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Principles of Macroeconomics 2e

10.5 The Pros and Cons of Trade Deficits and Surpluses

Principles of Macroeconomics 2e10.5 The Pros and Cons of Trade Deficits and Surpluses
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Welcome to Economics!
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 What Is Economics, and Why Is It Important?
    3. 1.2 Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
    4. 1.3 How Economists Use Theories and Models to Understand Economic Issues
    5. 1.4 How To Organize Economies: An Overview of Economic Systems
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  3. 2 Choice in a World of Scarcity
    1. Introduction to Choice in a World of Scarcity
    2. 2.1 How Individuals Make Choices Based on Their Budget Constraint
    3. 2.2 The Production Possibilities Frontier and Social Choices
    4. 2.3 Confronting Objections to the Economic Approach
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  4. 3 Demand and Supply
    1. Introduction to Demand and Supply
    2. 3.1 Demand, Supply, and Equilibrium in Markets for Goods and Services
    3. 3.2 Shifts in Demand and Supply for Goods and Services
    4. 3.3 Changes in Equilibrium Price and Quantity: The Four-Step Process
    5. 3.4 Price Ceilings and Price Floors
    6. 3.5 Demand, Supply, and Efficiency
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  5. 4 Labor and Financial Markets
    1. Introduction to Labor and Financial Markets
    2. 4.1 Demand and Supply at Work in Labor Markets
    3. 4.2 Demand and Supply in Financial Markets
    4. 4.3 The Market System as an Efficient Mechanism for Information
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  6. 5 Elasticity
    1. Introduction to Elasticity
    2. 5.1 Price Elasticity of Demand and Price Elasticity of Supply
    3. 5.2 Polar Cases of Elasticity and Constant Elasticity
    4. 5.3 Elasticity and Pricing
    5. 5.4 Elasticity in Areas Other Than Price
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  7. 6 The Macroeconomic Perspective
    1. Introduction to the Macroeconomic Perspective
    2. 6.1 Measuring the Size of the Economy: Gross Domestic Product
    3. 6.2 Adjusting Nominal Values to Real Values
    4. 6.3 Tracking Real GDP over Time
    5. 6.4 Comparing GDP among Countries
    6. 6.5 How Well GDP Measures the Well-Being of Society
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  8. 7 Economic Growth
    1. Introduction to Economic Growth
    2. 7.1 The Relatively Recent Arrival of Economic Growth
    3. 7.2 Labor Productivity and Economic Growth
    4. 7.3 Components of Economic Growth
    5. 7.4 Economic Convergence
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  9. 8 Unemployment
    1. Introduction to Unemployment
    2. 8.1 How Economists Define and Compute Unemployment Rate
    3. 8.2 Patterns of Unemployment
    4. 8.3 What Causes Changes in Unemployment over the Short Run
    5. 8.4 What Causes Changes in Unemployment over the Long Run
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  10. 9 Inflation
    1. Introduction to Inflation
    2. 9.1 Tracking Inflation
    3. 9.2 How to Measure Changes in the Cost of Living
    4. 9.3 How the U.S. and Other Countries Experience Inflation
    5. 9.4 The Confusion Over Inflation
    6. 9.5 Indexing and Its Limitations
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  11. 10 The International Trade and Capital Flows
    1. Introduction to the International Trade and Capital Flows
    2. 10.1 Measuring Trade Balances
    3. 10.2 Trade Balances in Historical and International Context
    4. 10.3 Trade Balances and Flows of Financial Capital
    5. 10.4 The National Saving and Investment Identity
    6. 10.5 The Pros and Cons of Trade Deficits and Surpluses
    7. 10.6 The Difference between Level of Trade and the Trade Balance
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Concepts and Summary
    10. Self-Check Questions
    11. Review Questions
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Problems
  12. 11 The Aggregate Demand/Aggregate Supply Model
    1. Introduction to the Aggregate Supply–Aggregate Demand Model
    2. 11.1 Macroeconomic Perspectives on Demand and Supply
    3. 11.2 Building a Model of Aggregate Demand and Aggregate Supply
    4. 11.3 Shifts in Aggregate Supply
    5. 11.4 Shifts in Aggregate Demand
    6. 11.5 How the AD/AS Model Incorporates Growth, Unemployment, and Inflation
    7. 11.6 Keynes’ Law and Say’s Law in the AD/AS Model
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Concepts and Summary
    10. Self-Check Questions
    11. Review Questions
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Problems
  13. 12 The Keynesian Perspective
    1. Introduction to the Keynesian Perspective
    2. 12.1 Aggregate Demand in Keynesian Analysis
    3. 12.2 The Building Blocks of Keynesian Analysis
    4. 12.3 The Phillips Curve
    5. 12.4 The Keynesian Perspective on Market Forces
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  14. 13 The Neoclassical Perspective
    1. Introduction to the Neoclassical Perspective
    2. 13.1 The Building Blocks of Neoclassical Analysis
    3. 13.2 The Policy Implications of the Neoclassical Perspective
    4. 13.3 Balancing Keynesian and Neoclassical Models
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  15. 14 Money and Banking
    1. Introduction to Money and Banking
    2. 14.1 Defining Money by Its Functions
    3. 14.2 Measuring Money: Currency, M1, and M2
    4. 14.3 The Role of Banks
    5. 14.4 How Banks Create Money
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  16. 15 Monetary Policy and Bank Regulation
    1. Introduction to Monetary Policy and Bank Regulation
    2. 15.1 The Federal Reserve Banking System and Central Banks
    3. 15.2 Bank Regulation
    4. 15.3 How a Central Bank Executes Monetary Policy
    5. 15.4 Monetary Policy and Economic Outcomes
    6. 15.5 Pitfalls for Monetary Policy
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  17. 16 Exchange Rates and International Capital Flows
    1. Introduction to Exchange Rates and International Capital Flows
    2. 16.1 How the Foreign Exchange Market Works
    3. 16.2 Demand and Supply Shifts in Foreign Exchange Markets
    4. 16.3 Macroeconomic Effects of Exchange Rates
    5. 16.4 Exchange Rate Policies
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  18. 17 Government Budgets and Fiscal Policy
    1. Introduction to Government Budgets and Fiscal Policy
    2. 17.1 Government Spending
    3. 17.2 Taxation
    4. 17.3 Federal Deficits and the National Debt
    5. 17.4 Using Fiscal Policy to Fight Recession, Unemployment, and Inflation
    6. 17.5 Automatic Stabilizers
    7. 17.6 Practical Problems with Discretionary Fiscal Policy
    8. 17.7 The Question of a Balanced Budget
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Concepts and Summary
    11. Self-Check Questions
    12. Review Questions
    13. Critical Thinking Questions
    14. Problems
  19. 18 The Impacts of Government Borrowing
    1. Introduction to the Impacts of Government Borrowing
    2. 18.1 How Government Borrowing Affects Investment and the Trade Balance
    3. 18.2 Fiscal Policy and the Trade Balance
    4. 18.3 How Government Borrowing Affects Private Saving
    5. 18.4 Fiscal Policy, Investment, and Economic Growth
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  20. 19 Macroeconomic Policy Around the World
    1. Introduction to Macroeconomic Policy around the World
    2. 19.1 The Diversity of Countries and Economies across the World
    3. 19.2 Improving Countries’ Standards of Living
    4. 19.3 Causes of Unemployment around the World
    5. 19.4 Causes of Inflation in Various Countries and Regions
    6. 19.5 Balance of Trade Concerns
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  21. 20 International Trade
    1. Introduction to International Trade
    2. 20.1 Absolute and Comparative Advantage
    3. 20.2 What Happens When a Country Has an Absolute Advantage in All Goods
    4. 20.3 Intra-industry Trade between Similar Economies
    5. 20.4 The Benefits of Reducing Barriers to International Trade
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  22. 21 Globalization and Protectionism
    1. Introduction to Globalization and Protectionism
    2. 21.1 Protectionism: An Indirect Subsidy from Consumers to Producers
    3. 21.2 International Trade and Its Effects on Jobs, Wages, and Working Conditions
    4. 21.3 Arguments in Support of Restricting Imports
    5. 21.4 How Governments Enact Trade Policy: Globally, Regionally, and Nationally
    6. 21.5 The Tradeoffs of Trade Policy
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  23. A | The Use of Mathematics in Principles of Economics
  24. B | The Expenditure-Output Model
  25. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
  26. References
  27. Index

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify three ways in which borrowing money or running a trade deficit can result in a healthy economy
  • Identify three ways in which borrowing money or running a trade deficit can result in a weaker economy

Because flows of trade always involve flows of financial payments, flows of international trade are actually the same as flows of international financial capital. The question of whether trade deficits or surpluses are good or bad for an economy is, in economic terms, exactly the same question as whether it is a good idea for an economy to rely on net inflows of financial capital from abroad or to make net investments of financial capital abroad. Conventional wisdom often holds that borrowing money is foolhardy, and that a prudent country, like a prudent person, should always rely on its own resources. While it is certainly possible to borrow too much—as anyone with an overloaded credit card can testify—borrowing at certain times can also make sound economic sense. For both individuals and countries, there is no economic merit in a policy of abstaining from participation in financial capital markets.

It makes economic sense to borrow when you are buying something with a long-run payoff; that is, when you are making an investment. For this reason, it can make economic sense to borrow for a college education, because the education will typically allow you to earn higher wages, and so to repay the loan and still come out ahead. It can also make sense for a business to borrow in order to purchase a machine that will last 10 years, as long as the machine will increase output and profits by more than enough to repay the loan. Similarly, it can make economic sense for a national economy to borrow from abroad, as long as it wisely invests the money in ways that will tend to raise the nation’s economic growth over time. Then, it will be possible for the national economy to repay the borrowed money over time and still end up better off than before.

One vivid example of a country that borrowed heavily from abroad, invested wisely, and did perfectly well is the United States during the nineteenth century. The United States ran a trade deficit in 40 of the 45 years from 1831 to 1875, which meant that it was importing capital from abroad over that time. However, that financial capital was mostly invested in projects like railroads that brought a substantial economic payoff. (See the following Clear It Up feature for more on this.)

A more recent example along these lines is the experience of South Korea, which had trade deficits during much of the 1970s—and so was an importer of capital over that time. However, South Korea also had high rates of investment in physical plant and equipment, and its economy grew rapidly. From the mid-1980s into the mid-1990s, South Korea often had trade surpluses—that is, it was repaying its past borrowing by sending capital abroad.

In contrast, some countries have run large trade deficits, borrowed heavily in global capital markets, and ended up in all kinds of trouble. Two specific sorts of trouble are worth examining. First, a borrower nation can find itself in a bind if it does not invest the incoming funds from abroad in a way that leads to increased productivity. Several of Latin America's large economies, including Mexico and Brazil, ran large trade deficits and borrowed heavily from abroad in the 1970s, but the inflow of financial capital did not boost productivity sufficiently, which meant that these countries faced enormous troubles repaying the money borrowed when economic conditions shifted during the 1980s. Similarly, it appears that a number of African nations that borrowed foreign funds in the 1970s and 1980s did not invest in productive economic assets. As a result, several of those countries later faced large interest payments, with no economic growth to show for the borrowed funds.

Clear It Up

Are trade deficits always harmful?

For most years of the nineteenth century, U.S. imports exceeded exports and the U.S. economy had a trade deficit. Yet the string of trade deficits did not hold back the economy at all. Instead, the trade deficits contributed to the strong economic growth that gave the U.S. economy the highest per capita GDP in the world by around 1900.

The U.S. trade deficits meant that the U.S. economy was receiving a net inflow of foreign capital from abroad. Much of that foreign capital flowed into two areas of investment—railroads and public infrastructure like roads, water systems, and schools—which were important to helping the U.S. economy grow.

We should not overstate the effect of foreign investment capital on U.S. economic growth. In most years the foreign financial capital represented no more than 6–10% of the funds that the government used for overall physical investment in the economy. Nonetheless, the trade deficit and the accompanying investment funds from abroad were clearly a help, not a hindrance, to the U.S. economy in the nineteenth century.

A second “trouble” is: What happens if the foreign money flows in, and then suddenly flows out again? We raised this scenario at the start of the chapter. In the mid-1990s, a number of countries in East Asia—Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea—ran large trade deficits and imported capital from abroad. However, in 1997 and 1998 many foreign investors became concerned about the health of these economies, and quickly pulled their money out of stock and bond markets, real estate, and banks. The extremely rapid departure of that foreign capital staggered the banking systems and economies of these countries, plunging them into deep recession. We investigate and discuss the links between international capital flows, banks, and recession in The Impacts of Government Borrowing.

While a trade deficit is not always harmful, there is no guarantee that running a trade surplus will bring robust economic health. For example, Germany and Japan ran substantial trade surpluses for most of the last three decades. Regardless of their persistent trade surpluses, both countries have experienced occasional recessions and neither country has had especially robust annual growth in recent years. Read more about Japan’s trade surplus in the next Clear It Up feature.

Link It Up

Watch this video on whether or not trade deficit is good for the economy.

The sheer size and persistence of the U.S. trade deficits and inflows of foreign capital since the 1980s are a legitimate cause for concern. The huge U.S. economy will not be destabilized by an outflow of international capital as easily as, say, the comparatively tiny economies of Thailand and Indonesia were in 1997–1998. Even an economy that is not knocked down, however, can still be shaken. American policymakers should certainly be paying attention to those cases where a pattern of extensive and sustained current account deficits and foreign borrowing has gone badly—if only as a cautionary tale.

Clear It Up

Are trade surpluses always beneficial? Considering Japan since the 1990s.

Perhaps no economy around the world is better known for its trade surpluses than Japan. Since 1990, the size of these surpluses has often been near $100 billion per year. When Japan’s economy was growing vigorously in the 1960s and 1970s, many, especially non-economists, described its large trade surpluses either a cause or a result of its robust economic health. However, from a standpoint of economic growth, Japan’s economy has been teetering in and out of recession since 1990, with real GDP growth averaging only about 1% per year, and an unemployment rate that has been creeping higher. Clearly, a whopping trade surplus is no guarantee of economic good health.

Instead, Japan’s trade surplus reflects that Japan has a very high rate of domestic savings, more than the Japanese economy can invest domestically, and so it invests the extra funds abroad. In Japan’s slow economy, consumption of imports is relatively low, and the growth of consumption is relatively slow. Thus, Japan’s exports continually exceed its imports, leaving the trade surplus continually high. Recently, Japan’s trade surpluses began to deteriorate. In 2013, Japan ran a trade deficit due to the high cost of imported oil. By 2015, Japan again had a surplus.

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