"I can make a firm pledge"¦.no family making less than $250,000 will see any form of tax increase"¦..not any of your taxes"-Barack Obama, September 12, 2008
Oops, well, so much for that, as Obama imposes a 35% tax on Chinese tires, requiring higher prices be paid by the majority of Americans. This is a broad-based tax aimed at supporting one narrow American industry, as a payoff to the United Steel Workers who have been sad that the UAW has been getting all the political gravy of late.
Suppose the Chinese government is massively subsidizing tire exports -- that they are taking Chinese taxpayer money and directly applying it to tire exports to reduce prices in the US. What should our response be? Mine would be: Thanks, suckers. If the Chinese really want to tax their people to subsidize lower US consumer prices, why in the world would we want to stop them?
Oh, and remember that Obama pledge to be all lovey-dovey with the rest of the world instead of that nasty confrontational Bush administration? Well, forget that too:
HONG KONG -- Just two days after the United States slapped Chinese tire imports with hefty tariffs, Beijing has hit back by saying it would launch an anti-dumping investigation into automobile and chicken products from the U.S.
The "protectionist" policy that seems to have triggered the Chinese tit-for-tat investigation was an order signed on Friday by President Barack Obama that imposes a 35% tariff on tires imported from China on top of the existing import duty of 4%.
Can anyone say, "Smoot-Hawley." I am sure happy we all learned from the one unequivocal lesson that every economist, left-right-Keynsian-monetarist, took away from the Great Depression -- that starting an international trade war is the best way to exacerbate a recession. Obama has done just about the only thing everyone agrees shouldn't be done in response to a major economic downturn.
Update: More good analysis here
Postscript: I wrote this hypothetical post from the Chinese perspective a couple of years ago: From "Panda Blog:"
Our Chinese government continues to pursue a policy of export promotion, patting itself on the back for its trade surplus in manufactured goods with the United States. The Chinese government does so through a number of avenues, including:
- Limiting yuan convertibility, and keeping the yuan's value artificially low
- Imposing strict capital controls that limit dollar reinvestment to low-yield securities like US government T-bills
- Selling exports below cost and well below domestic prices (what the Americans call "dumping") and subsidizing products for export
It is important to note that each and every one of these government interventions subsidizes US citizens and consumers at the expense of Chinese citizens and consumers. A low yuan makes Chinese products cheap for Americans but makes imports relatively dear for Chinese. So-called "dumping" represents an even clearer direct subsidy of American consumers over their Chinese counterparts. And limiting foreign exchange re-investments to low-yield government bonds has acted as a direct subsidy of American taxpayers and the American government, saddling China with extraordinarily low yields on our nearly $1 trillion in foreign exchange. Every single step China takes to promote exports is in effect a subsidy of American consumers by Chinese citizens.
This policy of raping the domestic market in pursuit of exports and trade surpluses was one that Japan followed in the seventies and eighties. It sacrificed its own consumers, protecting local producers in the domestic market while subsidizing exports. Japanese consumers had to live with some of the highest prices in the world, so that Americans could get some of the lowest prices on those same goods. Japanese customers endured limited product choices and a horrendously outdated retail sector that were all protected by government regulation, all in the name of creating trade surpluses. And surpluses they did create. Japan achieved massive trade surpluses with the US, and built the largest accumulation of foreign exchange (mostly dollars) in the world. And what did this get them? Fifteen years of recession, from which the country is only now emerging, while the US economy happily continued to grow and create wealth in astonishing proportions, seemingly unaware that is was supposed to have been "defeated" by Japan.
We at Panda Blog believe it is insane for our Chinese government to continue to chase the chimera of ever-growing foreign exchange and trade surpluses. These achieved nothing lasting for Japan and they will achieve nothing for China. In fact, the only thing that amazes us more than China's subsidize-Americans strategy is that the Americans seem to complain about it so much. They complain about their trade deficits, which are nothing more than a reflection of their incredible wealth. They complain about the yuan exchange rate, which is set today to give discounts to Americans and price premiums to Chinese. They complain about China buying their government bonds, which does nothing more than reduce the costs of their Congress's insane deficit spending. They even complain about dumping, which is nothing more than a direct subsidy by China of lower prices for American consumers.
And, incredibly, the Americans complain that it is they that run a security risk with their current trade deficit with China! This claim is so crazy, we at Panda Blog have come to the conclusion that it must be the result of a misdirection campaign by CIA-controlled American media. After all, the fact that China exports more to the US than the US does to China means that by definition, more of China's economic production is dependent on the well-being of the American economy than vice-versa. And, with nearly a trillion dollars in foreign exchange invested heavily in US government bonds, it is China that has the most riding on the continued stability of the American government, rather than the reverse. American commentators invent scenarios where the Chinese could hurt the American economy, which we could, but only at the cost of hurting ourselves worse. Mutual Assured Destruction is alive and well, but today it is not just a feature of nuclear strategy but a fact of the global economy.