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Principles of Macroeconomics for AP® Courses

9.6 The Difference between Level of Trade and the Trade Balance

Principles of Macroeconomics for AP® Courses9.6 The Difference between Level of Trade and the Trade Balance
  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 Economies Can Be Organized: 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 The Macroeconomic Perspective
    1. Introduction to the Macroeconomic Perspective
    2. 5.1 Measuring the Size of the Economy: Gross Domestic Product
    3. 5.2 Adjusting Nominal Values to Real Values
    4. 5.3 Tracking Real GDP over Time
    5. 5.4 Comparing GDP among Countries
    6. 5.5 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
  7. 6 Economic Growth
    1. Introduction to Economic Growth
    2. 6.1 The Relatively Recent Arrival of Economic Growth
    3. 6.2 Labor Productivity and Economic Growth
    4. 6.3 Components of Economic Growth
    5. 6.4 Economic Convergence
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  8. 7 Unemployment
    1. Introduction to Unemployment
    2. 7.1 How the Unemployment Rate Is Defined and Computed
    3. 7.2 Patterns of Unemployment
    4. 7.3 What Causes Changes in Unemployment over the Short Run
    5. 7.4 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
  9. 8 Inflation
    1. Introduction to Inflation
    2. 8.1 Tracking Inflation
    3. 8.2 How Changes in the Cost of Living Are Measured
    4. 8.3 How the U.S. and Other Countries Experience Inflation
    5. 8.4 The Confusion Over Inflation
    6. 8.5 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
  10. 9 The International Trade and Capital Flows
    1. Introduction to the International Trade and Capital Flows
    2. 9.1 Measuring Trade Balances
    3. 9.2 Trade Balances in Historical and International Context
    4. 9.3 Trade Balances and Flows of Financial Capital
    5. 9.4 The National Saving and Investment Identity
    6. 9.5 The Pros and Cons of Trade Deficits and Surpluses
    7. 9.6 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
  11. 10 The Aggregate Demand/Aggregate Supply Model
    1. Introduction to the Aggregate Demand/Aggregate Supply Model
    2. 10.1 Macroeconomic Perspectives on Demand and Supply
    3. 10.2 Building a Model of Aggregate Demand and Aggregate Supply
    4. 10.3 Shifts in Aggregate Supply
    5. 10.4 Shifts in Aggregate Demand
    6. 10.5 How the AD/AS Model Incorporates Growth, Unemployment, and Inflation
    7. 10.6 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
  12. 11 The Keynesian Perspective
    1. Introduction to the Keynesian Perspective
    2. 11.1 Aggregate Demand in Keynesian Analysis
    3. 11.2 The Building Blocks of Keynesian Analysis
    4. 11.3 The Expenditure-Output (or Keynesian Cross) Model
    5. 11.4 The Phillips Curve
    6. 11.5 The Keynesian Perspective on Market Forces
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
  13. 12 The Neoclassical Perspective
    1. Introduction to the Neoclassical Perspective
    2. 12.1 The Building Blocks of Neoclassical Analysis
    3. 12.2 The Policy Implications of the Neoclassical Perspective
    4. 12.3 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
  14. 13 Money and Banking
    1. Introduction to Money and Banking
    2. 13.1 Defining Money by Its Functions
    3. 13.2 Measuring Money: Currency, M1, and M2
    4. 13.3 The Role of Banks
    5. 13.4 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
  15. 14 Monetary Policy and Bank Regulation
    1. Introduction to Monetary Policy and Bank Regulation
    2. 14.1 The Federal Reserve Banking System and Central Banks
    3. 14.2 Bank Regulation
    4. 14.3 How a Central Bank Executes Monetary Policy
    5. 14.4 Monetary Policy and Economic Outcomes
    6. 14.5 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
  16. 15 Exchange Rates and International Capital Flows
    1. Introduction to Exchange Rates and International Capital Flows
    2. 15.1 How the Foreign Exchange Market Works
    3. 15.2 Demand and Supply Shifts in Foreign Exchange Markets
    4. 15.3 Macroeconomic Effects of Exchange Rates
    5. 15.4 Exchange Rate Policies
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  17. 16 Government Budgets and Fiscal Policy
    1. Introduction to Government Budgets and Fiscal Policy
    2. 16.1 Government Spending
    3. 16.2 Taxation
    4. 16.3 Federal Deficits and the National Debt
    5. 16.4 Using Fiscal Policy to Fight Recession, Unemployment, and Inflation
    6. 16.5 Automatic Stabilizers
    7. 16.6 Practical Problems with Discretionary Fiscal Policy
    8. 16.7 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
  18. 17 The Impacts of Government Borrowing
    1. Introduction to the Impacts of Government Borrowing
    2. 17.1 How Government Borrowing Affects Investment and the Trade Balance
    3. 17.2 Fiscal Policy, Investment, and Economic Growth
    4. 17.3 How Government Borrowing Affects Private Saving
    5. 17.4 Fiscal Policy and the Trade Balance
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  19. 18 Macroeconomic Policy Around the World
    1. Introduction to Macroeconomic Policy around the World
    2. 18.1 The Diversity of Countries and Economies across the World
    3. 18.2 Improving Countries’ Standards of Living
    4. 18.3 Causes of Unemployment around the World
    5. 18.4 Causes of Inflation in Various Countries and Regions
    6. 18.5 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
  20. A | The Use of Mathematics in Principles of Economics
  21. B | Indifference Curves
  22. C | Present Discounted Value
  23. 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
  24. References
  25. Index

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

  • Identify three factors that influence a country's level of trade
  • Differentiate between balance of trade and level of trade

A nation’s level of trade may at first sound like much the same issue as the balance of trade, but these two are actually quite separate. It is perfectly possible for a country to have a very high level of trade—measured by its exports of goods and services as a share of its GDP—while it also has a near-balance between exports and imports. A high level of trade indicates that a good portion of the nation’s production is exported. It is also possible for a country’s trade to be a relatively low share of GDP, relative to global averages, but for the imbalance between its exports and its imports to be quite large. This general theme was emphasized earlier in Measuring Trade Balances, which offered some illustrative figures on trade levels and balances.

A country’s level of trade tells how much of its production it exports. This is measured by the percent of exports out of GDP. It indicates how globalized an economy is. Some countries, such as Germany, have a high level of trade—they export almost 50% of their total production. The balance of trade tells us if the country is running a trade surplus or trade deficit. A country can have a low level of trade but a high trade deficit. (For example, the United States only exports 14% of GDP, but it has a trade deficit of $540 billion.)

Three factors strongly influence a nation’s level of trade: the size of its economy, its geographic location, and its history of trade. Large economies like the United States can do much of their trading internally, while small economies like Sweden have less ability to provide what they want internally and tend to have higher ratios of exports and imports to GDP. Nations that are neighbors tend to trade more, since costs of transportation and communication are lower. Moreover, some nations have long and established patterns of international trade, while others do not.

Consequently, a relatively small economy like Sweden, with many nearby trading partners across Europe and a long history of foreign trade, has a high level of trade. Brazil and India, which are fairly large economies that have often sought to inhibit trade in recent decades, have lower levels of trade. Whereas, the United States and Japan are extremely large economies that have comparatively few nearby trading partners. Both countries actually have quite low levels of trade by world standards. The ratio of exports to GDP in either the United States or in Japan is about half of the world average.

The balance of trade is a separate issue from the level of trade. The United States has a low level of trade, but had enormous trade deficits for most years from the mid-1980s into the 2000s. Japan has a low level of trade by world standards, but has typically shown large trade surpluses in recent decades. Nations like Germany and the United Kingdom have medium to high levels of trade by world standards, but Germany had a moderate trade surplus in 2008, while the United Kingdom had a moderate trade deficit. Their trade picture was roughly in balance in the late 1990s. Sweden had a high level of trade and a large trade surplus in 2007, while Mexico had a high level of trade and a moderate trade deficit that same year.

In short, it is quite possible for nations with a relatively low level of trade, expressed as a percentage of GDP, to have relatively large trade deficits. It is also quite possible for nations with a near balance between exports and imports to worry about the consequences of high levels of trade for the economy. It is not inconsistent to believe that a high level of trade is potentially beneficial to an economy, because of the way it allows nations to play to their comparative advantages, and to also be concerned about any macroeconomic instability caused by a long-term pattern of large trade deficits. The following Clear It Up feature discusses how this sort of dynamic played out in Colonial India.

Clear It Up

Are trade surpluses always beneficial? Considering Colonial India.

India was formally under British rule from 1858 to 1947. During that time, India consistently had trade surpluses with Great Britain. Anyone who believes that trade surpluses are a sign of economic strength and dominance while trade deficits are a sign of economic weakness must find this pattern odd, since it would mean that colonial India was successfully dominating and exploiting Great Britain for almost a century—which was not true.

Instead, India’s trade surpluses with Great Britain meant that each year there was an overall flow of financial capital from India to Great Britain. In India, this flow of financial capital was heavily criticized as the “drain,” and eliminating the drain of financial capital was viewed as one of the many reasons why India would benefit from achieving independence.

Final Thoughts about Trade Balances

Trade deficits can be a good or a bad sign for an economy, and trade surpluses can be a good or a bad sign. Even a trade balance of zero—which just means that a nation is neither a net borrower nor lender in the international economy—can be either a good or bad sign. The fundamental economic question is not whether a nation’s economy is borrowing or lending at all, but whether the particular borrowing or lending in the particular economic conditions of that country makes sense.

It is interesting to reflect on how public attitudes toward trade deficits and surpluses might change if we could somehow change the labels that people and the news media affix to them. If a trade deficit was called “attracting foreign financial capital”—which accurately describes what a trade deficit means—then trade deficits might look more attractive. Conversely, if a trade surplus were called “shipping financial capital abroad”—which accurately captures what a trade surplus does—then trade surpluses might look less attractive. Either way, the key to understanding trade balances is to understand the relationships between flows of trade and flows of international payments, and what these relationships imply about the causes, benefits, and risks of different kinds of trade balances. The first step along this journey of understanding is to move beyond knee-jerk reactions to terms like “trade surplus,” “trade balance,” and “trade deficit.”

Bring It Home

More than Meets the Eye in the Congo

Now that you see the big picture, you undoubtedly realize that all of the economic choices you make, such as depositing savings or investing in an international mutual fund, do influence the flow of goods and services as well as the flows of money around the world.

You now know that a trade surplus does not necessarily tell us whether an economy is doing well or not. The Democratic Republic of Congo ran a trade surplus in 2013, as we learned in the beginning of the chapter. Yet its current account balance was –$2.8 billion. However, the return of political stability and the rebuilding in the aftermath of the civil war there has meant a flow of investment and financial capital into the country. In this case, a negative current account balance means the country is being rebuilt—and that is a good thing.

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