Are you sure you should be doing that?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Are trade deficits a good thing?

This is from a professional academic economist in America. Is he correct? Should we cheer up?

Here's a letter that I sent recently to the Washington Times:

In "Other economic numbers need attention" (Oct. 16), William Hawkins assumes that every dollar increase in America's trade deficit is a dollar increase in Americans’ debt. Not so. If Mr. Hawkins pays for a new car with $20,000 cash and then observes the car dealer stuffing that cash into a mattress, Mr. Hawkins's trade deficit with that dealer rises by $20,000 while his debt to that dealer rises by exactly $0.

More fundamentally, the trade deficit means that foreigners invest in the U.S. rather than spend all of their dollars on U.S. exports. If Mr. Hawkins mistakenly thinks such investments to be undesirable, I have good news for him: as Uncle Sam meddles much more aggressively in capital markets, foreign investors will be scared away. America will then be much more likely to run trade surpluses - just as it did for nine out of ten years of the greatly depressed 1930s.

Sincerely,

Donald J. Boudreaux

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