. The U.S. services trade surplus with Canada was $24.6 billion in 2016.

Trump has a propensity to ignore our service surpluses focusing on our goods deficit, which was $12.1 billion in 2016. Census notes for 2017, we exported $282 billion to Canada and imported almost $300 billion from Canada so we continue to have a modest goods trade deficit, which is likely what Trump was referring to. I submitted two comments at Menzie’s place with this one making it to his blog:

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Kudlow Predicts An Investment Boom

Kudlow Predicts An Investment Boom

Kudlow channels his inner Gerald Friedman:

Larry Kudlow, picked to be President Trump’s new economic adviser, has privately told the White House that the nation’s economy is on the verge of 4 percent to 5 percent growth, or more than double the last decade. In a recent gathering with Trump, he said that many firms held back investing until the tax reform package passed and “some of that is already showing up.” What’s more, he told the president, “We’re on the front end of the biggest investment boom in probably 30 to 40 years.” The president responded, “Well, I couldn’t have said it any better.”

OK – I get that Friedman was looking at a progressive fiscal agenda whereas Kudlow supports Starving the Beast to pay for more tax cuts for rich people. My point is that both of them take a cavalier modeling of potential GDP. And when Friedman’s supporters try to argue that potential output has been growing by 3.5% per year since 2000, I noted that his is also Kudlow’s approach:

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Kudlow

Kudlow

Menzie Chinn notes:

Mr. Kudlow is apparently on the short list for new National Economic Committee chair. Maybe a good time to review some of his macro predictions.

Yours truly goes back memory lane:

But let’s turn back the clock to the first term of the Bush43 Administration when Kudlow writing for the National Review was all in defending Bush’s fiscal stimulus and arguing at several points how the labor market was booming even when it was not. Kudlow was infamous for claiming the household survey was a better measure of employment when it showed that employment was rising while the payroll survey said the opposite. Of course there were months when the payroll survey showed better job growth than the household survey showed – to which Kudlow declared the payroll survey was more reliable. And during those months when the unemployment rate fell even though the employment-population ratio fell, Kudlow was all aglow that labor force participation rates were falling. After all, spinning for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign was more important than actual improvement in the labor market

Of course my main point was to remind us of Kudlow’s deficit dance and how Robert Novak fell for it:

OK Kudlow said this $2 trillion was a gap over 2 years so we can blame Novak by not dividing these figures by two. But Kudlow was also using annual flow information as if it were quarterly flow information. So to correct even what he wrote – we needed to further divide his figures by four. Our second graph shows the GDP gap on an annual basis using the CBO estimate of potential GDP and they were nowhere near $1 trillion per year. Could Kudlow really be this incredibly stupid or did he know he was trying to deceive stupid readers? I guess he did because Robert Novak certainly fell for this incredibly misleading and incorrect assertion.

It is sort of funny that Kudlow and Novak were making a Keynesian economics argument given both of their disdain for Keynesian economics. Of course summing 8 numbers when the right approach would be to take the average of 8 numbers is a conceptual error that one would trust a first grader could point out. It is also interesting that Kudlow wanted to assume that potential real GDP always grows at 3.5% as he is likely going to be Trump’s chief economic adviser. Trump is even bragging that Kudlow now favors tariffs. And why not – Lawrence Kudlow’s entire career has been telling any lie that his political master want him to tell as long as there is another tax cut for rich people in store.

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Cochrane Fails to Make His Case for the Trump Tax Cut Again

 

Cochrane Fails to Make His Case for the Trump Tax Cut Again

John Cochrane recently noted:

Stock Buybacks Are Proof of Tax Reform’s Success… A short oped for the Wall Street Journal here on stock buybacks. As usual, they ask me not to post the whole thing for 30 days though you can find it ungated if you search.

I did search and found this. Does the Wall Street Journal get the fact that rebutting weak arguments against a policy are not exactly making an affirmative case for the policy? Permit me to note two places where Cochrane and I agree:

echoing illogical claims is not a contribution to that debate. Granted, Republicans invited the attack by trumpeting worker bonuses. But a bad argument for the cut does not redeem a worse counterargument.

Well thanks for that and now an argument from the left that is also weak:

To cast corporate tax cuts as a “scam” and redistribution to the wealthy, opponents have shifted their focus to the evils of stock buybacks and dividends…Share buybacks and dividends are great. They get cash out of companies that don’t have worthwhile ideas and into companies that do. An increase in buybacks is a sign the tax law and the economy are working. Buybacks do not automatically make shareholders wealthier. Suppose Company A has $100 cash and a factory worth $100. It has issued two shares, each worth $100. The company’s shareholders have $200 in wealth. Imagine the company uses its $100 in cash to buy back one share. Now its shareholders have one share worth $100, and $100 in cash. Their wealth remains the same.

When I read this argument over at Cochrane’s blog, I decided to provide this link:

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Jeffrey Sachs on Trump’s Trade Fallacies

Jeffrey Sachs on Trump’s Trade Fallacies

I heard on some news show an incredibly stupid statement from our President earlier today and in utter disbelief fired off this comment on some blog:

Trump equates our trade deficit with us being ripped off. Let’s do this as a simple example. You walk into Best Buy and purchase a $1000 computer but do not have cash. So you put it on your credit card incurring a $1000 liability. Even though you now have the computer and Best Buy does not – Best Buy just ripped you off as you have a $1000 financial obligation. An odd statement from someone who routinely defaulted on his financial obligations!

Never mind that as on Friday Jeffrey Sachs beat me to this:

But don’t expect an impulsive and ignorant man like Trump to heed the lessons of economic history, logic of retaliation, and the basics of trade. His actions are based on three primitive fallacies. First, Trump thinks that America runs trade deficits with countries like China and Germany because the US is being swindled by them. The real reason is that the US saves too little and consumes too much, and it pays for this bad habit by borrowing from the rest of the world. The Trump theory of international trade is like a man in deep debt who blames his creditors for his spendthrift behavior. Come to think of it, that is precisely how Trump has spent his whole business career: over-borrowing, going bankrupt, and blaming his creditors.

Check out his discussion of the other two primitive fallacies! I guess Trump would argue that it was very unfair to me when Best Buy gave me a credit card.

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